My day of ‘ultimate fly fishing’ had finally arrived. I’d initially taken this term to be a mirthful oxymoron, but that was before I was rocketing past volcanoes and cruising mere tens of feet over forest canopy at a breathtaking 130 MPH in a Bell 407 helicopter to engage in said recreation.
OK, fine. It was pretty ultimate. Point taken.
After hovering next to a large waterfall and swooping past yet another sea lion colony, the helicopter deposited us on a small lake beach and minutes later we were in the boats, lines out. Though fly fishers usually go out in pairs, I was alone in a boat with my guide Ricardo, which was probably for the best as I had a lengthy casting learning curve ahead of me and the fewer people around to get hooked in the lip the better.
Being of the inaccessible by land or sea variety, our lake was deserted and perfectly still, with a stunning backdrop of impenetrable virgin temperate rainforest and snow-capped mountains further distant, shedding little puffs of clouds. During a conversation the previous evening with the lead guide, when I confessed that this would be my first attempt at fly fishing, he noted that the fish were so abundant where we were going that “you’ll catch four by accident”. In fact I caught 10, including a massive brown trout, snagged a mere seven minutes after leaving the beach while we trolled to our first site. It was that easy.
I could’ve just let my fly trail behind the boat and lazily reel in (and release, FYI) trout all day, but I’d come here to fly fish, and by God I intended to learn how to do it properly. How long could it take? Ten minutes?
Ricardo took me through the casting process in incremental stages, each new stage being such a cross-circuiting mind f*ck and dexterous challenge that it caused me to disregard the stage I’d just learned moments earlier. This wrought untold damage on my Juggler’s Ego. I used to honestly believe that I had near superhuman reflexes and muscle mimic powers allowing me to become an NBA point guard next week if I felt like it. Instead my streamer fly and 20 feet of unwieldy line twirled wildly over the tiny boat, like a lassoing routine performed by Mr. Bean. By some miracle I managed not to bonk myself in the head or snatch off Ricardo’s hat.
Ricardo was part fly fishing guide, part sport psychologist. When I’d go through stages of unremitting casting failure, seeing that I was getting tired, frustrated and cursing in several languages, he had a one word cure: “Trolling?”
Trolling (slowly puttering around in the boat with the lines trailing behind) was Ricardo’s all-purpose solution for fly fishing-related aggravation, particularly for irritated beginners. The primary objective here is to change spots, moving the boat to where the fish might be hiding and/or hungry, allowing the fly fisher to rest assured in the knowledge that the fish weren’t biting because it was an awful spot, not because the fisher was a hopeless casting spaz. Also, while letting my line trail behind the boat, I would inevitably catch one of the lake’s more gullible trout, which never failed to lift my spirits, even though it was fly fishing sacrilege.
Occasionally Ricardo would forget his role as fragile ego massager. After 20 minutes of my futile casting into what should have been prime fishing grounds, he’d get a disbelieving “what the f*ck?” look on his face, pick up his rod and give it a try himself. Two casts later he’d reel in a rainbow trout as big as my leg. I tried to look joyous on his behalf, but secretly I hoped the trout would bite his face off or at least poop on him.
At lunchtime, all the boats converged back on the beach where everyone dined on a seafood and chicken pasta stir-fry – cooked on the spot in portable woks – salad, cold meats, cheeses and of course wine. There was always wine.
By mid-afternoon, Ricardo’s patient, bilingual coaching efforts were finally showing results. Through a complex series of deftly timed rod flicks and line yanks, I was able to make my fly and line do several graceful crack-the-whip sequences just overhead. When I reached the end of my available unspooled line, I gave my rod one final flick forward and my fly whizzed out a distance of 30-40 feet and gently plopped into the water. The moment was so exquisitely Zen that I looked around, half expecting to see Buddha returning to Earth. However the fish didn’t agree, disappearing in unison, and I had to return to the ship that evening unable to proclaim that I’d caught a fish using genuine fly fishing techniques.
To make up for the indignity, I allowed myself to be cajoled into doing a short juggling display during cocktail hour with oranges seized from the bar. Ego avenged.
Any remaining fly fishing remorse evaporated faster than an unattended bottle of Strongbow later on when multiple platters of absurdly large king crab were paraded out for dinner. Though we had each been supplied with enough stainless steel tools and blades to castrate a moose, they were only for show as the crab legs had already been expertly carved up so you could pull off a panel of shell like a Tupperware lid, revealing the scrumptious meat within, ready to be gorged upon. Once we’d greedily devoured the legs and were looking around for something else to eat, a server walked by and with an “oh, that’s right” gesture yanked off the top of the crab’s body revealing even more specially prepared crab meat. It was so tasty I wanted to cry. True story.
The sun briefly made an appearance at the end of the day and we were treated to a wonderful sunset right before our nightly slideshow, this night featuring numerous fetching pictures of me trying to make it look like I knew which end of my rod was up.