This is a hard time of year for fly fishermen living in New England. At every turn, nature deceives: It’s warm, and yet the water is still cold; the flowers are budding, but the waters aren’t teeming with fish; the birds have arrived and are breaking the silence of the early morning more loudly, and more frequently, but the stripers aren’t breaking the surface. The land is bursting, but our water bodies? Still calm, still waiting the arrival of fish.
The birds and buds of spring peddle a false hope to fly fishermen, convincing us it must be time. After another winter of tying flies, of reading, of swapping stories, and of seeing pictures from tropical climes of big fish below big grins, now is the time of year when we’re weak — when we have the shakes after going cold turkey for too long. April truly is the cruelest month.
And so it was that I, and a friend, couldn’t take it any longer. What broke us? We heard reports of schoolies being caught off the coast of Rhode Island. The first day we had off work, we were at the alleged hot spot. It seemed perfect: we had a rising tide at the break of dawn. The weather had been good, with a storm at the end of the week. The signs in the surf were good: the water was pretty clear, the waves not too big, and the parking lots were empty. We had the place to ourselves. And we had solid reports of schoolies being caught. Jackpot.
We fished a stretch of shoreline hard. We fished a usually very productive jetty. We fished two different narrow inlets that led into large marshes. We fished a beautiful rocky stretch of shore. We fished on the top, we fished streamers, we fished crab and lobster patterns. Towards the end of the day, I even broke out my Spey rod and, standing with a bank tight to my back, rolled a single Spey and a few Perry Pokes into the water. Any fish that were present likely looked upon me with the same skeptical look that the two leather-clad bikers did from the bridge, a look that seemed to say, “No wonder he’s not catching anything.”
Fish were absent; I was now in the business of learning — learning how to cast better, observing how my flies (many inventions from the winter) were swimming in water, and learning more about water that was unfamiliar to me.
We caught nothing. We saw one guy walk up and, within 5 minutes, land a nice striper on a giant Slug-Go. With sneakers, leather jacket and a cigarette unmoved from his lower lip. I looked at myself all of my gear — a self-made rod, Simms gear, hand tied flies, and casting basket — and thought: this truly is an affliction. Fly fishing: a simple thing made difficult for the sake of art.
On the drive home, sunburnt and tired after a 4am departure, we made a single vow: we’d do it again, many times, this summer. We settled on Monday. Long enough away for us to tie a few more flies, and for us to see our families, before heading back out. The stripers have got to be back by then. They’ve just got to.