Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Surf Snob

I'm a snob. I mean, I act like a snob, especially when it comes to certain things, like fishing. I'm exclusively a fly fisherman, even though a spinning rod would come in handy from time to time when chasing down fish. The curious thing though, is that I don't have the kind of bank account I would expect a snob to have. Most of the people I know have more stuff than I do, and stuff is how you measure the size of someone's net worth, at least in Los Angeles.

I think it has to do with the fact that I was the only boy in my family, and my dad spoiled me; no, really spoiled me. I mean, four years of military boarding high school, and my very own car by the time I’d graduated, for chrissakes!

Ok, so I went on to graduate from a well known university with some academic distinction, and then completed a graduate program from another well known university. But I just don't have the big bucks! One of my friends tells me that I am educated well beyond my abilities. That has a ring of truth about it for me.

So it was with some trepidation that I agreed to go fishing in the surf with my friend Ray, when he called.
“Whadaya doin’ this comin’ Saturday?” My mind raced. I knew he was going to ask me to go cast a fly rod into the surf with him. I couldn’t come up with an excuse.
“Nuthin’” I responded.
“Wanna go surf fishin’?”
"Up next to Eric’s place."
“What time?”
“We have to be there by 7:00 a.m.” Ok, now the possibility of an excuse was coming into the picture. In order to be at Eric’s by that time, I would have to leave my place a little before 6:00 a.m. See, the thing about the trout that live in my home water is that they keep civilized hours. No hatches in the very early morning, so no need to get there early. The afternoon hatch is when all the action happens. I like that about them.

My avoidence of surf fishing comes from the fact that I don’t want to fish with a fly rod in the surf because I’m a snob, like I said. It’s uncivilized. You just don’t use a fly rod in the surf, not anywhere in the ocean. Yes, there are lots of people who do fish in the ocean with a fly rod, but they all seem to be caught up in some kind of delirium, fishing for Mako sharks (talk about crazy!) with a fly rod, fishing for Bonefish, Permit and Tarpon. Sharks and Tarpon on a fly rod! Anybody who knows anything about fly fishing knows that a fly rod is to be used on a stream, fishing for trout, well, and for salmon. And yeah, ok, maybe on a lake sometimes, but even that is stretching it. Nope, I just have it in my mind that a fly rod is to be used for a stream, and maybe by kids for Bluegill and Bass on farm ponds (because that was my introduction to fly fishing).

My thought is that fly rods have nothing to do with the surf, nothing to do with the ocean. At least that's my opinion. Fly rods are for catching trout on a stream. And to be properly caught, they should be taken on a dry fly, not something with lead weight and an "indicator". The reason for fly rods is to delicately present something that closely mimics the type of bugs the fish are eating at the time, to the fish, and to do so in such a manner that they will be fooled into thinking that the thing is real food. And all of this on a stream that requires some thought in itself before you step in it.

So, it's all I can do to give some slack to the people who don’t adhere to these standards; not to judge 'em as inferior human beings. So, surf fly fishermen don't rank high in my esteem hierarchy. At least they didn't until my first trip to the surf.

“So why do we have to be there so early?”
“Because that’s the best time to catch the tide; wanna go, or not?” Ray was getting annoyed with my response, or lack of one, to a fairly simple question. I was pushed into a corner; if I didn't come up with an answer soon, I was pretty sure he was gonna hang up on me. Remember, I’m a snob. If there’s any hanging up to be done, I wanna be the one doing it.

“Yeah, ok, what the hell.” He had just asked me to go fishing with him, and I sounded like I was doing him a favor.

“Ok, go by the Fisherman’s Spot, and get yourself a 250 grain integrated sinking head line.” See, I knew there would be a hitch. Now I’ve gotta go spend money, and buy more stuff.

“Don’t worry about putting the line on your reel, we’ll do that when you get out to my place this afternoon.” Now I've gotta drive thirty miles out to his place. Already this surf stuff is sounding like a bad idea.

“Alright, alright” I tell him.
“Can I get you to help me organize my lines?” He agreed, and I’m off to the store and then to his house.

When I got to Ray's, he showed me an effective technique for organizing my fly lines so that I can figure out what’s what just by looking at 'em; and, I discover I have a six weight line that I didn’t know I had. He also began to tell me about surf fishing with a fly rod, just to give me a little instruction prior to my stepping onto the beach. In the process, he began to tell fishing stories, really good ones, that caused me to start salivating like a some kinf of a Pavlovian dog. Jeebus! I’m getting really excited about casting a fly line into the surf, and I don’t even approve of it!

Matter of fact, I got so excited that I drank an extra cup of coffee, and didn’t sleep worth a darn that whole night. I was like I was when I was a kid the night before I was going fishing or hunting. I couldn’t believe that sort of excitement could still happen to me!

The next morning, I’m awake the moment the alarm goes off. Dressed and out the door in record time, I arrive at Eric’s place ten or fifteen minutes early.

The day started with a typical California coastal overcast, fog everywhere, grey and nondescript. Then, occasional breaks in the fog to reveal deep blue sky and ocean with cyrstal white waves breaking, crashing with a noisy roar in front of me, sparks of water reflecting bright sunlight splashing everywhere around me. Then just as quickly as it appeared, the deep azure blue of sky and surf was gone, everything back to the hypnotic grey and silence of the fog, robbing the waves of their sound. An occasional train goes by on the tracks by the beach interupting the grey summer fog silence with the busy sound of people going somewhere unknown and far away.

I’d heard about this surf fishing business before, and I knew it was entirely possible for me to get skunked. One has to pay one’s dues, after all. But that wasn’t my experience. I had a fish on the third cast. With no idea what I was doing, couldn’t keep the line in the stripping basket, I was catching a fish in spite of all that.

"Cast it high in the front"; "Remember, it ain't gonna be pretty".

Ray tells me that I'm his fishin' buddy, whether I like it or not. He doesn't really have all the education I do, at least not formal education. We're a lot alike, and we argue with each other, so we can ocassionally scare people who make the mistake of going fishing with us without really knowing us. He is a Master instructor, but he wouldn't tell anybody that; ya just gotta know him, and that's not easy. He's my instructor, and I'm struggling to learn how to follow the master. Now I was catching a fish, and he had to stop instructing me so he could take a picture. Most of the finer points, I learned, were designed to keep me from knocking my brains out with a heavily weighted fly whizzing by my head at a pretty good rate of speed. I got ahold of that idea quickly, though, when the fly came zipping past my face. I think I heard it whistling as it zoomed through the air.

We stopped for lunch. It had been a good day so far, and I'd caught several fish. After a leisurely lunch, we went back to the surf, but then everything fell apart, just fell to pieces. Knots in the running line, which I had never experienced in all my days of fly fishing; line jumping out of the stripping basket and wandering off in the surf, kelp attacks, you name it. My lack of sleep caught up with me, and I had to leave and go home and go back to bed. But I think I'm gonna go back for some more of this surf stuff. Ya just can't say no to Ray.

© James Webb, 2009

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