Let me just cut to the chase. I’ve been placed on injured reserve, and have been languishing there for the better part of August. I’ve got a neck and back injury that has prevented me from fully participating in any official angling activities. It all started with the infamous “I can’t turn my head to the right” scenario and escalated from there. I’m your sterotypical male that foolishly avoids medical intervention at all costs. I generally suffer through any ailment with little or no complaints. The fact that I’m even discussing a health issue affirms that sad truth that the tread on the tires can wear thin. Usually I just plod my way through the pain and eventually everything returns to normal. Neck and back pain is something that I’ve wrestled with from time to time, but probably not any more than your average Joe. Years ago I fished a bass tournament in its entirety unable to turn my head to right, but I didn’t let that rain on my parade. A few weeks ago in my usual display of stubbornness I decided to temp fate yet again. I was taking out the garbage one afternoon and a giant hopper just stared me in the face. The friendly little fella reminded that we’re knee deep in terrestrial season, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.
Much to the chagrin of the purist, my strategy would contain a contingency plan utilizing spinner gear as a backup. I’ve had a plethora of symptoms emblematic of a pinched nerve which has been wreaking havoc on my casting shoulder. I wasn’t sure it would hold up to the wear and tear of fly casting my standard flies. The reason I largely stick to writing about fly fishing for trout on this site is a question of audience. It’s a conscious effort to not mix church and state, despite the fact that chasing trout with the long rod is my favorite way to “skin the cat.” In some angling circles oil and water just don’t mix, but let’s be honest here, foolin’ fish is simply foolin’ fish no matter which reel you choose to strap to your rod. Let me say it this way, you can remove the Zebco 202 from the boy, but you can’t remove the boy from the Zebco 202 (as much as some might try). Embrace your past, I choose to put my pants on one leg at a time. We all learned to walk before we ran. If it wasn’t clear in the thousands of words displayed here that I often incorporate conventional concepts into my fly strategies. When I sit down to tie I often think of the available forage, popular fly patterns, and even the spincasting equivalent. What have others considered to solve this challenge? It’s the simple question of what triggers a fish to eat? It’s not about it being easy, it’s about making a better mousetrap. The difference is in the delivery mechanism. I can’t help but utilize the shotgun approach, it’s practically imprinted into my DNA. Don’t you just wonder why a Rapala “just works,” or what’s the magic behind the ubiquitous Panther Martin spinner? Even the worm dunker who kicks ass doin’ his thang on your local waters should be worthy of strategic analysis, not acrimony. There’s a fair chance that many of you don’t support my approach, and the agree to disagree mantra may be in full effect. The creek fishing of my youth was steeped in the usual tactics. In my household we had fly rods and spinning rods and never thought much about it. My favorite childhood lure was a chartreuse buzzbait for largemouth bass on local lakes. I was fascinated by the abstract chunk of metal with the strange propellor and unnatural color scheme that flawlessly coaxed fish into explosive takes. That’s the reason why I still love the nostalgic sound of a large trout crushing a big foam fly. It’s not a coincidence that the big double “deceiveresque” pattern I’ve been throwing lately is evocative of a firetiger jerkbait. I truly believe that open-minded admiration of all angling methodologies helps me be a more effective, and well-rounded streamer fisherman. I’m perfectly okay with blurring the lines between disciplines. It’s not meant as a replacement to the core aquatic insect approach to fly fishing. There’s still nothing cooler than watching a adept nympher diagnose the situation and skillfully dissect a run. Some people like to turn over rocks for answers, others like to throw meat. And isn’t that what’s great about America? For me it’s always been about playing to my strengths while adding a new dimension to my approach. As I’ve said countless times before, why let the spin anglers have all the fun?
Enough of the long-winded soapbox diatribe, let’s get back to the task at hand.
I have a hard time doing nothing. Despite my current physical limitations I decided to try a low impact outing to see how things went with my back. I started the morning by throwing flies and managed two decent, but not spectacular fish. After putting a few notches on my belt I moved to a different spot and decided to give my shoulder a rest by scouting a new section of water utilizing the spinning rod. I arrived at the bridge crossing still early in the AM to find that I had the spot all to myself. I quickly found that a soft underhand pitch seemed significantly less taxing than my full flycast. I worked my way upstream at a good clip more interested in surveying the water for future assaults rather than carefully picking it apart. After an hour of wading a pair of anglers popped out of the woods and proceeded to work the run directly upstream of my location. When I gave them a hearty “good mornin’ fellas” they seemed to be caught off guard by my presence. I hadn’t heard them walking up the bank around me, and they certainly didn’t wade up behind me, so I asked them if they had been working upstream from me the entire time. They responded with a wishy washy answer that I didn’t quite understand. I was simply trying to determine if I had been hitting “sloppy seconds” spots right behind them, which might explain my lackluster results. I then came to the realization that they had likely taken a short cut well away from the creek through a complicated series of woods, barbed wire fences and a farmer’s field to cut in front of me. Clearly they had underestimated how far and fast I had moved upstream. This dilemma brought the usual questions of streamside etiquette to the forefront. Our conflicting goals had us both looking to fish the same stretch of water. Is the unspoken rule first come, first serve? Did I have the right to continue upstream unimpeded, or was I supposed to acquiesce to the guys on the Rambo mission attempting to cheat me out of the spot? I decided to compromise and tell them that I planned proceed as far upstream as the next farm house then turnaround and head back to my car. They agreed and said they’d hike further up to give me my space. To my dismay after another 5 minutes of working upstream I realized that they had just walked out of sight then popped back into the creek just upstream from me again. I wasn’t interested in the backwoods brawl, and my heart wasn’t really in it anyway. So I folded my tent by going back to my car to reevaluate my life. Do nice guys always finish last? Needless to say, I didn’t jam my pocket knife into their truck’s tire, but the thought definitely crossed my mind.
After a lukewarm start to the day I couldn’t help but switch back to the fly rod and attempt to put a few more fish under my belt. The bite wasn’t fast and furious by any stretch of the imagination, but I tangled with a few Brookies. There was one noteworthy encounter that I’ll likely spin into a yarn another day. I was encouraged that physically I felt pretty good following my morning on the water, but my body was giving me a red herring. I would pay dearly for my transgressions. The next morning I woke up and was barely able to get out of bed. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I “cried” in a literal sense, but Mrs. Adrift said something to the effect, “I’ve never seen you like that,” followed by a short discussion about the pains involved with child birth. It’s as if I’d been stabbed in the back a second time in as many days. I’ve often wondered what people meant when they use the phrase “my back is out”, but I’ve now learned that lesson the hard way. I spent the better part of the next week in fairly significant pain, even reduced to sleeping on our hardwood floors for parts of the night. I’m not sure why, but that was the only way I could find relief? I briefly considered and dismissed a Brett Favre style addiction to painkillers to soothe what ails me. Perhaps I’ll stick to dreaming of icy cold waters for escape.
I’m a few weeks into limited duty, and I’ve seen some improvement, but it seems like I may have some professional intervention in the very near future (if I finally pull my head out of my ass). I was driving back from a funeral in Iowa last week which gave me plenty of time to consider the task at hand. At this point I’m not sure if this malady will continue to put a serious cramp in my angling style, or even end my season for that matter. But one thing I know for certain is that a little dose of troutin’ is better than none. If I have to be reduced to short rod duty for awhile then so be it. Whether I deprive myself of all fishing for the longer term good, or I choose to recklessly exercise my demons. There’s no right turn.