Fly Fishing and Defragmentation .

If there’s one thing that can keep my focus these days, as it has for the last seven or eight years, it is fly fishing.  Whether I catch any fish or not.

It’s probably my favorite meditative activity.

Everything else in my life—trying to figure out how to survive financially, living with my aged father who struggles to be happy, my cats whose primary focus seems to be their next meal, trying to understand my relation to my environment in its many guises—recedes into my subconscious for the time I’m on the water.

Yes, I know there’s plenty of writing out there, including “zen” books on fly fishing, addressing the positive clarifying effects of such re-creating moments.  Those when the spirit, whatever that is, is renewed, invigorated, cleansed.

Maybe reorganized is a better word.

The computer term, defragmentation, comes to mind as a metaphor for such activities.  You know, the software programs that resorts computer files into “contiguous” relationships so that data may be retrieved more efficiently.  Evidently, it reduces the spaces between data clusters such that space is used more efficiently.

I’ve been doing a lot of that quite consciously lately; trying to bring associated clusters of lived experience together so I can access them more quickly.  That kind of labor can be tedious.  But like recently when I overstressed about my credit card snafu, the meditative practice I submitted to, difficult as it was to enter still was easier than continuing the melodrama of my anger and self-pity.

I think re-creating activities can be more than simply getting away from something in order to relax.  It’s actually the organizing “work” of fully investing one’s focus on something desired that allows the mind and body to  “defragment” itself subconsciously and, in effect, “re-lax.”

The relaxation experienced from “recreation” (and I intend the term to mean not simply “play” even though play always has as a central component a serious “work” function in culture, but the process of re-creation, re-birth, the process of returning to a first/primal state of being where mind and body are at one/in sync) is the state of acceptance with one’s state of mental and physical being, I think.

Consciousness and physical well-being are not distracted by external forces. Indeed, what would ordinarily be distractions may actually serve as forces to buttress a positive focus and performance of a given task.  They may also serve the purpose of highlighting and enforcing adaptations to changing conditions when traditional approaches fail.

My fishing trip yesterday was instructive on many of these accounts.

I had decided to go fishing earlier in the week when I saw the meteorologists predicted a fair, sunny, albeit, cool Thursday (yesterday).  I figured “cool,” even chilly is fine.  I’ve got plenty of cold weather fishing gear, so no problem.

I organized my gear Wednesday night and put my deflated hybrid float/pontoon craft in the back of my hatchback so I wouldn’t have to do that in the cold, dark morning the next day.

I tied a few flies—my version of a mohair olive leech on size 8 streamer hooks—to supplement my assortment of size 4 and 8 leeches in black, Canadian blood, and olive mohair.

I was set for Thursday morning, I thought.

I got up around 6:30 am, fed Baldo and Chica, made some coffee to go, and packed the my gear into the car, drove to the BK for some fast food breakfast and lunch sandwiches—I didn’t feel like doing homemade this time—and drove the 65 miles south to the mountain reservoirs east and above Fairview.

It’s a wonderful recreation area for me because it’s easily accessible and there are multiple fishing opportunities including reservoirs and streams.  So many.  But I particularly enjoy Huntington Reservoir and Creek, the reservoir because of the “Tiger” trout there, a sterile hybrid Brook/Brown that is known for being a strong fighter for its size and their unique tiger-like markings.  (Hence its name.)

I really wasn’t planning to go to HR initially.  I wanted to check out a smaller reservoir, Fairview, which is nearby, because I’d heard reports for the past couple of months from friends and online that it was “Hot.”

I found it, but the water level was so low it was pretty much iced over.  So I drove to HR.

What I saw and felt there were mildly active waves; not dangerous, but they would make me work a little harder to move on the water even with Force Fins. But I didn’t think the breeze would be a problem.

I would be the only idiot out there. Vehicle driving by, wondering what fool would be on the water that day, were my nearest human contact.  But I persevered.  I figured I’d stay close to shore and not move that much so that I could leave the water without a lot of effort.

I pulled out my gear and water craft, filled it with air as much as I could given the cold air, and headed to the water.

Since the last time I’d fished HR, the water level had dropped probably twenty feet.  Earlier in the summer it had been as high as I’d ever seen it.  Yesterday was closer to what I am used to seeing there and most other reservoirs in Utah.

I entered the water after putting on my fins and preparing my rod.  I decided not to use my fish finder.  After using it the last couple of years I was pretty familiar with relative depths.  Partly, I didn’t want to always be checking for fish, instead focusing on feeling for subtle bumps or tugs that would indicate fish interest in my leech.

I had also decided to change flies more quickly than usual to figure out what color preference the fish might have.  So I kicked out into the water, stripped out line and threw it longer and farther with each back and forth casting motion until I had forty feet of line out into the water.

I alternated between just trolling slowly with the line gradually sinking deeply after casting and then occasionally stripping in the line—pulling in a few inches or more of fly line at a time to give the fly movement that might attract a fish strike—before casting to a new area right or left and letting the line work directly in front of me, opposite the direction of my craft’s movement.

I had also decided to paddle into the wind so that I could then, when returning to my car, simply let the wind push me back and I could troll or cast and strip without having to paddle.  In other words, get the harder work out of the way.  It’s usually the smarter thing to do because one doesn’t want to be in a position where paddling does no good if wind and waves are too strong.

I was doing fine moving into the breeze through the water fifty to one hundred feet from shore, not getting many fish bumps or nibbles.  And the wind wasn’t bad, but to my disappointment clouds were becoming more numerous and beginning to block the sun’s heating rays.  I just forged ahead moving without problem toward the north end of the reservoir—I’d parked about midway between the north and south ends—with the idea that I’d get some protection from the tall pines along the shore at that end.

On the way, I finally got a grab that stuck and I new it was a decent fish.  I reeled it to the surface without much struggle, which surprised me a little, but then it decided to remind me of its fighting skills as it dived and took twenty feet of line with it—deep.

My rod tip dived to the water’s surface as well and I hung on and reeled in line whenever the fish stopped running.  About ten minutes later I was able to net the Tiger and measure it at eighteen inches.  A handsome, healthy, strong fish, as big as the other largest Tiger I have caught in HR.

Even if I didn’t catch any more fish, I figured at that moment the trip was worthwhile.  But then, again, one is never enough for if it were, I would have left right then and there.  Which I didn’t, of course.

The weather was gradually worsening.  The wind stiffening.  The waves bigger at times, but not choppy.  Nowhere near whitecaps.  I still moved easily into the teeth of the wind.  But the wind was cold and I wanted to keep my back to it.  I was starting to look ahead without much enthusiasm to the return float to the car because I might have to be face into wind.

So I kept heading north and caught another Tiger; this time twelve inches.

I made it to the cove-like, protected area and fished east-west for a time there with a few nibbles and bumps, but couldn’t get any serious fish commitments to my leech colors or sizes.  After an hour, maybe, I was ready to head south.  The cold and wind were strengthening.

I started back letting the wind push me at my back which allowed me to fish east and west, mostly trolling.  (Most of my hits happened trolling, not stripping.) But it took paddling my fins constantly to keep the craft aligned.  (The wind wanted me facing it head on; it kept trying to turn me that way.)

Of course, this meant my progress was pretty much determined by wind force, not by anything I could add to it.  It meant delaying getting out of the increasingly chilly weather caused by stronger winds coming off snow covered mountain tops to the north.  Only be turning around, facing the wind and paddling could I speed my exit and begin the process of thawing my increasingly freezing hands and face.

(I’d fished HR in snow squalls and thunderstorms before, but had not experienced such biting cold before.  Mostly because of the wind.  I dressed warmly, but didn’t plan on this!)

I fished as I was slowly, with my back to the wind, protecting my face and hands, pushed by the wind back to the bank near my parked car, but only had a couple of hits that I failed to react to quickly enough.  But I was becoming impatient with the wind because it didn’t move me fast enough.

I tried facing into the wind a couple of times to speed my  flow when I was still  three or four football fields away from my objective, but it was too cold to sustain for very long. It wasn’t until I was within a couple of hundred feet that I committed to pushing myself to get to shore with my face and hands being chilled to the bone by northerly gusts.

I finally anchored myself on terra firma.  (My own little reality show finished.) I don’t think I have been as relieved to be off any given water as I was yesterday afternoon.

But I wasn’t done fishing.  At least I hadn’t given up wanting to find another opportunity to fish some more in calmer, warmer, safer conditions.

I deflated my water craft, loaded it and my gear into the car, pulled out my lunch, turned on the car and the heat (mmm…heeaaat!) and settled in to think about my post HR options.

As I ate I thought about checking out Cleveland reservoir five minutes southeast.  I wondered what it looked like.  It seemed more protected from wind—HR almost is practically a chute for wind coming over the top and down the mountains—possibly offering another chance to continue fishing.  And if that didn’t look good, I could drive another five minutes to Huntington Creek, a blue ribbon stream below Electric Lake that I have fished many times with varied success.

After I’d warmed up and finished eating, I drove by CR.  Not much better than HR.  In fact, all the little flags atop the roadside markers that would serve snow plow drivers and motorists as boundary markers during winter months, when snow reaches multiple feet heights, were fully extended horizontally by the strong winds.  No more floating for me on this day.

So I drove another five minutes to HC and a large parking/viewing area that oversees a popular section of stream with lots of bends, runs, and deep holes.  There’s a lot of good fish habitat on that section with regulations that allow only artificial lures and a two fish limit.

One of the major positives of fishing in nasty weather, and I’ve fished in my share of it, is that competition for fishing access, especially on popular waters, is not at a premium.  And this is  a good thing because recently, at least three of the last five or six fishing outings this year I’ve experienced other anglers jumping right in front of me as I was working my way up a stream without them recognizing in any fashion their rude, unethical behavior.  In fact, they were fully aware of my presence and direction, often looking directly at me as if they were mostly considering where exactly to jump in front of me.

This specific stretch of stream in my experience is particularly prone to this kind of rude behavior, so I was careful to survey the area before committing to fishing it.  Fortunately, and this was part of my strategy, I left my waders and boots on, even though the boots aren’t wading boots, just in case I found another fishing opportunity.

I hadn’t planned or prepared to stream fish yesterday, but I adapted my gear to this new effort.

I figured I’d be okay wading in the floating boots.  Even though I didn’t have the fanny pack I use for carrying fly fishing leader, tippet, flies, and other accessories I might need for stream fishing, I figured out where to attach my clippers, hemostat, and fly box in and around my waders.  Also, I could use the smaller leeches (size 8 streamer hooks) I’d tied Wednesday night.

So I decided to try it despite the strong winds and cold.  I’d be walking and moving and elevation changes in certain areas protect the stream from the wind.

I didn’t have much luck to start with.  I entered the stream below the first major bends and holes.  I saw fish—they’re plentiful and a spook easily in the crystal clear water, especially those not in deep runs or holes—but had little success until I arrived at the first radical bend and deep hole.  (After fishing about 100 feet of stream.)

I worked the hole, first throwing to the end nearest me so as not to scare fish father up the hole.


So I threw caution to the wind, so to speak, and started working the hole thoroughly throwing the fly into it at every possible angle and entry point. I stripped the line with little hesitation after it entered the water with short, sharp strips to give the leech serious movement.

Boom, bam, bing!!!

One after another hit the leech without remorse.  Mostly small browns, eight to twelve inches, and some smaller, under six inches in length.  I probably landed fifteen in under thirty minutes with another handful hitting and releasing early.  And how many flashes or followers did I see?  Numerous.

Of course, I was using the sinking line I use for fishing reservoirs (for deep waters) and had no indicator, so I was trusting myself to feel the hit or see a flash.  When casting I couldn’t see the flight of the line—it’s a dark, forest green color, not yellow or orange or light green like a floating fly line I would normally use on a small stream like this with shallow water depth—to verify how far I was throwing it.  I relied on the splash of the weighted leech to indicate where I was reaching with each throw.

But my adapted system was working very well, actually.  The browns were liking something about the combination of my leech pattern, its size and color, and my stripping method.  It worked best in the holes generally wherever I threw it as long as I could give it the fast, jerky movement.

Simply drifting it—letting the leech float with the current without unimpeded or changed by me–like a nymph didn’t attract any takers.  It would only scare them.

For the most part, the browns I caught were in the eight to twelve inch range, but I did lose a couple of nice ones that appeared to be fourteen to sixteen inches long with good heft to them.  And I did land two that measured approximately fourteen inches.  Nice, beautiful, strong fish.

I was even impressed by these browns’ fight.  They displayed more than I remember for Huntington Creek fish.

After that first major hole where I caught about fifteen, I probably caught another twenty to thirty.  I stopped counting after twenty. Anyway, counting fish landed was much too much of a distraction especially when so many fish seemed so ready to be fooled by what I was offering them.

So what does my fly fishing experience yesterday have to do with how I started this blog post?  Well, I’m not going to try to explain it.  I haven’t even processed it all, but some of what I wrote as a meditation on re-creation and defragmentation applies, some might not.

My defragmentation process isn’t just about getting away from everything.  It’s simultaneously less and more; lighter and heavier; superficial and significant.

I guess I am pondering here questions dealing with how we process, organize, and cleanse.  If dirt is “matter out of place” as the anthropologist Mary Douglas, in her book Purity and Danger, argues, then is any activity we call recreation something more vital in reorganizing dirty “matter” than the unfortunately diminished term we use to describe it, “play.”

Can play become a meditation, of sorts, where we reorganize, clarify, refocus, adapt, and accept matter in its varied forms?  Can defragmentation be fun and serious, engaging and alienating as it works to resituate and refocus our mental and physical energies? Can I imagine fly fishing as such a meditation?

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