I sat in the middle of the Tonto Creek, a poorer man, but distinctly wiser. Somewhere overhead in the waving leaves of the willow tree, my delicately handcrafted, $2.75 Caddis pattern fly clung to the willow branch. The tip of my exquisitely engineered, 7.5-foot-long, graphite composite fly rod, bumped along the bottom somewhere downstream — having separated itself from the rest of my $185 fly rod in the instant before I sat so unceremoniously in the middle of the middling stream. With a gurgle, and a seep, and a slosh, the merrily burbling snowmelt swirled over my waist and filled my ever-so-cleverly constructed $95 waders. And as I sat and pondered the way of the world, a breeze riffled through my hair, since I had also lost my $18 dollar, ever-so-rustic fisherman’s hat — complete with the four $2.25 flies stuck in the foam fly-holder stitched into the brim of my ever-so-absent hat.
The water wobbled.
The wind whispered.
The willows waved.
And I decided, that I’d approached fly-fishing with inadequate intellectual preparation.
Seized by some formless, irrational, middle-aged yearning, I’d merely dabbled last year — brandishing a rented pole and a touching, but naive enthusiasm for running water and grassy, undercut banks. Inspired by a sheer, overwhelming, Zennisity of it all — and egged on by a single, singularly careless trout — I’d invested heavily in the sport: I read books, maxed out two credit cards, pored over diagrams, and bought up whole shelves of topo maps.
So I came to this second Rubicon, beautifully outfitted, intensively educated, and boundlessly enthusiastic. And came so soon to sit — mumbling mindlessly in the midst of this middling stream.
And I sat. And I sat.
And I sat.
Until I divined the cause of my failure.
Clearly, I had not sufficiently distilled the wisdom of my research and insights of my hours of field experimentation. In short, I had not come up with a clear, concise, infallible set of rules by which one can systematize the fly-fishing experience.
In that spirit, I now offer you 14 simple rules to guarantee a successful fly-fishing experience.
These are not the intellectual, abstract, nostrums you can find in any of the 4,567,668,678 books on fly-fishing filed away in the Library of Congress. These pearls have been wrested from the tightly clamped shell of experience. They’re offered to you here for the inconsequential cost of this newspaper. So here you have it: The Tao of Pete.
Don’t read any books on fly-fishing until you enjoy fishing enough to put up with the humiliating frustration of expert advice.
Take the human experts on trout psychology with a grain of salt: What do they know, really? Wait for a book actually written by a trout.
If you want to truly understand trout, you have to swim a few feet in their fins. Lie on the bottom of a
stream behind a big rock and watch for insects drifting toward you overhead. Do they look like your flies?
You’ve spent hours reading books and hundreds of dollars on equipment, but you can’t catch any trout. Don’t feel bad. How could you be expected to outsmart a creature with a brain the size of a wizened walnut?
Think like a nymph. No, not that kind of nymph. A bug that lives underwater.
To enjoy fishing, you don’t have to actually be able to tie a fly, as long as you can tie one on (therefore, bring appropriately stocked cooler).
You will always select the right line weight if you adhere to this simple formula: Measure the length of your pole. Divide by the radius of your reel. Subtract the length of the backing. Add the weight of the fly. Multiply by two if you have a graphite pole and by .345 if you have a fiberglass pole. Then ask the guy in the sporting goods store what he thinks. (If you have a bamboo pole, call Prince Charles and ask what he thinks.)
Some experts recommend draining a stream before fishing. This will enable you to survey the bottom and locate any likely trout hiding places. Mark these spots with sturdy stakes before letting the water back into the stream.
Befriend a fish biologist. Many have access to generators you can fit on a small boat so that you can send a powerful electric current into a stream. The stunned fish will float to the surface. Tell your friends you used an upstream presentation.
Give catfish fishermen the respect they deserve. After all, they generally sit around under the stars with cheap equipment drinking beer. You shelled out hundreds of dollars and spend all your time wading up and down slippery streambeds brimming with cold water. Which of you do you think will top out on intelligence tests?
Practice good trout stream etiquette. Always go around another fisherman’s spot, don’t scare away his trout by making a lot of noise, smile serenely and be quietly cheerful. Never tell another fisherman who has just caught a fish that yours is bigger than his.
When telling trout stories, always inflate the length of the fish you caught by 30 percent. When listening to trout stories, reduce the length of the trout he caught by 50 percent.
Spend your first hour on the stream observing the water, studying the insects, memorizing the sound of the stream. If you do this properly, you can skip the actual fishing part. Tell your friends you caught a Zen trout.
Always, always, clean the fish slime off your hands before embracing your spouse.
The Tonto Creek Hatchery is doubling up with the number rainbows stocked into most locations this week, anticipating the Memorial Day Weekend crowds.
Should be one of the best fishing weekends of the year.
The following streams and lakes will be stocked once or twice this week, with potentially more than 4,000 trout released. Generally, the stocking trucks put fish into the deeper pools close by the road, since the hatchery guy must carry the fish to the stream in a big bucket.
Bear Flat (Tonto Creek)
Bear Canyon Lake
Black Canyon Lake
Blue Ridge Reservoir
East Clear Creek Reservoirs
East Verde River
Willow Springs Lake
Woods Canyon Lake