Now that it is derby time, I have been thinking (and eating) fish. I like fish, but I don’t like to fish. As a child, I would drop a line off the Edgartown wharf or the Menemsha dock with my brother John and we would catch scup. But I always felt sorry for the scup — especially since, once slaughtered and scaled, cooked and served, they were bony and tasted to me of iodine.
I felt similarly sorry for the fish caught when my brother and I went sailing and would anchor in the Middle Ground and drop lines over to catch flounder. I enjoy eating flounder, but not seeing them thrash about in the bilge of a boat.
When derby fishermen bring in their catches and exclaim over the size of the fish they have caught, I listen and nod appreciatively. Equally appreciatively, I line up Thursday mornings at the up-Island council on aging to enjoy the striped bass and bluefish they offer gratis to senior citizens. But much as I relish what they have caught, I am very glad I have not been waiting interminably for them on the Menemsha jetty after dark.
Nonetheless, when I learned on a recent visit to Branson, Mo., that I could take flyfishing lessons, I thought why not? I have always been curious about the flyfishing art, even if I have no desire to catch fish. I would be outdoors in a pretty place. Branson, Mo., of course, is principally known for its enormous number of stage shows — 100 of them in 50 theatres year-round. There are more theatre seats in Branson than there are on Broadway, and most cost under $25. But I had been to three shows in Branson. It was spring and I was told the dogwoods were just coming out in the 2,200 acres of canyons and streams in Dogwood Canyon and the trout were biting. I was staying at a golf resort with limited cooking facilities, so even if I caught a fish, it would have been complicated to cook it. It seemed like the perfect time and place to take a flyfishing lesson. I would have to throw back any fish I caught. And after a lesson or two, I would be able to discuss fishing intelligently with my saltwater fishing friends.
I got up early for my lesson. I soon learned I was in top-notch trout fishing country. George H.W. Bush had come flyfishing there with his Secret Service men during his presidency, I was told.
To prepare for my lesson, I had purchased The Orvis Guide to Beginning Flyfishing. It included 101 tips for the absolute beginner that I was sure I would need.
I met my instructor on the banks of Indian Creek in the canyon preserve. When I said I came from Martha’s Vineyard, a site like Branson where Presidents liked to vacation, he said he knew that. But then, rather loftily, he said he understood it was for golfing, not fishing that Presidents Clinton and Obama had come to the Vineyard. Disdainfully, my instructor said he didn’t think either of those two knew anything about fishing the way President Bush had. Did I know anything about fishing?
I said I had fished a little in saltwater when very young and that I had the Orvis manual. I said I had learned that trout liked 55 to 60-degree water and overcast days or early morning or late afternoon to find food for themselves so that is a good time to go after them. Birds are their principal predator so they prefer not to be out when the sun is bright and they can be seen easily. My instructor added to the newfound information I had garnered from the Orvis book by telling me that trout like feasting on scuds (insects that look like shrimp) in the spring, and on grasshoppers and crickets in summer. He also said they like mayflies that resemble little boats sailing on the water and caddflies that seem to bounce on the water surface. They keep their eyes out for stoneflies, too, even though stoneflies have fat legs. My instructor suggested that when my lesson was over, if I was truly serious about flyfishing, I should go to the Bass-Pro shop in Branson (the company was founded in Missouri) to get the right flies to perfect my flyfishing art.
Next, he handed me a rod and reel with line on it and said to throw it behind me right up in the air and then fling it forward, gracefully letting the line straighten out.
I tried dutifully to do as he’d said after he’d thrown some food pellets into the water to assure that there were trout in the neighborhood. I could see plenty of fish, but my improperly tossed line caught a dogwood instead of a trout.
I was momentarily chastened by my inaccurate throw, but only momentarily. At least I had no worries about wiggling a hook from a poor trout’s mouth or watching it flop in a pail, or finding someone to fillet it.
So ends this flyfishing tale. On Thursday I will be at the up-Island Council on Aging as usual, awaiting a fish some happy Island fisherman has caught off Menemsha at sunset, without the benefit of manuals on fishing.