Words by: Tim Homa
I’d be lying to you if I said there hasn’t been any attempts out of Chubs Peterson since having casting lessons back in September. One, super cold, shot in the dark mountain stream attempt during Thanksgiving and a handful of half-assed attempts in the saltwater via wading or kayak. Each resulted in a skunk.
Minus catching a fish, all of those attempts were successful as far as improving on casting and line management. Concurrently, the anticipation of coming tight on a fish and what I would do if that happened built with each outing.
One constant in my saltwater outings was I brought my spinning rod to bail me out. There was a definite lack of commitment. I’d try to locate fish with my lure, then switch and start throwing the fly. Knowing fish were there forced me to rush and not be in the moment to let the rod and fly do their thing. Closest I got was a bump and missed hook set on a small puppy drum. It just wasn’t Chubs’ time.
Out of the water, Chubs was doing the right things. Watching episodes of The Skiff Wanderer chasing red drum in Texas, familiarizing myself with Permit and GT’s, learning what it looked like to catch freshwater trout from Wild Fly Productions, and consuming a plethora of Fly Lords videos on Youtube became the norm. Even started using Laird Hamilton’s Superfood Coffee Creamer to be fueled up and ready to go when my time was called.
Downloading the Fly Fishing Simulator game on my iPhone was the key offseason workout. It allowed me to learn about different flies, but most importantly, allowed me to virtually catch some freaking fish. Solid Brook Trout, Rainbow Trout, and Brown Trout have been easy pickin’s over the last few weeks. Ask Ryan and Nick, I’ve sent them photos of every single one.
February in the Mid-Atlantic is always a wild card as far as weather. Fortunately, this year we’ve experienced warmer days than January with a few 60 and 70 degree days sprinkled in. This has allowed the water temps to slowly creep up, and as a result, fish are getting active. String a couple warm, sunny days together and you can find yourself on a pretty fun bite.
With the pattern laid out above unfolding, Ryan and I decided to wade a flat before work one morning where he had caught some puppy drum a few days prior in cold conditions. If they were there when it was cold, you’d think they would still be around as it’s warmed up. Or so we hoped. Nonetheless, we gave it a shot. Chubs was fully committed, no spinning rod in tow, and a delicious looking clouser rigged up.
“Today is the day,” I thought to myself when I stepped foot off land and into the water.
Faced with a super low tide, steadily increasing wind at our backs, and increasing cloud cover, conditions were tough to say the least. But we powered on, focusing on the sections of the flat that held knee deep or more water. Afterall, today is the day. A skunk isn’t an option.
Two hours into the wade it looked like a skunk was going to be the only option. The wind was increasing and we were running out of time.
“Your casts are looking great,” said Ryan.
Little did he know with each good cast came an absolute mental battle of what the hell am I going to do if I feel a fish hit this fly. Having built up so much anticipation for that first fish, a failed hookset or hook pull would have been devastating. Focusing on a strip set vs setting the hook with the rod has been something I’ve played out over and over in my mind.
Up against the clock, we decided to push another 50 yards further to a section of the flat that went from knee deep to waist deep pretty gradually. A few casts in, I looked over and saw Ryan’s rod bent over and watched him securely hold the line in his left hand to keep tension.
“Today is the day,” I think to myself again.
Hoping there are more fish with Ryan’s, I made a few casts where he had just hooked up. Each strip I made on the retrieve I played through how I would set the hook.
“Is it a thump or does it just feel like weight?” I asked Ryan.
He replied, “it will feel like weight pulling back away from you.”
Several casts in the same area all returned without a fish. “This can’t be happening again,” I thought.
After Ryan released his fish he let me grab his rod. The increasing wind made it hard to cast the 5wt I was using. His clouser had a bit less weight to it which helped fight the wind on the back cast.
Immediately my casts were going further, but still no action. I moved forward slightly and stripped out more line to cast. Focused on my casting motion, I unloaded one of the best casts of the morning, sending all of the line I had stripped out. The handmade clouser Ryan tied landed right on the edge of the depth change.
“That’s the cast,” I thought to myself.
Strip one, strip two, strip three, strip four, and before the fifth strip I feel the line go heavy. In slow motion, I think “oh god, strip.” At that point my left hand was back behind my hip so my first strip to set the hook had just enough tension. I pinched my right index finger down on the line to give me a second to bring my left hand further up and give a good yank.
The rod bows over and I hear Ryan yell. “Ahhhhh! Yes dude.”
“Now what?” I reply desperately trying to keep tension on the fish and manage all of the line around me in the water.
Ryan tells me to keep tension on the line with my left hand and slowly let the fish pull the line back out. After the second run, I reeled the remaining line to the reel and fought the fish from there.
Once I was able to fight the fish with the line on the reel, I let out a laugh and couldn’t help but smile. Still feeling incredibly awkward fighting a fish this way for the first time, I felt comfortable enough not to apply too much pressure and get the fish in.
After several blitzing runs, I get the fish in and Ryan lands it. Fist bumps fly. And laughing ensues.
“Was that life changing?” Ryan asked.
“That was a nightmare,” I responded jokingly.
We documented the moment and paid respects to the fish.
As it swam off I thanked it for closing a chapter in the book of Chubs Peterson. More importantly, I thanked it for starting a new chapter in Chubs Peterson’s fly fishing conquest.
With the pressure of that first fish now off my back, I am excited to build on that moment. Let there be more fish and better line management in the future for Chubs Peterson.