Beyond the standard, broad topics easing your introduction into fly fishing, some things are only learnable on a hit-or-miss basis through the school of hard knocks. This article aims to save you some of the tuition with a few costly personal confessions.
Stupid thing #1: I drove to the Conway River in Virginia, and the plan was to walk up the trail to escape my personal perception of localized parking lot pressure. As I always did, I assembled my rod at the truck and headed out. The path was reasonably smooth paralleling the river, but that did not stop me from stumbling about a half mile into the walk, pushing my rod tip into the dirt and snapping it. I had a backup rod in the truck and had to waste time to walk back and get it. Two lessons learned. Do not assemble your rod until you reach the stream and carry a small mountain pack rod as a backup.
Stupid thing #2: Given I’m a slow learner, I did not actually learn the lessons quoted above even though I had plenty of time to ponder them during the two-hour drive to fish Little Stony Creek in Virginia. I pulled into the parking lot off FR 92, assembled my rod, and decided to carry the rod pointing to the rear so I could push through the brush without having to guide a wobbly fly rod around leafy obstacles. As an aside and quick tip, never tie on your fly until you reach the stream because you do not know what matches the hatch until reaching the water’s edge. Upon arriving, I grabbed the fly line and began threading it through the guides. All was well until I reached for the tip section. It was missing.
Somewhere along the path, the thick underbrush had conspired to grab the guides and gently pull the tip section out of the socket. Thankfully, I had my GPS and was able to use the trackback function to retrace my steps and find the missing part. Sadly, it took this final incident to lock in the assembly on the stream lesson…
Stupid thing #3: While writing my book, Wade fishing the Rapidan River of Virginia, I visited every access point, fished each to reconfirm earlier experience, took pictures and moved on. On one trip, I was in a hurry to get from place to place and, not wanting to reassemble my rod each time, I put it in the cab of the truck with half extending out the small sliding window in the back. The rod enjoyed that perch as the truck bounced and jiggled over the rough mountain roads. About a week later, I drove over to West Virginia to fish the North Fork of the South Branch near Cabins with a first quick stop near the intersection of Route 28/55 and Smoke Hole Road.
After parking in a sketchy turnout, it took about 30 minutes to get into position, but it was a beautiful location and worth the walk. I made a strong first cast and noticed a strange feeling on the forward stroke. The top half of the rod had followed the streamer into the rapidly flowing water. Odd. When I reeled everything in and began to reassemble the rod, I noticed the middle section had cracked at the joint. I immediately realized the banging and jarring along the rough road in the Blue Ridge put unnatural stress on the joint and cracked it. When I sent away for the inexpensive replacement section, I got a call from the manufacturer curious about how I broke the rod. They had never had to replace that section before. Sheepishly, I had to admit my error. Lesson finally learned – disassemble the rod when traveling or use a commercial rod rack designed to buffer and protect the rod during travel. And where was my backup rod? Since I had only intended to fish this spot for an hour, I left my day pack with the mountain pack rod in the back of the truck…
Stupid thing #4: I rolled into the Hunting Run turnout outside of Fredericksburg to fish the Rapidan River for smallmouth bass. The postage stamp-sized parking area is about a mile from the river, and as usual, I was anxious to get started. I hitched on my day pack, pulled the rod from the sock in one smooth motion and headed to the river. Clutching my unassembled (finally got that right) rod in a death grip, I negotiated the winding trail created as an Eagle Scout project. Upon reaching the river, I discovered my quick swoop of the sections did not include the narrow, small tip piece hidden carefully in the rod sock. Thankfully, I had learned the lesson of the backup rod and pulled out my mountain pack rod. Lesson learned – when your rod has several sections, make sure you have all of them before you leave your vehicle.
Stupid thing #5: Car doors are not kind to fly rods. Never lean a rod against a vehicle adjacent to an open door. Invariably, the shock and motion of the door shutting will jar the rod, and it will always default to falling in the direction of the door. SNAP!
Beyond my stupidity, the common thread is the need for a backup in the event your rod breaks. A small, multi-sectional mountain pack rod is the best solution. Mine is a seven-piece, 9 foot, five weight rod with medium fast action provided by IM-8, 45-ton modulus carbon. I like the five weight because I can use it either on a stream as a replacement for a four weight rod or on a river to backstop a six weight since the four weight or six weight line on the reel from the broken rod still provides acceptable casting action stepping up or down a line weight.