No fish caught, but casting hits mark

Outdoors

July 10, 2005|By CANDUS THOMSON

MILLINGTON - A light rain is topping off Unicorn Lake as Philip Krista pushes his battered green canoe from the launch area. It doesn't stay light for long.

Rain comes in so many forms - mist, drizzle, showers, sheets. Lucky us, we get to see most of them in the first hour. Thank goodness for Gore-Tex.

We are here on the Eastern Shore to test my new fly rod, or allow it to test me.

It's not that I don't want to learn to fly fish. It's just that given the choice between casting a spinning rod to a fish-filled area in front of me or practicing the art of disengaging a 5-weight, floating, double-taper line from around my windpipe without the tiny fly embedded in my scalp dislodging a divot, I'll take the one that doesn't hurt.

But that which does not kill us makes us stronger - or leaves a really ugly mark - so here I am with Krista, who has taught zillions of people to fly fish, on an outing to air out my toy, a benign-looking fly rod. The jovial Oella resident calls this day "an adventure," much the way my dentist refers to a root canal as "a little work."

This is the second or third time Krista, a certified master caster, has tried to infuse me with his knowledge. So far, it hasn't taken. Krista is a patient man. This day, I am going to test that patience.

Fly rods always seem twice my height while the reel seems too small. But the itsy-bitsy hook always finds the soft spot on my thumb and nestles there, happily. (Full disclosure: I have also packed my trusty spinning rod and some spinners and spoons just in case I get desperate and create my own no-fly zone.)

The rain is a perfect shield. The only living things on the lake's surface are Krista, I and huge green splotches of algae bloom that make Unicorn look like some kind of Asian soup.

The canoe glides silently to an area upstream from the dam that, with its partially submerged tree trunk and overhanging bank, looks like a perfect fish hangout.

As I see it, my first responsibility is to not hook Krista, who has the car keys and might just leave me if I disfigure him.

Raising the rod tip, I begin the motions that should electrify my line into those graceful, liquid curves captured in Lefty Kreh books and A River Runs Through It.

Instead, I look like some rabid practitioner of rhythmic gymnastics, a sport that should have been banned by the Olympics as way too silly. I catch a glimpse of my reflection. All I need is a couple of multi-colored ribbons and a rubber ball or two, and I'll be on my way to Beijing in 2008.

My cast ends with all the orange line floating in front of me in the fetal position, the fly hiding under the water in shame.

"Don't worry," says Krista. "Try again."

Easy for him to say. My Jedi master is practically writing the Bill of Rights in flowing script with his fly line.

My second cast looks a wee bit better, but this time I'm sure I can hear the fly crying, "Help me. Help me," in a pitiful voice reminiscent of the 1958 science-fiction movie.

Krista takes some casts with my rod, which all of the sudden becomes a well-behaved companion.

Handing it back to me, he concludes, "You'll never outgrow this," which is a nice way of saying that my skills will never embarrass the rod.

With the addition of a huge stringy glob of algae, my next cast looks like a landscaped Halley's Comet whizzing by my ear. The spinning rod calls to me from its safe position cowering in the bottom of the canoe, but I will not give in.

Krista is landing bluegills bigger than my hand. "Want to switch?" he asks in a kindly tone usually reserved for someone with two flat tires and a steaming radiator.

I shake my head. It's this rod and reel or nothing.

After four hours, it's nothing. But you know what? It's OK.

I may never wield the fly rod like Krista or Kreh. I may never catch a blasted fish on one of those willowy sticks.

But getting skunked doesn't detract from the day. We laugh and tell whoppers. We gossip and get on our soap boxes. We watch turtles and chimney swifts and startle a doe from her bed.

Krista gives his fish to a couple fishing below the dam whose luck is only slightly better than mine.

We head for the Western Shore and a fish sandwich at McDonald's. Now that, I can handle.

Peak experience

Speaking of adventures, Mike Gary and his son, Court, will be heading out for the real deal this Friday. Their destination is the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, at 19,340 feet, Africa's highest peak. Their mission is to raise money for a local charity.

The 47-year-old Howard County resident has parachuted out of a plane and mixed it up with the bulls of Pamplona three times. Even scarier, he is the brother of DNR fisheries biologist Marty Gary.

"I'm just one of those guys who gets bored with mundane, everyday things," he says. (If he wants wild, he should fly fish with me.)

Mike and Court, who just graduated from Mount St. Joseph High School, kicked around the idea of doing something special this summer, with dad saving money for four years to pay for whatever it ended up being.

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