August 4, 2012

Missed Takes


Missed takes, it’s the bane of every angler whether its musky, trout or tarpon. We as anglers make every excuse under the sun - hook was dull, the glare was too bright, I didn't get that promotion or I struck out with that blonde last night. Golfers get the shanks, pitchers get wild and we anglers can get inflicted with the case of missed takes. When I was younger, it was either being hung over or chasing skirt well into the wee hours. I would show up in a stupor completely unaware of my surroundings. I didn't even stand a chance and I wasn't on my game. Even a cup of Tim Horton’s strongest brew didn’t take effect immediately nor did the cold air and water. I would stand in the water feeling like absolute shit and often asked myself why am I doing this? Why did I get out of bed? The night before was fantastic and I still tried to remember the girl who I picked up her name - Allison, Michelle, or was it Janice? Somewhere in the fog, inside my head her name would eventually appear or maybe not. I might of wrote of her number down on the inside of my pack of smokes, but I threw it out after a long night of euchre. I pulled out one my fly boxes and picked out a white zonker. I trembled and tried to focus as I painstakingly threaded the line through the eye of the hook. My fingers were stained with nicotine as I smoke like a steel mill when ever I drink. Back in the day I smoked a lot but I never when I fished. 

I casted out, mended the line and sniffled. The hang over was stubborn and I felt achy. My muscles didn't want to cooperate and I made feeble roll casts. My head was pounding and my ears were still ringing from the music being played over the loudspeakers at every club we went to. During the early 1990s, I went to Sir Sandford Fleming college located in Lindsay, Ontario. It was a small farming community on the edge of the Kawarthas Lakes and the Haliburton Highlands were farther north. It was a small college town and there wasn’t a lot to do during the weekends. The bars in town were a joke and the locals were lame. However, Lindsay was a little over 50 miles from Toronto and during the weekends, I often made the trip down to stay with friends. For a man in his early twenties from a small northern mining community, Toronto quickly became my newest playground. I been to the city before but I never had the time to take in the nightlife. The clubs, pubs, live bands, exotic women and sporting venues drew me there like a moth to a bright light. I was there nearly every weekend and I had plenty of passengers to pay for gas. That of course meant more beer money. When I wasn’t too shit faced, we made to the Credit or the Bronte or even made the drive to the Niagara. I still miss those days as it was the best times I’ve ever had. 

Me and Jeff, a friend from Sudbury who moved to Toronto the year before to start his new job fished the lower Credit. Back in the early days, I was primarily a fly fishermen. I viewed float fishing as a novelty. I've seen guys doing it and I found it intriguing. But, I was a lowly college student with limited funds and most of those funds went to fishing and alcohol. I told myself the following summer, I would save enough money to get one of those long float rods. But for the time being it was my trusty 8wt and beaten Orvis Battenkill. The morning was chilly and the water was slightly stained. To our surprise there wasn’t a lot people out. We were both reeling from the effects of a night of debauchery along Yonge Street. We first hit the notorious but cheeky Brass Rail and Zanibar. The ladies were in fine form and women like that didn't exist back home. I was spellbound as they worked the pole and playfully removed bits and pieces of what little clothing they had on. The crowd was a mixture of college students, blue collar workers, old perverts and Bay Street nerds roared with approval when the top finally came off. We had our fill and hailed a cab to take us to one of Toronto's hippest dance club - Kool Haus. It was like a kid being in a candy store as there was women galore and we meet up with some Jeff's coworkers. We danced and drank until last call and it was back to Jeff's place in North York for more booze, pizza and euchre. I didn't hit the sack until 4:00AM and I knew I would pay for it. 

We got in my car and I wondered if I was under the legal limit. I still dazed and out of it since I only slept for 3 hours. We only had the morning to fish since we were going to head back to Kool Haus again with Jeff's friends we meet last night. I wanted to wet a line, catch some fish, get more beer and hit the sack for a couple of hours. All I kept thinking about was having a beer to ease the hang over. We arrived at the Credit and struggled to get our gear on. We hit the first pool and started working it. I half assed it so bad. My casts were sloppy and in my booze induced daze, I missed the indicator going down. I quickly snapped out of it and tried the set the hook. The line tighten immediately and I felt a tug for a brief second before the line went slack. The fish spit the hook and I looked to the sky in disbelief. I reeled in the line and checked the fly, the hook was still sharp. We moved farther down towards the tailout and above it where several cuts in the current. I casted out and started mending the line. The indicator boogled slightly and I set the hook. I felt the fish move quickly and tried to apply pressure and it was off. I almost drop the rod and looked at Jeff with disbelief. I remarked with a smirk that a drink would improve me concentration. We both laughed and went back to fishing. In that spot we went 0 for 5 and we were snake bitten. We continued to move up stream and the walking helped burned off the hang over but my body ached. I wanted a smoke bad, but I was out and boy I could use one. 

The next spot was vacant much to our surprise. I tried to focus but my dried out contacts made it difficult. We worked the pool and Jeff was babbling about some hot blonde that worked in accounts payable. Jeff is very animated when he talks and when you add alcohol he’s like a hamster on meth, he’s all over the place. As he’s babbling away and his eyes are off the indicator and it goes under, in mid sentence he tries to set the hook. There is a loud splash and nothing. A volley of f bombs can be heard coming out of his mouth. We finally got broke the shut out when Jeff landed a small steelhead buck that fell to a black wholly bugger. As for me, it was the worst outing I had in a long time as I ended up 0 for 12. It was that type of morning and I should of stayed in bed. Jeff fished as I managed to bum a smoke off another angler. I sat on the bank and wonder if I wasn't half in the bag I probably would of had a great morning. Instead I felt like it was a wasted trip. We wrapped up fishing around noon and I desperately needed of another coffee. We bailed and headed to Tim Horton’s for lunch. I talked about how school was coming along and that Lindsay was a hell hole. We got back to Jeff's place and I took a couple Tylenols and I was out for the count. The sleep was what I needed and I was recharged for another night. It was back to Kool Haus and we a lot of time on the dance floor. I worked up a sweat on the crowded floor and quickly made trips to the bar. It was another late night as we played cards and drank well into the night. There was no fishing for Sunday as we slept in all morning. We toured the Eaton Center and Kensington Market for the rest of the day. I left around five and we made plans for another weekend and promised to lay off the boozing - famous last words. I picked up my three passengers and made the trip back to Lindsay.

That was over twenty years ago and the days of drinking, debauchery and fishing hung over are long gone. They are a distant memory, a time when I had no responsibly or any thoughts of what the future held. I was having too much fun and I didn’t want it to end, but it eventually all parties come to an end. After graduating, I moved to Toronto and eventually to Alberta. After a couple of years both me and my fiancĂ©e had an opportunity to move to the states and settled in Ohio. Jeff got married, had three kids and was transferred to Calgary. As for the other fishing pals, we went our separate ways and eventually lost contact. But the missed takes never went away. Instead of being hung over, it’s being distracted by a phone call or listening to the guy next to me bitching about the Browns. One memorable day of missed takes was on the Conneaut. Bubba’s friends were up form Dayton and we were itching to get some fish after a long deary winter.

It was early March and we were experiencing a warming tread. The past winter was brutal, one of the coldest since I’ve been in Ohio. For several weeks, the streams were locked up with ice and the warmer weather started to unlock it. As the snowed melted, the large blocks of ice freed the rivers and we were back in business. The power plant was getting old and I needed a change of scenery. We arrived in Conneaut and the river was cloaked in mist. The temperature today was suppose to be in the 60s but the river was still in the upper 30s. Nobody knew what the fishing would be like. Would they of pushed up or remained low waiting for the water to recede. As expected with the warmer weather, there were more people out. There were the diehards, the newbies and the fair weather fishermen. All of them trying to get their hands on fresh fish. The four of us fished near a popular spot. The water was murky at best and definitely was more suited for sacs. We divided into groups of two to cover more water. 

I felt really funny this morning, I was all wound up and I don’t know if the coffee I got from the truck stop was high octane caffeine. I couldn’t focus and my mind started to wander. I also kept looking downstream to see how the others were doing. I casted out across the stream and moved the float to a spot where I knew the fish held. The shale ledge was 15’ off the opposite bank and the fish generally parked themselves above the tailout. I shook my head and blink several times as my eyes got blurry. I focused and noticed the float was gone. I swiftly set the hook and felt the line throb and fish bolted. It felt like a skipper and I watched it launch itself from the water. In one fluid motion, the skipper threw the hook and I watch splash back into the water. I wasn’t terribly disappointed since it was a skipper and I knew there would be more fish. I worked the pool the some more and again I looked downstream and out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the float tapping. I set the hook and briefly felt a head shake and it was gone. I dropped the tip the rod into the water and looked to the sky. I reeled in the line and inspected the hook. The tip was still sharp and I muttered that I reacted too quickly. I looked upstream and Bubba was in the zone. Nothing fazed him as he watched his float, I called out and I got no response. The two missed takes as it turned out were the takes I had all morning. The fishing was terrible as the others were still shut out because of missed takes. Maybe it was long time off the water and the others were still rusty. All four of us were posting a shutout and excuses started to fly as we figured the water was still too cold or the fish were spread out. What ever the reasons, we bailed and drove back west to the Chagrin. We managed to hook into a couple of fish and I rid myself of the missed takes. The others were not as lucky. 

I still have the periodic times when I get distracted while fishing. The year I was getting divorced from wife was exceptional brutal. I worried about the house and wonder if she would undermine me. On the flip side, when I'm with the guys we often bust each others chops, the laughing does get distracting. But, even when I'm alone, I can get distracted because of the scenery. There are times when I look at the shale cliffs covered in snow or the flocks of turkey foraging across the river. The miss takes like shanks come and go. The following week, I'm totally in the zone and I don't miss the slightest movement of the float. I'm like a machine as I hook fish after fish. After 30 years of fishing, I've yet too figure out how to cure myself of the missed takes.

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