It’s been roller coaster conditions here just south of Indian River Bay, with cloudy and chilly or windy days being replaced by sunny, calm and warmer days interchangeably. Through it all, the fishing has been great. I’ve been hopping around from water to water, between jobs, appointments and engagements, fishing freshwater in a slow rain just last week, and fishing all kinds of water just yesterday in sunshine and light breezes.
My day started at Indian River Inlet, performing the precarious high wire acting of catching fish with a fly rod from rocky shore lines above strong, swirling currents. The Hickory Shad run has been very strong over the past week, and if yesterday was any indication, remains robust. While little is known about the oceanic activities of hickory shad, they enter the tributaries and rivers every spring, on an almost mechanical schedule, to begin the spawning cycle. At Indian River, the flashes of silver can be seen streaking below the surface in good numbers. A clouser minnow, either retrieved through a rip current or simply drifted, had me catching shad on almost every cast; a collection of small and middling fish punctuated by the occasional brute. These are some of my favorite fish to catch with a fly rod. Pound for pound, they are very impressive fighters, and their penchant for launching themselves from the water in the attempts to dislodge a hook are spectacular.
Fishing here has it’s own set of challenges. First, there are the obvious – I am standing just inside a major coastal inlet, and coastal winds come with it. With a weight-forward 8wt line and a heavy fly, this challenge can be battled and beaten, but it can be hard work. I am also standing atop a scattering of massive boulders – placed here a couple of years ago to hinder the natural erosion that was occurring. Fishing without a stripping basket is not an option. The jagged edges and deep holes will swallow a fly line, and sometimes won’t give it back. Just hop-scotching my way out to the small, flat boulder from where I can firmly stand and cast was a demonstration of balance and agility, with my sling pack on my back, a rod in one hand, a net in the other, and a stripping basket strapped to my waist. And then you actually get to try to catch a fish.
The shad sometimes bite and release so quickly that I miss them. But when I do get a fish, they pull hard, and in the case of the larger fish, streak off a bunch of line. Now we’re fighting for control. The fish will try to go deep, or it will try to skirt the rocky shore line, scraping both fly line and delicate leader against the boulders, barnacles and other sharp stuff that threatens to terminate the connection between me and my catch. Once I’ve played the fish enough to bring it to the water at my feet, I now go into the routine of trying to pull my fly rod back with my left hand, bringing the fish closer, and reaching out with the net in my right hand, trying to land him. This would be a hell of a lot easier with two people. Upon safely retrieving the fish, I use my stripping basket as an operating table while I remove the hook from his mouth. I release him by laying down on the rocks so I can keep a hand on the fishes tail and move him through the water to earn him enough energy to head back to deeper waters. When the fish is safely away, I get a moment to look around and evaluate my situation. The fly is a mess. The dumb bell eyes have no more red paint, and they are sideways on the hook shank. The top sprigs of deer hair are missing. The body dressing is frayed. My leader is chaffed at the end from contact with rocks and underwater debris. About 15 feet to my left, along the rocks, is where I was standing when the fish took the fly. Between me and that rock is a tangled mess of fly line, winding under, over and around the boulders like spaghetti and meatballs – line that was either stripped off by the fish or spilled out of my stripping basket as I hopped around the shore line trying to land him. What a mess. Let’s do it again…..