Fly Fishing Jazz: Dropping the Bomb and Coming Tight

Fly Fishing Photography

photo by Clayton Stewart

In jazz music, there are notes, and there are “bombs.”  Notes are simply tones.  Bombs are when the right tone lines up with the right tempo in the right place, in the context of a moving melody.  Bombs are statement notes, and when they happen with effect, that’s the stuff that makes the hair stand up on the back of the listener’s neck.  When you hear them, those are the notes that make you close your eyelids, smile and nod.

When a musician plays in a combo and he or she is tracking through the chord progressions; it’s okay—in fact encouraged—to noodle and trick around.  But the tight band always comes back together in the right place at the right time.  Dizzy Gillespie once explained (and I’m paraphrasing): “I don’t care what you do between here and there… but when it’s time to be there, you’d better be there with me.”

I also think that’s an apt metaphor for the fly angler working upriver, or even on the flats.  You noodle and play, plinking casts here and there for effect.  A roll cast here, and overhead loop lands there.  You’re prospecting to carry a tune, and if something interesting happens along the way, that’s just great.

But then there are times and places where the spot in front of you just looks so juicy… so tender… you know, the fishing gods know, and I think even the fish themselves know, that if you drop the “bomb” right there, it’s almost preordained that it should all mesh together, and you will come tight on a fish.

Maybe that’s calling the shot.  Maybe it’s a second sense.  I say it’s dropping the bomb in accordance with the music of the water.

Most of the working guides out there know exactly what I am talking about.  They’ve seen enough misses and eats to anticipate what happens when the real bomb gets dropped.  (Anticipation is the secret to playing jazz.)  There’s “good cast” and there’s “nice shot,” a lot of which is all stoking the ego and meant to move the progression along.

And then there’s the perfect bomb.   You don’t have to actually see the fish to believe it’s going to work.  You just know.

Bombs are the casts that deserve fish.  Not the casts that might work, could work, or should work.  They’re the casts, and drifts, and presentations born of justice.

The pure jazz musician knows how to drop musician bombs regularly and routinely.  I think that, to the extent an angler can do the same, wherever and whenever they fish, that’s where they cross the line between being an aficionado and being a virtuoso.