Fly Fishing Jazz: Playing the Breeze

March 19, 2012 By: Kirk Deeter

CJShmit Wind

photo by CJ Schmit

Wind happens.  And for the fly angler, “wind” is about as good a swear word as any other that fits in front of “happens.”

When my buddy Tim Romano and I row his boat down the Colorado River, he not only refuses to say that word himself (he just says “W”), he get’s downright angry—like, threaten to kick me overboard angry—if I say something like, “Man, it’s not that windy today,” especially when he’s pushing the sticks.

I guess everyone has superstitions.  For example, I’ve also been chastised for bringing a banana on a boat.  Some offshore captains take that fruit offense very seriously.  Being semi-superstitious myself, I can respect where they’re coming from.  Personally, I have a thing against listening to Buddy Holly songs when I’m flying in an airplane. Won’t do it… I always click the shuffling iPod to the next tune.

But wind is a fact of life for an angler.  There, I said it.  Wind.  And I’ll say it again, over and over.  Wind, wind, wind, wind, wind…

Deal with wind as you fish, and you’re playing jazz.  Improvise around the elements around you.  It’s no different than falling in with quickly shifting chord changes, or hiccups in the rhythm.  If you pull it off, the music is actually more interesting, and more fun to play.

After all, jazz, by its very nature, is rooted in the African-American culture that has been defined for centuries by hardship.  The art comes through improvisation and expression in the face of all that… the ability to make something beautiful happen in an otherwise shitty world.

So you’re standing in the river, or on the flats, recreating with a fly rod, and Mother Nature decides to whistle in your ear.  So what?

The other week, I was bonefishing in the Bahamas, and it blew at least 20-knots (legitimately) for five days in a row.  I still caught fish.  Not as many, mind you, as I might have in still conditions.  But the casts and connections I made were inevitably sweeter than they would have been otherwise.  I relished every moment.

The trick with fishing in the wind is knowing where to stand.  Wind casting is more about your feet than it is about your casting arm.  Sometimes, when you’re staring straight into the barrel of the breeze, you need to understand that you’re just not going to win.  But a few steps to the side, and tilting your casting plane up or down, maybe over your shoulder, can put you right back in the mix.  The next puff, if you play it right, can make you a hero.

When you fish, you’re seldom the “conductor” in a classical sense.  You’re usually part of a larger ensemble.  And the more you’re able to groove with that tune evolving around you, the better you are.