If you consider yourself an urban angler, then you know the almost giddy urgency that hits the gut and the head (and occasionally, the bladder, if traffic has been particularly gnarly) once you finally shift the vehicle into “Park” and strike out across the blacktop toward a chosen target water.
I know I’m definitely guilty of that approach. In fact, my fishing buddy, Sean and I have gotten it down to a science to where we can assemble our four-piece 5-weights, tie on new leader material and have flies selected and secured to the tippet in the time it takes us to go from car to water’s edge.
I’m not bragging, I’m just sayin’. The “urban” part of our chosen obsession sometimes leads us to do things with the proverbial “New York minute” mindset.
Recently however, there was a post on the OrvisNews.com blog that caused me to pause and even reconsider my “assault”
mentality. The article offered some very valid and timely tips regarding taking a moment to actually use our God-given senses to assess and evaluate our target fishing area before “flinging the string” – even if it is a location we have fished many, many times before.
Now, regular readers already know that due to the somewhat dubious nature of the various “swims” (as the Brits say) we often choose to fish, we are constantly watching for things like drug deals, drive-bys, enraged Rottweilers, gang initiations, guys dealing with the aftermath of alleged alien abduction, kids looking to score some “free” gear… the usual urban stuff … however, since reading the OrvisNews article, I’ve taken to considering how excessive attention to those non-fishing realities may have caused us to hit the water a little too abruptly and a little too anxiously resulting in fewer fish.
Thus, with that fresh insight in mind, I have taken the liberty of copying below the checklist from the OrvisNews.com article (with my own commentary) in the hopes that learning to “surveil before we flail” will ultimately make us all better urban anglers.
So, assuming you have made it across the lot, soccer field, railroad tracks, chain link or other assorted obstacles typically associated with urban fishing and assuming you have already taken in to account the aforementioned scenarios, also consider the following BEFORE making that first cast, no matter how tempting things first look:
1. Do you see any fish rising?
Sure, you may be on urban water but fish are fish and if you watch carefully, depending on time of day and season, you will see fish rising along the banks, in quiet spots and under overhanging brush. That info alone may help you in your choice of fly and/or tactic for the day
2. Can you spot any fish holding or moving?
Several of the locations we regularly hit require an approach from a hill or steep bank or other elevated vantage point. Consider stopping and watching for a moment before racing as quickly as possible to water’s edge. Polarized glasses really prove their worth in these situations. Observing fish from above and from a distance may alter your approach angle and give you that little edge you need to make the day a success rather than a wash.
3. Are there insects on the water? In the air? Crawling in the streamside vegetation?
Again, fish are still fish no matter the zip code and trout, panfish and bass will still hit insects hovering above or blowing into an urban pond with the same vigor that
their wild cousins do in other settings. Now, it’s not as important to matchthe hatch in the urban setting but an abundance of insects in and around the water might tip your decision toward choosing the ant and hopper imitations over the nymph and bugger choices, making for a totally different experience on water you may have fished a dozen times before.
4. How is the water clarity?
If you can see them, they can see you and heavily pressured urban fish will hunker down quickly if they feel any threat. Consider staying well back from the bank, if
possible, to avoid having your shadow fall on the water. Use wind chop and ripples to your advantage. Though rarely practiced in the urban setting, mostly because you’re likely to be mistaken for a sniper or pervert, keeping a low profile can give you an advantage with spooky fish. Finally, learn how clarity affects fish vision. Talk to the local fly guys. Ask them what is working for the current conditions, and then buy a few of those patterns from them.
5. Is the water higher or lower than normal?
Urban lakes and ponds are generally rather shallow and even small fluctuations in water depth can change the desirability or accessibility of various structure that certain fish would otherwise choose. Don’t automatically assume the usual spots will work if you notice (keyword: notice) a change in water level. However, definitely use low water levels to examine exposed areas. Note structure and shape that was once and will soon be underwater again. Take pictures if you can. We recently spoke to a non-fishing gentleman who lived near a local pond and volunteered that he had observed a deep channel in one part of that particular pond when it was once drained for maintenance. That little nugget alone has helped us pull sizeable fish out of there on several occasions.
6. Can you identify likely holding spots—behind current breaks, near structure, below riffles, etc.?
In other words, “think before you blindly plink”.
7. Do you need to get in the water, or can you fish from shore?
Not typically legal, or medically desirable in many urban waters but in a few locations it really could make a difference in the success of your day. Refer back to the UFV article “Tortilla Flats” for an example.
8. Is there a good place to get in the water that will avoid spooking fish and position you well to cast to likely fish-holding spots?
See comment above.
9. Are there any wading hazards you’ll need to avoid?
Forget wading hazards, in the urban fishing setting, you always need to be aware of potential hazards: broken bottles, rusty pipes sticking up, pop-up sprinkler heads, used hypodermic needles, dead ducks filled with the gas of decomposition ready to explode at the slightest nudge, discarded monofilament that will wrap around
your boots…If you haven’t been paying attention so far consider yourself very, very blessed and consider changing your ignorant ways.
10. Are there any obstacles that you’ll need to avoid while fighting a fish?
I say consider this from a fish-on perspective, a back-casting perspective and sadly, a got-to-get-away-quick perspective. You are in an urban setting – it is a given
that there will be obstacles, including kids on scooters directly behind you. Plan accordingly. Should you tie in to a real fighter while fishing from the bank, most fellow anglers will follow “boat rules” and will reel in or raise their lines so you can pass beneath, especially because as an urban fly fisherman you are still an oddity and they want to see if you really can land something with a fly rod. Also consider that many urban lakes have artificial structure in them, some intentionally placed there to improve habitat and some just there because certain folks somehow think it is fun to chuck stuff into the water. The first time a good bass breaks off by wrapping around a submerged shopping cart you’ll know what I mean.
And there you have it – ten tips to better angling courtesy Orvisnews.com and adjusted to the urban fly environment courtesy yours truly. Now, I know there are probably many more tips and considerations we could come up with if we really tried, The point however is basically the same one we all learned in grade school: “stop, look, listen, then go”. Ironically, in the realm of urban fly fishing that simple, time-tested advice can still keep us from getting hit by a bus but it can also make us much better anglers.
I love this addiction called urban fly fishin’.
It is one of those sly ironies of the English language, not lost on those who fly fish, that the measurement for wind speed is a term labeled “knots”.
Technically, one knot is equal to 1.15 miles per hour, 6076 feet per hour or 1.687 feet per second. Not so technically, a knot is what forms in a flyfisherman’s… uh… undergarments when wind speed exceeds one’s ability to roll cast, double haul or side cast into it.
Sadly, knots are also what accumulate in my leader and gut in a quantity proportional to the wind speed.
Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that the hard-blowing Santa Ana wind that confronted my fishin’ buddy, Sean and me was a source of many knots this past Sunday as we tried to sneak in some quality fly fishing.
Not to say that we didn’t suspect that it was going to be hard going from the get go. The fact that every tree on the way to our first target lake was in motion was a pretty good tip off.
Now, in the days before wristwatch-sized anemometers and instant access to the Weather Channel via cell phone, folks relied on simple things like…trees uprooting in front of you or waves taller than the masts on your ship as tip offs to weather conditions. In fact, the whole idea behind the Beaufort Wind Speed Scale was one 19th century British Admiral’s attempt to standardize wind speed terminology using relatively consistent observable conditions rather than actual knots as the basis for an informative 0 – 12 scale, with zero being dead calm and force twelve being something like, “Duck! Mrs. O’Leary’s pig has learned to fly!”
That being the case then, Sunday afternoon found Sean and I trying to cast little black and olive feathers and chenille attached to tiny pieces of sharpened wire into a wind somewhere in the Force six possibly Force seven range on the Beaufort scale.
Add to that the fact that the Eucalyptus trees near where we were are “self-pruning” (which means large limbs randomly break off without warning in even milder breezes) and the 100-foot tall palm trees were losing their years-overdue-for-pruning dried fronds in this particular wind and you might get the idea that we were in what you might call a real flyfishing “adventure”– ah, good times.
Nevertheless, we gallantly attempted to salvage the afternoon and pitched weighted wooly buggers and Sean’s own shrimp pattern until our arms ached.
Finally, when it became oh-so-obvious that nothin’ was bitin’ and when most of the moisture had been evaporated from our bodies, we decided to call it quits.
Now, it may have just been the adrenaline dump still coursing though my veins from having a hypodermic-sharp size 8 hook repeatedly whizzing atypically close to my right ear or it could have been the sense of gratitude derived from not being crushed to death by a falling tree branch but I was pretty happy with the day – we got a ton of casting practice in under less than favorable conditions and we learned a little bit more about the wind patterns on the two lakes we tried to fish. Both things we will use to our advantage as the season progresses.
I love this addiction called urban flyfishin’.
Many years ago I worked at a public aquarium that was just a short walk from a public fishing pier. About three years before I left that position, I started noticing this guy walking down the road toward the pier at about the same time I was arriving for work each morning.
The thing that made me notice this guy, aside from the half-dozen rods slung over his shoulder, was the fact that he always wore a navy blue sport coat and always looked like he was singing.
I never spoke to him directly but I always thought he also looked pretty happy. Now, maybe he was happy because he had retired from some dull office job and got to spend the rest of his days fishing or maybe he was happy because he had just had a really great breakfast – We’ll never know. But the one thing I do know, is that he always reminded me of a rather famous fishing photograph that still manages to catch my attention even though I’ve seen it literally hundreds of times. It is a picture of Leigh Perkins holding up a small tarpon while wearing one of Orvis’s trademark hopsack sports coats.
And the reason that picture catches my attention is not because I fish in a sports coat – get real – but rather because it exemplifies the idea of what urban fly fishing is really all about — being able to squeeze in a few minutes of fly fishin’ whenever and wherever the opportunity presents.
So, while I haven’t fished in a sports coat, I have stopped to fish an urban lake after a job interview, on the way home from work, before college classes, during lunch, between appointments, after church and while on the way to the hardware store.
I’ve fished in jeans and tee shirt, slacks and dress shirt, shorts, leather dress shoes, flip flops, Hawaiian shirts, turtlenecks, polo shirts, khakis, coveralls, boots and sneakers.
I’ve been asked if I was modeling for a new line of clothes (seriously and hilariously), if I was working a police case, if I was undercover, if I was a tourist, if I worked for the mayor’s office or if I was filming a television show.
The truth of the matter is I’m just a guy who likes to fish and doesn’t have a whole lotta free time to do it and as such, I tend to put substance (read that as, catching fish) over style- if you know what I mean.
Anyway, I sometimes suspect that all the push on specialized clothes that are only suitable for specific tasks and all is as much marketing and advertisement driven as it is practical reality.
Consider, for example, what the history books say on…oh…the American West and cowboys and you will learn that nearly as many “cowboys” simply wore Bowler hats as they did ten gallon Stetsons. Real cowpokes just made due with the gear at hand.
I’m guessing that like so many other things though that the image can tell the story and “the-man-with-no-name” would not have appeared nearly so macho in all those spaghetti westerns had he been decked out in East Coast city duds as opposed to weathered serape and a “real” cowboy hat.
Just so we’re clear, I’m not against practical functionality – waders are a blessings as are many of the fabrics and clothes that wick away sweat and dry quickly and repel insect and so on and so. I’m just sayin’ that when opportunity knocks, I’m answering the door even if I’m wearing Brooks Bros. and a silk tie.
And that’s my point, urban fishin is all about striking when the time allows.
As if to be a subtle reminder that my line of reasoning is not so far-fetched, I flipped open a fishing catalog the other night and there was a picture of Tom Skerritt portraying the Reverend MacLean from the movie version of “ A River Runs Through It”. Lo and behold, his character was wearing a three piece suit (sans jacket) while flyfishing. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Though the image was taken from a movie, it was based on reality and, frankly, it was a reality that we ought to get used to if we deem ourselves urban fly guys (and gals).
So all that to say, the next time your out on the water and you see a guy decked out in brilliant blue, flowery Hawaiian shirt casting his 5-weight merrily away, don’t assume he is some newbie or poser. Just tip your hat and smile and recognize that he is probably a guy who, like you and me, loves this addiction called urban fly-fishin’.
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