The plan — make that “the original plan,” the one that existed before cruddy weather and other obligations dictated otherwise — called for a traditional opening-day fishing trip to Grand Lake Stream.
Once there, I’d chat with a few anglers, visit Kurt and Kathy Cressey at the Pine Tree Store, drink a cup of coffee (the first one’s always free on opening day), and take notes as a peaceful Maine village cast off another long winter and slowly shook itself awake.
Eventually, I’d don waders and join the fishermen vying for position in the Dam Pool. I wouldn’t catch anything, of course — I rarely did. But I’d fling flies for all I was worth, remaining in the water until my feet were numb or ice clogged the guides of my fly rod.
Alas, it snowed a foot on opening day. I stayed in Bangor. That was April 1.
Eventually, the snow melted, and I had other reasons not to fish. Then the rain came.
And while I’m not one who generally lets inclement weather stand in the way of outdoor activities, peering out the office window at day after day of gray, wet weather didn’t exactly inspire me to stand thigh-deep in a cold river for hours at a time.
So I waited. And waited. And waited.
On Tuesday afternoon — finally, a glorious late-spring day in Maine — a co-worker looked out the window and said the words that finally inspired a much-too-late opening day excursion: “Look at the Penobscot,” he said. “Calm as a mill pond.”
It was. The sun was shining. Not a puff of wind was blowing. The prospect of spending some time standing in flowing water was, finally, inviting.
I accepted the invitation.
Two hours later, I stood in a parking lot overlooking a not-too-distant river, watching a lone fly fisherman offer a variety of flies to finicky fish.
Having waited nearly two months for my personal opening day, I was in no hurry. The wind wasn’t blowing. The sun was still shining. So I stood there, watched the water flow by, and scanned the surface for signs of feeding fish.
Upstream 75 yards, I saw a rising fish leave a dimple in the glassy slick of water. I smiled. Not long after that, I spied an insect sitting on the hood of my truck. I carefully scooped it up, examined it, then let if fly away. I was smiling again: I knew that fly. I had plenty of imitations in my vest pockets. And I was confident that the waiting trout would find them attractive.
As often happens when men think they can figure out the culinary preferences of fish, I was wrong.
I hauled on well-worn waders and shrugged on a long-sleeve shirt to help ward off the swarming mosquitoes and black flies, assembled my fly rod, and stretched the fly line straight to eliminate a winter’s worth of tight coils.
Then I waded into a likely spot, fly at the ready, and began drifting the magic fly through likely feeding lies. Nothing.
Switching flies every five minutes or so, I worked my way through the menu. Eventually, the trout began to chase. A few swirled at the fly. A few more began to pursue when I stripped the fly back over their rocky hiding spots, always turning away at the last moment.
And eventually, I decided that a true opening-day fly might be in order.
A couple years back, preparing for a trip to Grand Lake Stream, I recalled that a particularly successful angler had claimed the Supervisor fly he had been casting deserved a lot of the credit.
In order to mine a little of that gold for myself, I had tied up a half-dozen opening-day Supervisors of my own — more or less. As it turns out, my Supervisors were not, well, Supervisors. Not in the least. I used different materials. I tinkered. I invented.
The result was a Smurf-blue-and-white mess of a fly that has never, ever, attracted any attention from a fish. Not even at Grand Lake Stream, where I assumed hungry landlocked salmon would mistake it for the real deal.
But I had tied it myself. I had, for all I knew, invented the pattern (though, I’m sure, some other adventurous souls have made the same mistakes, and have likely even named their odd-looking creations).
But on Tuesday, nothing else was working. It was opening day — for me. And in my box were a half-dozen flies that had been hand-crafted with opening-day success in mind (regardless of how that particular fishing trip had actually turned out).
So I tied on my fly, which I have taken to calling the Smurfle (realizing, for the record, that actual “invention” of a new pattern in the fly-tying world is a rare thing indeed).
On the first cast, a fish rolled at the fly as I stripped it in. On the second, a fish vaulted from the water after it, barely missing the gaudy blue mess but entertaining me with its acrobatic show.
And on the third cast, the Smurfle finally caught a fish.
The trout wasn’t big. It wasn’t particularly feisty. I brought it to hand quickly, released it without fuss or fanfare.
No one else saw the fish. Many would likely look at the fly, hear my story, and dismiss the whole episode as another fish tale. No right-minded fish, after all, would think twice about eating, well, that.
But fishing is funny. Fish eat odd things. Sometimes, fishermen get lucky.
And when that happens, on a long-overdue opening day on a beautiful stretch of water, even a long-overdue fly can surprise you.