A story that took a year to write
I thought this might be a good read on a cold winter's night. Hope you enjoy it.
1,000 Fish on the Fly
I have used goals to guide both my career and personal life for many years now. It turned out to be successful for me and I highly recommend making goal setting a regular part of your life.
My goal setting has helped spur me to do some interesting and challenging things. I’ve completed two marathons, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, visited every continent except Antarctica and become the first Chief Information Officer for a billion-dollar company. Last year (2021) the idea of wanting to be an extra in a movie came to me. Despite having had no idea how to achieve this goal nor any contacts in the industry I somehow managed to achieve it. In fact, I managed to land opportunities in 2 productions and even appeared on the screen albeit briefly in the remake of A League of Their Own.
Thinking about my goals for 2022 (I typically set my goals for the upcoming year in Q4) the idea of attempting to catch 1,000 fish on the fly rod in a single calendar year came to me. My rules were that blue gills or bream wouldn’t count but any other species would be fair game. In my universe of fishing that meant trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, catfish, chain pickerel, specks, carp, and bowfin. With an outside chance for a northern pike or Muskie (I’ve managed to catch a Muskie on the fly).
When fly fishing wading streams and rivers is part of my approach. In addition, I utilize my kayak to fly fish primarily lakes, but also the occasional river or stream. I don’t often see people fly fishing from kayaks and get quite the looks especially down south, but that approach has put a lot of fish in the net over the years.
Having never caught anywhere near this many fish in one year it was unclear how realistic my chances were. While my goal was 1,000 fish in a calendar year the reality was that I had from the beginning of February until sometime in early November to fish due to weather conditions. So instead of a full 12 months my pursuit would only leave me with about 10 months of fishing time.
Despite or perhaps because of my living in western Pennsylvania, I have grown to hate winter. I just abhor the cold. So, upon retiring, and following in my father’s footsteps, I started going to Florida each year for a bit longer span of time. In 2021 I’d gone down for 6 weeks anticipating several visitors during my stay. COVID intervened, and no one was able to fly down. Left alone with plenty of time to fish I took advantage of the situation resulting in my netting +200 fish during my stay.
My plans for 2022 were to head down in early February and stay until mid-March. Things calmed down regarding the pandemic such that my girlfriend’s father Bobdrove down with me and stayed for a week. Then a week later my girlfriend Sandra came down for 4 days.
To paraphrase a famous saying “the journey to 1,000 fish starts with one cast”. That cast occurred on January 31st, 2022. On that day I caught my first fish a small bass in my kayak on a lake just outside of Kissimmee Florida. The pursuit had begun with a ridiculous amount of fishing ahead of me.
Remembering my approach to running marathons, when starting out the focus was on putting one foot in front of the other and maintaining a steady pace. I would never allow thoughts of how many miles were left to enter my consciousness.
Releasing that fish, rather than thinking of being 999 fish from my goal I focused on what needed to be done to catch the next fish.
My 100th fish came on a lake I’d discovered the prior year in Florida. Arriving before false daylight the kayak quietly slipped into the water to the serenade of the many different bird species that reside there. In the low light something didn’t seem right but with visibility so low it was impossible to determine why.
When the sun finally rose, I realized that the lake had dropped considerably. In fact, areas where I’d fished the prior year were now above water! I found out later that a sink hole had opened and drained the lake. What a tragedy as this place was special with some terrific bass fishing. On this day there would be no bass, but I did manage to pick up several Specks (up north we call them Crappies) including one that put me over 100 fish for the year.
My spring fishing in Pennsylvania started off slowly and it wasn’t until May 11th that fish number 250 found the net. Fishing a body of water where one can catch mutual species this day ended up with bass, trout, and specks all being caught on a favorite rig consisting of a wooly bugger being trailed by and elk caddis.
That evening updating my fish tracker log the words from Robert Frost’s Stopping by woods on a snowy evening echoed in my head “and miles to go before I sleep”.
An odd number to point out, isn’t it? It happened that I caught #426 and #427 while on June vacation in Utah with Sandra. This wasn’t a fishing trip; we did a loop of the state starting in Salt Lake City and visiting the famous national parks. During our trip we had experienced temperatures as high as 95 degrees.
To complete our journey took us to Park City Utah where I wanted to check out the High Uintas National Park. Arriving the temperatures were in the 40’s! That afternoon we hiked up to a lovely fishless lake encountering patches of snow along the way.
This place was beautiful with blue skies, crystal clear lakes and spring flowers. Despite only having a few hours to enjoy it I did manage to catch my first fish ever in the state of Utah.
The High Uintas made such an impression on me that my thoughts turned to planning a return fly fishing trip in the fall.
Less than a month later, June 24th I reached my 500th fish of the year. A combo of a Clousser Minnow and a smaller green/white streamer attracted several nice largemouth’s in addition to several specks.
Pleased to have reached 500 my negative side couldn’t help but think that despite all my efforts to date, I was still only ½ way to my goal. Finding and putting 500 fish in the net had taken a lot of work and surely the pursuit of the next 500 wouldn’t be any easier. Also, looking at the calendar I had burned past the halfway point of my available fishing time. It felt as though I was behind schedule and that my goal just might elude me.
Like many fly fishers I love top water fishing. The thrill of seeing a trout come to the surface to attack a dry fly or a bass grabbing a popper still gets my heart racing even after all these years. During the summer “dog days” bass fishing with poppers is a favorite pursuit. It requires very early wake up calls sometimes as early as 3:30am to ensure I’m on the water at false daylight (maximizing my effective fishing time) but to me it is totally worth the effort.
It took me nearly 2 months to push my fish total up to 750. While popper fishing with the fly rod can be a lot of fun the reality is the fishing day is limited to early mornings and late evenings. Still, with dogged pursuit and a steady daily fish catch, on August 10th I’d reached the ¾ pole.
Having still around 3 months remaining in the season it seemed my goal was in reach, but I knew the dog days of summer were about to kick in and fishing could slow down quickly.
It looks like I might not make it
As I had feared fishing did slow almost to a halt. In Pennsylvania a lack of rain had brought the creeks down to such low levels that the fish were difficult to locate, let along catch. The lakes were by now heavily weed covered making fishing nearly impossible.
Still, I had an ‘ace up my sleeve’ that seemed sure to help boost my fish count. As I mentioned earlier the High Uintas in Utah had made a strong impression on me during our visit in June. So, I booked a trip in September for a week to be focused solely on fly fishing. Not saying anything to anyone my thoughts were that this trip could in fact push me over the 1,000 fish mark.
Once again, fate and the fishing gods made sure I would stay humble. My first day in Utah it was raining so hard as I arrived at the trailhead, I had to put my rain gear on inside the car and it never came off. For the better part of 5 ½ days the conditions consisted of rain, hail, wind, and temperatures that never made it out of the 40s.
Nonetheless, I did fish and fished hard but with meager results. Whenever the weather did let up, I managed to catch some beautiful trout but that happened so infrequently that the fish count for Utah barely impacted my overall count for the year.
By my birthday in early October, I was only at 867 fish and time was quickly running out. All the effort I had put into this effort seemed to be heading towards a disappointing end. I did the only thing one can do. I kept fishing.
Fish #1000 Almost
In mid-October I invited my girlfriend’s father out for a day of fishing. We were blessed with an unexpectedly nice day. He set up shop on the bank as I jumped in my kayak and headed for the spillway of a local lake.
This lake had been on my ‘stay away at all costs’ list for several years. I referred to it not by its name but as “stinky lake”. It had been a muck bottom, foul smelling, carp infested dumpster fire of a lake. Recently however a friend of mine had told me that the lake had been dredged, cleaned up, and was actually very nice.
Skeptical, as I paddled up the lake. Thoughts of jumping all over my friend for having wasted my time ran through my head. Arriving at the spillway a trout leapt from the water. My first cast resulted in a smaller brown trout and my opinion of “stinky lake” was changed forever.
That day I’d arrived with my fish count at 985. I was 15 fish from my goal, but still worried because cold weather was coming. The weather, along with the falling leaves about to pollute the water would make fishing difficult to impossible.
After that first cast fish, I caught another soon after. Then as happens in fly fishing there was nothing for the next couple of hours. I went down to check on Bob and he wasn’t having any luck either. I decided to paddle back up to the spillway (a long enough paddle to make me wonder if it was worth doing).
Upon arriving I once again caught a trout, then another, then another. I had 11 trout in the net as the afternoon turned to evening. Not wanting to keep Bob out to late, I headed back to him and the car.
It was hard to sleep that night despite my feeling tired from the day’s effort. I was 4 fish from the seemingly surrealistic goal.
Waking the next morning it was disappointing to find that the weather forecast had changed. The prediction was a day with a high in the mid-60s and partly sunny. Now it was in the mid-30s and only projected to rise into the 50s with mostly cloudy skies. I wasn’t sure how this would affect the bite, so I forced myself to wait a while before heading to the lake.
Making the long paddle up to the spillway at the lack previously called stinky lake my heart was racing in anticipation.
An early cast resulted in a trout attacking the elk caddis. Soon he was in the net, 3 fish to go! I texted Sandra who had requested updates on the day’s action. Several casts later a trout succumbed to the lead chartreuse wooly bugger, two down and two to go.
Fate truly is funny and fickle so of course that third fish proved elusive. It probably took 45 minutes until the faint tick-tick of my line against my chilled fingertips told me that something was interested in my fly. After hooking, fighting, and landing another nice brown I updated my tracker. Three trout for the day, 999 for the year, ONE MORE TO GO!
Once again, fate made me wait and despite a couple of missed hits it was a good 30 minutes until a solid tug on the line told me that number 1,000 was on the line. I landed that fish with a mile wide grin under my buff covered face. After a couple of photos beside a note I’d made with #1,000 on it, the fish was carefully released back into the water.
Now it was time to pause, I needed a moment to reflect on this quest and how it had impacted me and those around me. Sandra had been terrific. Her family along with my daughter were my cheering squad throughout. I appreciated their interest and support.
I thought about the number of casts made this year. How many? Easily 10,000 that would be a fish every 10 cast, an unlikely low number. Was it 20,000? 25,000? 50,000? I have no way of knowing but can tell you that sitting there on the side of the lake the sense of relief was palpable. While there wasn’t any money on the line, no fame to be gained, when setting a goal, I HATE to fail. There’s some inner drive in me that keeps pushing me forward that cannot be easily explained.
While it was gratifying to achieve my goal ‘chasing numbers’ isn’t something I ever care to do again. The lure of fly fishing for me is the solitude, being out in nature, enjoying the sights and sounds. Catching fish isn’t a requirement for a day on the water to be classified as a good one. Reflecting on the year, it was satisfying to have taken on this goal and achieving it. Along the way I met some interesting people, caught some beautiful fish, and saw some amazing country. Perhaps if I hadn’t set my goal some of the these would have never been encountered.
So, you may be wondering. What’s my goal for 2023? I’m going to attempt to catch a fish (based on my criteria above) in 100 different bodies of water. This will not only challenge my fly fishing skills but will also force me out of my comfort zone and encourage me to try new waters. I’m looking forward to it.
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