Practice makes the perfect cast

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2007

A tiny fly is drifting down the Mendenhall River, bobbing bravely toward Fritz Cove and the Gastineau Channel.

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I wish I could say a Dolly Varden snatched it off my leader.

But it's just a casualty of inexperience. The thing vanished with a snap after a bad cast with my new fly rod over the weekend.

I was standing on the smooth stones and pebbles at the junction of Montana Creek and the Mendenhall River. It was a calm, gray, drizzly morning. Croaking ravens picked at the banks for a meal, but they seemed to have as little luck as I did.

The floating line lifted out of the water and curled over my head, whipping forward with a loud crack.

Oops. The process is supposed to be smoother, depositing the fly on the water, not blasting it off the line.

Out on my second practice session, I wasn't expecting a record catch. I just wanted to wander into the woods far enough to escape the sound of cars. In case of emergency, I brought a steak knife and a lemon.

With one streamer fly coursing downstream toward freedom, I went upstream into the mossy hemlock and Sitka spruce. I trudged along the creek, over thick mounds of snow and sparse, leafless underbrush. The trees grew taller, mossier, weirder and wilder.

I started whistling and making noise to give advance notice to any brown bears that may have been waking up hungry.

The noise of distant traffic gave way to the rushing of water, the crunching of the snow and nothing else. No birds chirped or trilled. No cell phones rang, no drivers honked, no engines idled.

I stopped at a bend to hear the creek warble and gurgle. I tied on a second fly, but I couldn't cast because of low-hanging branches overhead and slippery muck underfoot. Instead, I tossed it onto the water by hand and watched it float on the surface, then slowly sink. The current pulled it downstream and under a thin plate of ice encrusted with spruce needles.

As I reeled it back, the hook snagged on something then broke free. I still had my fly. I set it loose again and watched it drift back under the ice.

I'm told the cardinal rule of fly fishing is fish where the fish are biting. I guess I broke that rule. But it still beats practice-casting on the street outside my apartment.

And if anyone happens to find a yellow streamer somewhere between Montana Creek and the Pacific Ocean, I have dibs. It's about a half-inch long, with a small brass hook. I'll be waiting to hear from you.

• Ken Lewis can be reached at

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