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The Saga of the Rednecks and the Missouri River

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

If you look up the meaning of the word “saga” it is usually associated with a long story of heroic achievement, an epic tale, or a long, involved story. I would like to offer that it can also be a tale of teaching, learning and monumental accomplishments. This saga involves two redneck Texans (we will call them Bobby and Jim to keep their real identities hidden) and the majestic art of fly fishing.

Fly fishing is an angling technique that uses an ultralight-weight lure called an artificial fly, which typically mimics small invertebrates such as flying and aquatic insects to attract and catch fish. The angler fishes this very light lure using a long fly rod, a reel loaded with plastic-coated line, a tapered leader line, and sometimes a secondary leader called a tippet which is used to secure the lure to the fly line. In this saga the lure of choice is an artificially tied Zebra Midge in a 16 and 18 size. Just imagine a small mosquito threaded on a hook and you will be very close.  

To do fly fishing properly you need to learn the fly-fishing jargon. These are special words or expressions that are used by a professional guide and are difficult for others to understand. So, to understand how these words are used, let’s go on an imaginary trip to perhaps the Missouri River in Montana. 

Picture one of the most beautiful rivers in the world with smaller boats holding a guide and two anglers letting the current float them peacefully down the river.  The guide uses oars to keep the boat in position as the anglers cast the mosquitos into the trout infested waters.  A cast is made by gently lifting the fly line from the water with the long fly rod, and then masterfully allowing the line and lure to come behind you, reach the end of what is called the “back cast”, and then gracefully flicking the line forward and allowing the lure to land softly at or near a feeding fish.  In this case we are trying to catch the rainbow and brown trout, and not the dreaded whitefish or the fishing guide.

It's A Language

Many times you may hear the guide say “Lock Yourself In”, which means that you have violated the space established in the boat to make the cast. Just apologize and stand where you are supposed to in the boat to eliminate future chastisement from the guide.

Mend, Mend, Mend” is a phrase you may hear that means to throw slack into your fly line which allows the mosquito-like bait to float downstream naturally.  “Mend Upstream” means that you have thrown slack in the line the wrong direction and should not be repeated.

Recast Bobby”, “Recast Jim” means that the guide is not too happy where either of your baits are and he wants you to make another more favorable cast.

Always “Hold The Rod Straight Up” when playing a fish, and make sure that you don’t hear “Not Enough Bend In Your Rod” which means that you are probably doing everything possible to lose the fish you are trying to get to the boat.

During all of this you will undoubtedly hear “Stronger Mend” which means the guide thinks you are a pansy doing the mend.

Pinch The Cork” will be hollered at you if you don’t have your hand on a specific spot of the rod handle, and then “Strip From Below Not Above” will be heard if you are not stripping the line properly in a downward motion. For some reason this is heard quite often.

It is very important to understand that the “cork” is not the “bobber” or “indicator” used above the fly to show when you have a fish hit the lure. It is hard to pinch the cork as described above if you think it is the tiny bobber floating out there in the water.

More Time On The Backcast” means that you are not allowing enough time for the line to unfold behind you when you cast, which usually leads to a cluster of line and lure for the guide to untangle. But don’t think too badly because that is what he gets paid for and he probably  looks forward to it.

Many times you will hear the guide say “Set The Hook”, but sometimes this is when grass or a snag pulls the bobber under – not a fish. The guide usually says this to wake you up and then chuckles. (Guide strike)

Always check your bait for things unusual like only having one bait on a two-bait rig or even worse – having a bait that has a broken hook.  Usually you will be accused of breaking the hook off with a stupid cast or snag, but in some cases the guide may have tied the fly using a faulty hook. Many guides have eye problems and use powerful reading glasses during the day to tie the baits on the spiderweb-type line. 

One thing you really don’t want to do is have you and your partner’s fly lines collide in the air just when the guide mentions that this is one of his favorite fishing spots. This usually requires the guide to row to shore, anchor the boat, glare at each angler, and then pick apart the tangled mess. If this happens to you just get a soda and avoid looking or talking to the guide.

You may occasionally get into a situation where the guide yells “Mend, Mend, but your bobber is in a whirlpool and being attacked by grass.  Just work it out as best you can, clean off the bait and make another cast – remembering to cast up-river.

Many times the guide will tell you that you have grass on your bait and to clean it off – like you never saw the grass. Just smile and do it.  Don’t recast with grass on your bait for any reason because you will hear “Don’t you see the grass on your bait?”

It wasn’t Jim’s fault that he was stepping on the fly line when the fish made a strong run and broke off … He was concentrating on keeping his thumb on the cork. 

Don’t Feed The Gulls Bobby” might be heard at lunchtime. 

Don’t wait until the loose reel falls off the rod before mentioning it to the guide. 

Never ask the guide if you can fish with your favorite fly that you brought along because it will get the same look your wife gives you when you don’t do what she expects you to do at home.

And never ask if you can fish a larger mosquito-type bait.

Cast Closer To The Bank Bobby” will be heard along with a “Cast Further Away From The Bank Jim ….. and Upstream.

“Mend Left Not Right

Sometimes you may have to handline the trout into the boat if you are not sure of your guides netting abilities. This is something most guides haven’t seen very often, and it usually really impresses them.

Maybe we should use 20 pound test tippet instead of 4 pound to prevent all these break offs is perhaps another thing not to say to your guide. 

Bobby. Is That Your Bait Hung Up In The Tree?”

You will know that all is not going well when your guide says – “Never Mind Bobby. Just Do The Best You Can”.  

The saga of Jim and Bobby will continue elsewhere, but this fishing guide was happy the day ended. Jim and Bobby learned a lot and I think the fishing guide did too.  

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