Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

The following is the gist of a conversation that occurred between 96 and 130 ft depth.

“You like this kind of fishing Mike?”

Figure-1_A_Mile_Out“Absolutely. Very interesting. Thanks for inviting me.” I shifted to my already sore left buttock (sorry for that visual) to help level the tiny boat, while gazing back across more than a mile of water toward waves crashing audibly against terra firma. There were two of us, plus a gunwale rack bristling with half a dozen rigged rods waiting as back-up players in case the ones we were holding weren’t doing the job. Without exaggerating in the least, to me the boat seemed about the size of a refrigerator door.


“Nice out here, eh? Now you know what real fishing is like,” my host the boat’s owner remarked.

We’d just gaped in awe ten minutes before as a little humpback whale surfaced about eighty feet off our bow to get a look at us. Gulls wheeled overhead; the breeze was light and cool, and my toes, drenched and squishy from the launch exertions, were cooler.

I waited until a four-foot swell, thirteen-point-two seconds after the last one per the NOA Weather station, lifted us partway to the sky and then settled us into a liquid ravine…waited until it ran its course through a wide kelp bed shoreward of us…and then responded. “Yes, very nice. Everything we need…except one thing.”

“What’s that?”


He laughed, and repeated, “Well now you know what real fishing is like.”

I tried to let it ride, I really did…but failed. “Well, I’m not a complete stranger to this…and the kind of fishing I normally do is ‘real’ fishing too. Just different, very different.”

“You like it better.”

“It’s just way different,” I said.

“Where you go? What size fish you catch there? Maybe I’ll try that place.”

“Well it’s not the size, it’s the fooling them. They’re smart–they’re cagey. Fly fishing is really cool that way.”

“How big? How many pounds?”

“Depends. Many times not even anywhere near a pound. Still a challenge.”

“We got Ling Cod right below us this very minute, eight, ten pounds easy. Not easy to catch them either.”

“Sure,” I conceded. “I can see you’re getting a lot more…uh…nibbles…than me. You know what to feel for, how to rig, even where they are, way out here. I guess you site along rocks and points, triangulate, estimate based on the tide? Must be complicated.”

Figure-2_Ling_Cod“I can see the bottom on this here screen,” he said, spoiling my moment of reverence. “Fish down there three feet off the bottom. 104 feet right now.” I remembered having been out here with him before, and the fight I’d had with a big blue 35-inch Ling Cod–a fight that was all in the vertical. I’d crank and hoist, and the prehistoric eating machine with a mouth that could have gotten around a football would dive back down to bottom, to cover. And I’d crank more, and then it would peel line anew. Up…down. Up…down. A fight to the death.


“Yep, they’re down there right now,” he said again. “102 now…right straight down there below our butts.”

I didn’t answer, but with a lot of wishful thinking decided a cold beer might work just as well as a Dramamine, and reached into the cooler. Not even nine o’clock in the morning.

“What’s so hard about catching little ones?” he asked. “Out here the little ones grab, and I leave ’em on there, maybe get a big Cabbie or a Ling.”

“Well, big trout exist too, good poundage, but not so many in these parts. But with trout, you not only have to decide what fly to use, which means you have to understand what insects are in that exact stream and what stage they’re at for that time of year, but you have to predict things in advance and make the flies yourself. Or at least that’s half the fun. You guess, and tie them up, maybe change them a little, and then you figure it out right there on the stream, and choose a fly, and present it carefully on the stream in the most natural way you can.”

“I use squid. Always use squid. Stays on, and they always like it.”

“Well, see, that’s one difference right there,” I offered. “Nice that squid works, but the guesswork in fly fishing is a lot of the fun.”

“These flies stay on your hook?”

“The fly IS the hook. It’s feathers and fur and such, tied right onto a hook shank.”

“See? Gettin’ a bite now,” he interrupted. “Squid, baby! Find it anywhere, Safeway, Lyons, doesn’t matter. Fresh is best. Whoa, there! Ahhh…he let go. A big one…probably took my bait.” He felt the tension with his stiff five-foot boat rod and then began to crank his bowling ball of lead and pair of hay-baling hooks up from the bottom, from directly below where we sat. “So how big a fish you catch on that stream of yours?”

I took a long draw on the beer. “See that’s not really the thing. Sometimes I don’t catch anything at all. It’s still great fun.”

“Skunked?! That ain’t no fun. I haven’t got skunked in six years.”

“Well the point of fly fishing is in the trying. Your brain against a million years of wily fish instinct. A stream needs to be decoded. What’s hatching now? What bugs are coming into season? What size? Trout are very particular. It’s a puzzle–a chess game with nature.”

“Hatching means what…birds?”

“Not birds, no. Trout eat bugs, and most bugs live most of their lives under rocks underwater…and trout slurp ’em up most of the day. But those bugs also hatch into adults and crawl out or fly away, and then return to lay eggs on the water…and the trout go after them when they do. They’re very much tuned to what bugs they should see right now, today, at this time of day, in this season, on this stream. And another cool thing about trout is that you can sometimes catch big ol’ cagey old-timers on the tiniest of flies made of a few wisps of feather or thread–sometimes on something no bigger than a split pea. It’s all in foolin’ ’em. I find it fascinating…figuring it all out. That’s why I call it a chess game.”

“Well I don’t see fishing as no chess game. When they’re hungry they grab the bait, right? We time that by the tides here…also currents. And depth.”

“Tides are a whole other dimension,” I admitted, “although we adjust our ways to conditions too, such as stream flow rate, insect hatch cycles, wind, when the snow melt water starts to show up…light….”

“Light don’t play much part a hundred feet down.”

“Well it sure plays a part in six inches.”

“Six inches! Won’t find anything but bait fish there.”

“You’d be surprised…especially at low light. Big fish prowl the shallows looking for food–crawdads, minnows…lots of things. Casting a fly to a fish hunting in the shallows is a thrill.”

“Can you get that fly of yours down to a fish a hundred feet down?”

“No, and no stream I know is that deep anyway. More like three to six feet, max, where I usually go. I stand in the water, to get the fly where I want.”

“What’s the limit?”

“You mean how long can I stand there before my legs go numb?”

“Fish limit.”

“Oh. I forget. I let ’em go anyway.”

“What??!! What’s the point of that? I got a whole stringer of meat I take home!”

“The point? It ain’t meat, that much I can tell you,” I said. “It’s just fun. And you learn a lot about a fascinating creature, and all the other things that live with it in the stream. Great blue herons glide in and land on logs to watch you, and river otters go by, and deer cross in the shallows behind where you stand…it’s just an amazing morning every time I go.”

“I guess,” he said.

“You get there before sunrise and watch the morning unfold right before your eyes. You’re part of the stream. It all does its thing. Nothing like it,” I assured him.

I could see he was mulling it over, perhaps picturing the idyllic scene…maybe the dawn’s rays streaming across a gently gurgling riffle, and a lone fisherman arcing a graceful cast across the water, to settle by an old log, where appears a hint of a dimple on the surface….

“So,” he finally said softly, taking all that in, “how big a fish you catch doin’ that?”


    1. Yep, Dan…the ol’ clash between “art” and “science” and “meat-gathering.” The world needs all three, but they’re each their own thing.

      I have to admit, Ling Cod are incredible beasts. They exist only along a very narrow strip of water from Alaska to maybe halfway down the California coast. They’re clearly adapted to eating other critters–huge bony mouth and a destructive desire to devour everything that moves. I would not want to me some other species inhabiting their zone. They’re hardy, too–fishermen leave them in the bottom of the boat, out of the water, for 20 or 30 minutes, to “take the edge off their attitude,” else they’ll tow the boat around, chew through a thick rope stringer, and bite anything else on that stringer in half. The kind of predator that other predatoors respect.

      – Mike

    1. Well I’ve never craved Dramamine way back in the High Lonesome, so I’m with you there Phil.

      Regarding bears, they’ve never concerned me much. I’ve always held that the only animal to fear in remote wilderness is Man. There are probably a few out of a thousand who need the drug called ‘supervision’ to stay right in the head.

      Regarding boat-fishing in deep water, it has its points of interest but to me part of the joy of the fishing sport is casting–it’s one of the drawing cards of fly fishing, certainly. Dropping a line right down below one’s butt to a mud a hundred feet down is boring. The aspect of presentation is entirely missing, except for how a hunk of gooey squid drapes on a hook.

      – Mike

      1. Hi Mike
        For the most part bears are not much of a problem although they are around, some are of the Grizzly persuasion and people tend to fear them more than the Black Bear. I am 63 and I have been fishing these waters since I was a kid with my Dad and I have had 3 encounters at close quarters with bears in all that time. In all three instances the bears were as surprised as I was and they left at high speed leaving me trying to catch my breath. I have only recently begun to carry bear spray because bear-human encounters in the last few years have become deadly frequently enough to warrant more care.

        Phil R.

        1. Very interesting Phil. BTW you and I are months apart, at most. For 30 years I never saw a wild bear…well I lived in Ohio after all, but would go West to the big ranges as often as I could, to climb and fish. Someone would say “Turn around and go back, there’s a bear up ahead!” and I’d sprint not backward but forward, camera in hand…and never see a thing. Bears would ransack a camp next to where I slept sans tent, and yet I’d hear nothing. Years went by.

          Then I went to Alaska and hiked Denali, and saw plenty of Denali Griz…and a mother and four sizable cubs stalked me for awhile down a creek without my knowing it…and that pretty much broke the spell for me. From then on nearly every trip to the high country would include a bear sighting, some of them at very close range. All black bears though, except for those Denali Grizzlies (which is a just-slightly-smaller subspecies of Grizzly).

          I’ve never fished with a bear, and never had issues with them. Cannot say the same about people. : )

  1. Well I must add my experiences, none of which were with bears. To me, a mountain lion and her young and bullwinkles wife and kid are far more a threat to me. Have had a run in with both. Won’t get into details, but a broken fly rod and skinned up butt was the outcome of the moose encounter. Mountain Lion encounter during an elk hunt. Shots fired and fortunately neither of us died (lion or me). That was enough to let me make a hasty retreat. I must have looked a little excited back at camp, because from that point on my nickname was “cougar” and it follows me everywhere, even church. Give a guy a break. So, don’t forget about those 2 animals when talking about dangerous things to encounter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *