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

Part 1 of this post described the general form of what I like to call the “water pulley” technique for unsnagging a fly.

Figure 3 - Water Pulley
Figure 3 – Water Pulley

This conclusion describes….A Fortuitous Variation

A week ago at time of this writing, the strangest imaginable variation of this “water pulley” technique happened to me. I was standing on the edge of freezing water at the base of a falls, high and dry, without waders. My wooly bugger snagged the bottom about fifteen feet out, in probably seven to ten feet of water, and nothing seemed to free it up. Black had been the effective color of the day, and this one was the last black bugger I had on me, having already lost the others to…you guessed it…snags. So we’re talking pressure.

I jiggled and jaggled and yanked and snapped; I did it all up and down the bank, to no avail. I tried the “water pulley” technique repeatedly…but this one wouldn’t let go. While I was swearing, some teenage tourists appeared on the bank twenty yards downstream of my position, and one of them threw a big three-foot log into the water with a mighty splash. I swore again.

I tried to toss another big wide loop in the water out past the snag, but to my amazement the top two sections of my rod, evidently loosened by all the violent line-jerking, came loose, slid down the line, and went into the water all the way down to the snagged fly! Now the stakes were serious–not only would I lose the fly, I stood to lose a good rod as well! I probably swore a third time.

And then I noticed: That danged log had somehow floated far upstream, no doubt in some invisible eddy set up by the action of the falls, and had positioned itself, of all places, on the surface just beyond my snag. Sideways. And it paused there. I tried some other tricks like line snapping…and looked again. Could I? Nah. And yet still that log paused, sideways, perfectly positioned, waiting for the lightbulb to brighten over my dense noggin.

So…uh…why not? With half a rod I tossed an arc of line out, missing the log, then tried again, successfully draping the outbound section of line over its wood. The return section of the sinking line’s arc fell off the end of the log and sank below it. The log “pulley” remained exactly perpendicular to the snag’s location and about four feet beyond it. Not waiting another moment for the incredibly lucky alignment to go sour, I pulled for all I was worth, and prayed.

Figure 4 - A Fortuitous Variation
Figure 4 – A Fortuitous Variation

Up came the line, the fly and the two rod sections, back to pappy! Incredible. And no sooner did I retrieve them and turn to marvel at the role of that fortuitous log than I noticed that the log had quickly moved off well downstream again! It had shown up just in time, just in the right place, had awaited my slow recognition of the gift I was being offered, and had then motored on out of my way not wasting any time.

Assuming the stream gods had sent it because they wanted me to continue to fish, I made one more cast. Then I realized there’s a phrase for that–“tempting fate”–and a word–“stupidity”–and I packed up and went home to tell the tale. I believe it was the right move.

One more thing: Not all snags are bad. The ones that finally begin to move are what you’ll tell tales to your great grandkids about.


  1. Great post, Mike. This is a trick everyone should know. My best snagged-on-the-bottom story is a variation on this theme. I snagged my nymph on the bottom, made a few attempts to get it loose, then I decided to break off rather than disturb the water I’d been fishing. I tied on another fly, and a few casts later I hung up again. This time I was able to get unstuck, but as I brought my fly back I could feel that something extra was on my line. When I brought the fly up for inspection, I found that I had hooked the lost fly, bend to bend, thus recovering it. What are the odds? I swear, I am not making this up!

  2. Wow! Bend to bend?! That’s incredible!

    If I were you, Mary, I’d start claiming you’d done it on purpose. You could sell lessons on casting accuracy for triple the going rate.

    Also maybe start embellishing it just a little: You hooked the previous fly’s hook-eye. Size 22. Yeah, that ought to put things nicely into the realm of fable. : )

    – Mike

    1. What an imagination you have, Mike! My legendary modesty prevents me from implementing your bold suggestions. Besides, if you start making claims like that you’d better be prepared to back them up. Not a chance.

  3. Hi Mike,
    Great story. Serendipity is the best! You are right, I won’t be able to carry this trick in my pocket – as the the log would make walking and wading awkward.

    Mary, that’s amazing. The odds of catching two flies bend-to-bend must be as low as the odds of the Cubs winning the world series. Just as in your case, it could happen – but not very often!

    All the best, Joe

    1. I’m not following The Series closely, and I’m torn as to who to root for. I think Chicago needs a win more than Cleveland at this point. This morning a friend told me it’s going to a 7th game, so who knows? Go Cubbies!

      1. Throwing a baseball is a lot like making a long cast–it’s a joy to do and a thing to behold. My Dad played for the Giants system long ago (they were the NY Giants back then). So I’ll be loyal to the Cubs, and the National League, where pitchers have to step up to the plate and face the other pitcher’s fastball. So even though the Cubs knocked the Giants out this year, I’ll tip my hat to what it took to do that and root for the Cubs in the 7th game tonight. I’m an Ohioan by birth, but a “pitchers must swing the bat” believer in my DNA.

        Mary, when you’re good enough to snag your last fly at the bottom of a moving stream, you don’t have to demo for anybody. Legends need not perform. I’d claim it if I were you and watch them gape.

        Get ready to sign some autographs though. : ) Start with one for me!

        – Mike

        1. Well, the Cubs did it last night and I say good for them. 108 years is a long time to wait for a championship. Cleveland had the Cavs this past year, and you shouldn’t be greedy. I’m with you on the DH, everyone should have to take a turn at bat. It adds a lot to the strategy of the game. The Great-Uncle in whose household I grew up had been a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and when they decamped to L. A. he could not bring himself to root for the hated Yankees. He was a man without a baseball team until the Mets came along. He immediately became a Mets fan and so did I. I remember sitting up with him until the wee hours watching that 22-inning marathon game they had back in the late-60’s–even though I had to get up for school the next morning. But I digress. I suppose I ought to be talking about fishing, not baseball. The streams here are full of leaves. Even so, the trout fishing will hold up at least for the remainder of November. We’ve had warm enough weather that the bass and sunnies are still hitting, although they’ve slowed down. I’m too old to be out fishing when the guides are icing up, so I’ll soon be changing channels and tying flies until spring. Fishing or tying, it’s all good.

          1. What a seventh! Both teams are champions, in reality–they share it, and their biggest prize is getting to play that exciting final series.

            But yes, now we return to fly fishing (which I suspect a few of them may now take a little time to do too). For me, tying IS fishing–every turn of the thread is a cast in my mind, every trim of hair or hackle a mend. I can sit in the evening and take an hour tying a single fly, mesmerized, making it up as I go or applying some little twist of my own choosing, and it’s like hearing the gurgle of a riffle, smelling the cool air, seeing the drift, and ever hoping.

            – Mike

          2. As a teenager, I started fly tying almost as soon as I started fly fishing–because I could not afford to buy my flies. So for me, as for you, the two activities are inextricably linked. I’ve met many tyers over the years. For some, tying is purely utilitarian. It’s all about whipping up something that will catch fish, with little or no concern for being artful. At the other extreme are those for whom fishing is only an excuse to tie more flies–some of which are too elaborate to ever see the water. Between these two poles, there countless people whose philosophy falls somewhere in between. A lot of things in life are like that, I reckon. As I stock up my fly boxes for next season, I’ll produce a supply of my current workhorse patterns and also add some new ones to try. Each fly that comes out of the vice is indeed full of promise. As I drop it into the box, I’ll wonder if this will be the one that will produce an unforgettable experience on the stream.

  4. Mary, when you tie, do you mostly do it in the off-season? That is, for you is there a season for fishing, and then the remaining months are when the tying happens?

    For me I tend to tie soon after I get out on a stream, regardless of the time of year. I never get out within three weeks of having gotten out last (and more often it’s 5 or 6 weeks), and that’ll continue probably until I retire. So a few days after I get back from an outing (which usually means I’ve learned something I haven’t yet capitalized on and need some new fly to set things right), out comes the vise and the kit. And as I draw nearer my next outing I’ll start whipping up a few different patterns to try too.

    Then in the months when my main stream is closed for salmon or steelhead runs (there are two different periods of time annually of about 3 months each), I’ll tie a bit too, to dream…but the tying pace doesn’t go up or down in any given season. I tie slowly and my fly count is probably abysmal but enough that the fly boxes get more crowded every year. I don’t lose many flies, despite rarely using tippets heavier than 6x, but they do wear out–dubbing comes off in teeth and such.

    I laughed out loud when you mentioned “those for whom fishing is only an excuse to tie more flies.” But I can partly understand them. Art is its own addiction, and many folks really don’t have a decent stream, so to remain trout fishermen in their minds, they tie. I like meeting them, because they’re always dreamers.

    But I meet more who lean the other way–it’s only about stringering fish. Not so for me–it’s the whole spectrum, from observing something streamside, to imagining a pattern that might mimic it, to tying it up, to choosing the day, to assembling the special rod I’d built myself a few years back, to choosing the riffle, to hearing the sounds and feeling the air, to wading to the right spot, to making that first cast…and then we’ll just see what happens, because everything else is gravy and right about then it fades into an ecstatic blurry trance anyway.

    – Mike

    1. I tie the year around–as needed to refill my supply of workhorse patterns I can’t be without, or when I see a need for something new or I get inspired by something I see in a magazine or on-line. I do tie more during the winter when it’s too darned cold to want to be outdoors much. Then my fly tying room becomes my happy place. I grab a cup of hot cocoa, fire up the little electric heater and sit down for some time at my vise. I also instruct several tying events each winter for a some of the local clubs, and preparing and presenting these events is a lot of fun. Happily I am retired, mostly, and fish as often as I can from early-spring through late-fall. I’d say it’s typical for me to fish one to three times a week, usually near home and sometimes for as little as an hour at a time. I also take a few trips each year, most often in the spring. I’m not a globe-trotting angler by a long shot, that’s not in the budget. My away trips are almost always with a day’s drive. I really don’t care what I catch, I like variety. Wild trout, stocked trout, bass and panfish in lakes or streams, steelhead in the tributaries of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, striped bass on the Chesapeake Flats, it’s all grist for my mill. I could not agree with you more that the greatest pleasure in fly fishing comes from fully appreciating the totality of the experience. And if you’re attuned to everything going on around you, you will wind up being a better angler.

  5. We’re of like mind, Mary. But…one to three times a WEEK??? Can we trade lives for a little while? I promise I’ll trade back…. 🙂

    Love your comments and your writing style,

    – Mike

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Mike. I recommend retirement highly! Every lifestyle has its pros and cons. I’ve been a sort-of fishing bum for my entire life. I started fishing at age 6 and fly fishing at age 15 and never stopped doing it avidly. Unlike some true fishing bums I haven’t managed to completely dodge life’s other duties and obligations–marriage (no children, regrettably), and as an only-child taking on caregiver responsibilities for my Mother until her death. I’ve worked as a Fisheries Technician for the State of NJ, as a naturalist at an arboretum, and as a fly fishing guide/instructor and fly shop clerk. I’ve never been ambitious about career or acquiring material wealth. Most of us wind up having either time or money in this life, rarely both. I opted for having time. Fishing has always been a major aspect of my life and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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