Pinch Your Barbs & Watch Your Backcast

Navigating the Perils of Urban Fly Fishing

Consider this post a PSA or, if you prefer, a cautionary tale. A warning of the added challenges posed by urban fly fishing. Particularly, those challenges presented while sharing the water’s edge with joggers, cyclists and traffic.

Setting the Scene

As a rule, I tend towards isolation while fly fishing. Preferring a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of modern life, I’ll gladly take small fish on a remote stream over combat fishing for giants on a famous water. Far from an easy task in populated areas, I still manage fairly well and have slowly built a catalogue of locations that suit my needs. And while these locations may not be truly remote, they are generally devoid of people.

Exceptions are made of course, and my (largely unsuccessful) foray into carp fishing this winter is a prime example of that.

Interstate 10 looming in the background

Since first attempting Carp on the Fly in mid-December, I have returned to the LSU Lakes an additional four times in hopes of repeating my initial success. Though these efforts have yet to result in any additional carp being brought to hand, they’ve continually proven to be learning experiences. In each successive visit, I’ve honed my presentation, improved my understanding of these carp’s behavior, and learned to better predict conditions based off the weather forecast. More than anything though, I’ve learned (and continue to learn) how to navigate the intricacies of fly fishing around people.

Of Carp and Men

From my first attempt at fly fishing the lakes, it became apparent that the onus was on me to pay attention to my surroundings. Joggers were so far “in the zone” that even traffic often failed to give them pause. Power walkers were so entranced by their social media feeds that their heads never rose from the glow of their screen. And perhaps, scariest of all, many drivers did the same.

This meant my head needed to remain on a swivel, and, as with crossing the street, I had to look both ways before casting. And for the most part, I succeeded in this task. At least until mid-January.

The Incident

Beyond startling a pair of heavy set women who could not be bothered to look up from their cell phones on my earliest trip, I had largely avoided negative interactions with general public. That changed, however, on an early January trip to the Lakes.

Nearing the end of an uneventful two-hours, I was making my way back towards my car when I spotted a group of carp foraging along a shallow mud flat. After a few unsuccessful attempts to garner their attention, my tippet became wrapped around a submerged branch perhaps 20 feet from shore.

Flipping my wrist, the fly appeared to become dislodged and flew over my head. However, as I gathered my line to recast, I noticed the tippet had popped. With my fly box lying on the ground fifty feet down the bank, I wound up my line and proceeded to down the bank.

Returning, I noticed a jogger on his cell phone on the opposite side of the road. Noting his presence, I took my time, pausing a few times to scan for carp as I returned. With any luck, I hoped he’d hang up quickly and move on. Until then, I wouldn’t really have room to cast.

As I approached, however, he put down his phone and called to me: “Hey! I’ve got your fly…It’s in my leg!”

Thank God for Small Barbs and a Sense of Humor

Following momentary confusion as my brain processed his statement, I rushed to his side. Sure enough, my size 4 Clouser’s Swimming Nymph lay solidly embedded mid-thigh. Not sure what else to do, I coached him through attempting to remove the hook and was surprised by how calm he remained throughout the process.

When the hook wouldn’t give, we simply paused and chatted as he waited for his ride to come pick him up. To my surprise, he admitted he wasn’t even going to bother to tell me it happened had I continued to walk the other direction, and seemed most concerned about having to call in to work if a trip to the ER was warranted.

Adding a further layer to this bizarre interaction, his mention of work tripped something in my brain as I suddenly realized I had met him before. The gentleman with a hook in his thigh was actually a friend of a former employee, and had helped arrange a Christmas party for my staff a few years prior.

Still waiting on his ride, and past the exchange of slightly awkward pleasantries following acknowledgement that we actually knew each other, he tried once again to remove the hook. And to the surprise of both of us, the hook now slid free.

Small Victories

Whether dumb luck, or something else, we were both relieved by the outcome. After suggesting he keep the fly as a trophy, which he was happy to do, we snapped a quick picture to pass along to our mutual acquaintance.

Hook removed, and his ride around the corner, we parted ways and agreed I owed him more than a few beers once COVID is behind us. Given how horribly this could have gone, I am greatly appreciative that he maintained a sense of humor and calm head throughout.

Moral of the Story

Simply put, this is the type of situation that could have gone exponentially worse. This jogger kept his calm and maintained a sense of humor about an event that ruined his day (and could have caused significant damage). I’m thankful for both of those facts, and the fact that, as a result, I can simply chalk this up as a learning experience.

In particular, the two items referenced in the posts title warrant reiteration for myself and all those who fly fish in populated areas:

1. Pinch Your Barbs – Seriously! While I believe the reduced barb on the hook in question (Gamakatsu SL45 Bonefish hook) played a significant role in this hooks ease of removal, the entire situation would have gone much smoother had I not forgot to pinch the barb before I tied it on. Had this hook had a more significant barb, as some hooks in my box do, a trip to the emergency room would definitely have been required. Beyond all this, you may be doing the fish a favor as well.

2. Watch Your Backcast – Often we move beyond watching our backcast early in our fly fishing careers as we learn to feel the line turnover without ever seeing it. In this way, neglecting this advise is a sign of our prowess as fly fishers. And, under normal circumstances, there is little negative feedback to deter us from such behavior. Urban environments are an exception, however, and the fly fisher must approach them with an awareness of his surroundings that is not required in more secluded realms. There is no guarantee the other parties involved have any awareness of their surroundings, and, as a result, we must be aware of them. Even a momentary lapse, as experienced when I snagged that submerged branch, is too much.

Closing Thoughts

All of the above said, my intent is not to scare anyone away from exploring urban fisheries. There is much to appreciate in these locales and a great deal we can learn. Just pay attention and be prepared for anything.

Even since the incident I have continued to return to the Lakes in pursuit of carp. I’ve yet to land another, but continue to learn. And with a growing sense of awareness for my surroundings, I’ve managed to avoid any further negative encounters. With any luck, my carp tally will far out pace my pedestrian tally by the end of 2021.

Tight Lines


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