Traveling back to Ohio to celebrate a milestone, I find myself driven by the illness that has haunted me for as long as I can remember. It’s the 25th anniversary that drives the trip. But the proximity to domestic waters, where I became infected with the inability to look at the water and wonder, increases and begs to ask, “What could I take from this place?” The madness is real and brings me back to my roots.
My infatuation with farm ponds led me to new water. Wondering what kind of spices I would encounter always excited me. Some ponds held healthy populations of catfish and required a slow hand and a waiting game to achieve success. It’s the complete opposite approach to my fly fishing, where I’m always doing something.
Fly fishing on Ross Lake in Chillicothe, Ohio.
Some ponds provided bass that would devour our lures and fight above their weight class, or so I thought. And still other farm ponds would be overflowing with bluegills, the familiar friend that has carried me from childhood to this day with a smile on my face. I’m not sure why everyone else doesn’t like a fat blue branch, but they make me smile.
Going on trips with a fly rod in hand is a challenge. How can I adapt my fly fishing to mimic the presentations offered by anglers? The mind game intrigues me no matter where: Florida, California, Colorado or Ohio. The equipment needed follows: flies, lines, techniques to try, etc. I delight in the journey.
Coming home for this trip put a spark in my step. Being able to fly fish familiar places and new places makes me smile. The opportunity to chase warm water species on the fly can be challenging, but often very rewarding. The intrinsic reward that tiny bluegills provide fills my childish heart with teenage joy, and that’s a feat hard to come by for adults.
Fly rods for traveling should come in at least four pieces for easy packing. Reels should be versatile, like the Ross LTX, which provides a great drag system, excellent retrieve speed and, dare I say, contemporary good looks. I have carried with me a housing of rods to perform specific fishing techniques in a variety of still and moving waters. From floating lines to sinking lines, my arsenal is loaded.
Flies are the component that requires the most forethought. Topwater and bottomwater, drifting or swimming, flies cover a wide variety of approaches, and with good reason. With the cooling waters of fall, fish can be in finicky moods, requiring a delicate touch and a well-connected presentation.
Fall can bring chilly nights to Midwestern days. Ohio maintains a high degree of humidity in the air, which causes a chill that clings to the skin. The buffs pulled around the neck not only create protection from the sun, but provide a degree of warmth from the wind and offer double protection in the fall. The cold air in your ears bites your skin as the sun drops behind the Appalachian hills.
Fingerless gloves protect hands from the cold, but still allow dexterity for tying knots and feeling fly lines. As the cold creeps into the joints, stripping the lines becomes a more difficult task. It’s a guessing game every year as to when the cold fall weather will arrive in southern Ohio.
Fly lines offer my flies with the ability to float or sink. Each requires time spent deciphering the mind game. Reading indicators like leaves blowing across gentle water, quiet evenings without any chattering frogs, and the plethora of Halloween decorations on the front porch erases any doubt that fall has arrived. Slowing down my submissions, whether underground or floating, is the key to success now.
Apple cider has a clear suitability when consumed in the cold air. Multicolored hardwood forests begin to unfold in a muted blanket of earth tones reminiscent of a scrap fabric quilt. This birthday is a moment shared with my wife and family. Celebrations of life that pay homage to the time that has shaped our family. The disease that has infected me since childhood still rears its head when I awkwardly stare at the water. The mental challenge of fly fishing will forever guide my soul. I think I’ll go catch another bluegill before I go home, just to stay connected to my roots.
The humble bluegill is a familiar friend to those who grew up fishing in farm ponds.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River Valley in 1992. He began guiding fly fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in magazines and websites such as Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the banks of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a yellow labrador retriever arm.