It occurred to me recently that I have caught more this year than at any time since I began fishing.
I also realized that I have not picked up a spinning rod in 2005, meaning that every fish I've caught has been on a fly-rod, including my first bonefish, my first tarpon and many snook, sea trout and redfish. Driven to freshwater fishing by Red Tide in the bay, I caught a fat tilapia in an area lake.
It's not that I'm snobbish. I know there is a place for conventional tackle - and I plan to use it on a trip to Everglades City, where we have fallen so much in love with the chart-defying maze of mangroves and endless backcountry of the Ten Thousand Islands that we have purchased a fishing cabin.
This time we're stringing up the spinning and baitcasting rods and have purchased an assortment of jigs and plugs so we can do a little prospecting. This trip we'll be fishing on our own, and the area guide we have been using suggested we mine the waters with conventional tackle to help us learn the places that hold fish in this vast area where every inch looks fishy to us and where we have spent many a baffling hour fly-casting in vain.
But I know what will happen. As soon as we get a hit or two, I'll abandon the conventional gear faster than a snook can inhale a live pilchard and reach for the fly-rod.
Newcomers to fly-fishing frequently voice frustration at not catching fish. Many become so discouraged that they give up on fly-fishing. After all, the point of any kind of fishing is to catch fish. They don't get past the "wall" that faces everybody trying to learn a new skill, and fly-fishing is admittedly a little harder to grasp than slinging a live shrimp.
We all want immediate results and fly-fishing, especially in saltwater, doesn't lend itself to instant gratification. To catch fish on a fly-rod, you have to learn to use the equipment properly, to find the rhythm of the forward and back cast, to place your fly accurately, even in the wind. You have to practice and practice some more.
When I started, I flailed away in my back yard several evenings a week, and I took advantage of every opportunity to get tips and lessons from the myriad superb fly-casters in our community. I read every book and subscribed to what seemed like a dozen fly-fishing magazines.
New friends I met through fly-fishing took me on their boats, or wade-fishing in the flats, where I usually either rewarded them by smacking them in the head with a fly (that hurts!) or crying and whining in total frustration. I was an incredibly slow learner, and that's why I have so much sympathy for others trying to master the sport.
But there was something that kept me coming back, even when I fantasized about jamming the evil rod into the blades of a ceiling fan until it was transformed into a hundred harmless bits of graphite.
I remember the first fish I caught without help from my mentors: a 15-inch snook in Cockroach Bay. A friend nearby rushed over to take a photo, and I am grinning like I just landed Moby Dick. I've never looked back.
This year has truly been amazing. At long last, the fly-rod and I are inseparable. I am casting better than ever, but I was catching fish even when I wasn't casting that well.
The difference, I am convinced, is confidence. Every time I pick up a fly-rod, I believe I will catch fish. More often than not, I'm right.
Never was that confidence so necessary as when I tackled my first tarpon in May in the Ten Thousand Islands. After three years of failure with these magnificent fish, I finally hooked and landed a 40-pounder.
The next day, I landed a 65-pounder. Not giants, to be sure, but by far the biggest and most powerful fish I've battled. Three weeks ago, I jumped another before my luck ran out and the fly came zooming back in my face at about 60 mph.
But I know I can do it now, and I'm counting the days until next tarpon season. I'll be there, with nothing but a fly-rod in my hand.