01 Feb The Tuesday – By Tom Merchant
For almost two decades, Ken Abrames has been kind enough to share his knowledge and time free of charge every Tuesday from April through November. He’d invite new fisherman, along with experienced fisherman, to meet him at places from Westerly to the Cape Cod Canal. These gatherings were a great way for knowledge to be passed from one person to the next without expectations. The gatherings contained both fly fisherman and conventional fisherman alike. I remember one of the first nights Ken showed me how simple all of this fishing stuff could be.
It was a Tuesday night several years ago. It was one of those nights that a bunch of people had showed up before dusk to fish some place in the surf. Blackpoint, Stinky Beach, Pt Judith, the Towers…. whatever. Invariably, by the time the sun went down Ken would suggest going to another spot, usually an inlet or estuary nearby. Some place where there wasn’t a pounding sea where some new guy might get ripped off a stone in his careless excitement in the deep of night. Kenny didn’t want people’s spouses or the police hunting him down the next day to find out what happened to someone. He always made sure everyone was accounted for before he left.
What would happen at this point is that some people would go home, others would grab somebody else and go to another spot, and Kenny would drag a handful of folks to one of those little quiet spots. The places where you could learn more about fishing by watching a single fish or a singe piece of bait or a single seam changing with the tide than you could by spending a decade casting off a beach looking for breaking fish. These late night excursions are where the real teaching and learning took place.
It wasn’t always Ken offering advice or suggesting different ways of looking at things either. There were other guys there always willing to share a piece of the pie. The only prerequisite was an interest to learn, the ability to listen, and above all the ability to be humbled by the fish. I’ve learned more about the sea and all it’s creatures, never mind fly fishing, in the past few years than I had pounding the salt for the decade or two prior combined. This is partly, I think, why most that have participated on these Tuesdays are so adamant about the ideas so often talked about on Ken’s website. We didn’t just sit round talking about it, or typing about it, but we stood there with our eyes open to the world and watched the story unfold right in front of us. We’d watch together and learn together and see the results…. Together…. It was no longer theory or rhetoric. It was powerfully real. It still is. I missed them this year. I especially missed what it’s like to see someone “get it” at first. I remember that feeling and try to find it again every time I go out. Once I got a taste of “it”, I was hooked for life (no pun intended).
Tuesdays were never a club and they never felt like a club. People would come and go as they please, hang out by themselves and watch if they weren’t comfortable approaching the scene, or just sit around smoking and chit chatting with a new acquaintance. There was no pressure, no clicky-ness, no meetings and no rules. I looked forward to them every week after the first few. I made some wonderful friendships in the process.
I say there were no rules but actually there was just one. It wasn’t written but it was known by everyone who went, even if it was just one time. It was that anyone who participated in Tuesday night never talked about Tuesday night on Ken’s website the next day. You knew this ahead of time because the only thing you’d find on the site about Tuesday nights was the post indicating the starting location for a certain evening. No one reported the size or quantity of the fish caught or any of that. If you wanted to know what happened, you would have to go and participate. Just show up. Go see… Go see that this stuff people were learning wasn’t about the industry or the popularity or the fame. It was about the fish and the world they lived in. It was about learning and opening your eyes and experiencing. It was easier to do this if you had no expectations. As a result of this non-reporting, no one knew what to expect when they went for the first time. Lots of fish have been caught and some larger than many people will ever have the chance to see or ever see again. Some nights no fish were caught but it was not a disappointment because if you’d let yourself, there would always be something new to learn. The night when Ken taught me one of these valuable lessons there weren’t many fish caught. All it took was the one.
That night we ended up at a small inlet where the tide was running in under a relatively short wooden bridge supported by bunched pilings. There were two sulfer street lamps, one at either end, and the shadow of the bridge lay across the water on the down tide side, spanning the gap from one side to the other. I remember my friends Nick and Todd and maybe even Sean standing up on the span dangling and skating their little white flies off the top on the down tide side in the shadow. They would hoot and holler and laugh every time a fish would blow up on one of their flies. If one would miss, then the guy next to him would try to swing his fly over the fish in order to steal him. It’s a game we still play. It’s childish and fun and always gets a few laughs. It also gets you a fish much larger than you might expect on occasion.
At one point Ken had grabbed me and asked “You want to catch a fish Merch?”
I didn’t really know him that well at this point, but I remember thinking; of course I wanted to catch a fish. What did this guy think I came here to do anyway?
He followed with, “What do you have on there for a line?” It was a 10 wt floater. “Hmmm….What do you have for flies?” Ken had to squint a little under the dim orange street lamps to see that I had a 4 inch or so Bondorew Bucktail on the end, and a little Ray’s fly up top. I was obsessed with Bondorew’s book Stripers and Streamers at the time and had this rig tied on there for weeks now.
“That looks a little big…. What else do you have?….. Something little and white?” I popped open my box which I had tucked in the top of my waders and showed it too him. Inside were a bunch of my novice creations, bushy and untamed, not anything like what you might see… say for instance, in a John Kelsey tie. More like an Andrus bucktail with the lead head removed. He looked at the selection briefly, gave it a “Hmmmm….” And then he said what I had on there already would work just fine.
He directed me to hop over the rail and down the bank to the base of the bridge abutment on the down current side. I flashed my light to look for a good spot to drop down and he told me immediately to shut it off because I didn’t need to use a stupid light to see where I was going. We stumbled down the bank guided by the orange sulfurs.
When we got down to the water he explained to me a little what the fish might be doing around that shadow line. He looked out along the dark edge and said “I see three and ones right there below us”. Now I swear to you I thought he was lying because I couldn’t see a god dam thing, except maybe for the occasional fish blasting on the bridge dabbling Three-Amigo’s flies. Then I saw a flash below the surface near the edge of the shadow. Ken smiled and giggled a little. He said to me, “Catch it”
I started a back cast in an attempt to lay the line out across channel. Ken remarked at the stupidity of this process considering my proximity to the bushes behind us and the fact that the fish I was trying to catch was holding right beneath our feet. He told me to just flick it out there and let it drift out of the shadow without interfering. Just “flick” it…
I “flicked” it the best I could, which was anything but graceful. It hit the water and I instinctively grabbed the line and started pulling a little. Ken told me to leave it alone after it hit the water. I listened, but nothing happened. I did it again and again without so much as a rise from this fish. He was still there since we’d seen him roll a couple more times on the real thing as it passed over his head. At some point I hauled the team of flies in and Ken wanted to take another look at them.
“This one might be a little long” he commented. “Hmmmm….. Let me see that for a minute Merch”
I handed him the rod and he put some line back on the reel. I probably had enough out to set up a zip cord that could span the channel. He flipped out a short roll cast, and by short I mean 5 feet. With two fingers on the line and the rod tip held out over the fish’s last known coordinates, he followed the drift of the fly with the tip on the rod. Once the Bondorew broke clear of the shadow I saw the bronze flash and the rod tip went down.
He told me to take the rod so he didn’t have to bring the fish in…
I can tell you this: As if it wasn’t bad enough that this guy had hooked the fish in the spot I’d been beating for fifteen minutes with my gear that I was sure didn’t work… Well…. When he handed me the rod to finish the job it felt downright degrading. Like I’d failed as a man or something. Of course he was giggling a little too. Nick probably saw it as well and laughed. I think Ken likes to take other peoples’ stuff that they say isn’t working and immediately catch a fish on it. In fact I know he does because he does it all the time.
But in reality he wasn’t being facetious, he was only trying to show me that this stuff does in fact work. And, not only does it work, but it is unbelievably simple in principle as well.