A popular saying proclaims, "If you're given lemons, make lemonade." This saying came to mind today when, fishing the first time this spring for trout, I caught a sucker. I should stop right here to add that my relationship to suckers is not a recent one: we go way back. When my family moved from New Canaan, CT, to Seattle in 1954, we stopped in Livingston, MT, to fish for trout. My father had decided on Livingston because he had asked A. J. McClane where he could find some good fishing en route to Seattle. Apparently, McClane had snorted at my father's ignorance and said, "Montana, of course!"
I had just started fly fishing, using my grandfather Cox's Leonard (heavy, whippy, with red silk wraps every few inches) together with a level line, an outfit my father had pronounced "Good enough for Gerry." I actually managed to hook a big trout in the Yellowstone--it may have grown in retrospect, but now I'd say it was a good three pounds--and I rather liked this new kind of fishing. Then my father discovered Armstrong Creek. In those days, as I recall, there wasn't even a fee to fish; you simply had to obtain permission. Off we went. I discovered some huge fish finning in the current and tried every fly I had over them. Not the slightest quiver of a fin in response to my Royal Wulff, my ginger BiVisible, or my Grey Hackle Yellow. Then my father walked by and scornfully remarked, "You're fishing for suckers!" My interest in fishing suddenly evaporated.
Many years later, I managed to persuade my boss Thak that we could combine a recruiting trip for Cornell with an afternoon in early June on the Letort in Pennsylvania. The landscape was altogether different from Armstrong Creek, but the water was not: tricky braided currents between plants reaching the surface. And history repeated itself: I put one dry fly after another over two really big fish, until a change in the light revealed them to be suckers.
Despite these periodic encounters with suckers, I am always surprised when I actually hook one in Fall Creek, some ten blocks from our house in Ithaca, NY. Rainbow trout run up from Cayuga Lake to spawn in the tributaries in the spring, together with some landlocked salmon--and suckers. Anticipation runs high whenever the spring rains actually pause enough for the creeks to clear. My first fish is almost always a sucker, and I am almost always surprised--and disappointed: I am keying on rainbows.
Today, however, fourteen days after the trout season opened, fourteen days of mounting frustration because the tribs were blown out from rain storms, I saw pairs of suckers making their way upstream through the shallows of Fall Creek. For once, I realized from the outset that they were there. I put on one of my favorite searching flies, an Egg-sucking Leech. Nothing. I added some weight. Nothing. I added some more weight, felt a fish briefly, and then on the next cast lost it to one of the grabby rocks Fall Creek is infamous for. Not wanting to lose more flies that actually take some time to tie, I put on an Estaz egg imitation. Fish on! I got the fish on the reel, it ran upstream, rolled up to the surface, and revealed itself to be a big sucker. Too bad, I thought. Then it turned and went downstream, running line off the reel. And I suddenly realized, "What's wrong with catching a sucker? At three to four pounds in weight, a sucker is strong, it runs off the reel, and catching one is a lot more fun than not catching anything at all!" I hooked and lost about five, and landed five or six more. I had a great time.
If you're given lemons, make lemonade. If what you can catch are suckers . . . change your mindset and enjoy yourself!