Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash Vol. XL: Throwing dry flies in winter, a December largemouth tale, and hope floats

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Matt Labash
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      Matt Labash

      Hi, welcome to “Ask Matt Labash.” I’ll be your host, Matt Labash. The idea for this column – if idea isn’t too strong a word – is that it is not a column at all. Rather, it’s a conversation. One in which I do ninety-five percent of the talking. If you did most of the talking, you’d have to watch my eyes go dead and my attention wander until it was my turn to talk again. So trust me, it’s better this way.

      For those unfamiliar with me from my day job at The Weekly Standard, I’ll give you a capsule bio by way of introduction: I have the gift of wisdom. Does that sound arrogant? I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention. I didn’t choose wisdom. It chose me. If I had my druthers, I’d have chosen another gift, perhaps the untold riches of Lil’ Wayne, whose teeth are made of actual diamonds, or to be the sexiest man alive, like Rachel Maddow. But wisdom is what they gave me, so wisdom is all I have to give back to you.

      This is not, you should know, a mere advice column. If you need advice, I’ll give it. But the only rule here is that there are no rules. You can ask me a question about anything that’s on your mind: current events, pop culture, media, theology, string theory, fishing tips, wicker repair. The only limits we have are those of your imagination. And those of my knowledge base. Which is considerably limited, truth be told. So try not to ask me anything that requires research. Though they tell me I have access to Google on this computer if we need it.

      If all goes according to plan, ours will not be a traditional writer/reader relationship. It’s more complex than that. I might empathize or cajole. I might educate, instruct, or inspire. I might pretend to answer your question while actually reporting you to Social Services, since you’re a dangerous person who should not have contact with children. I might tell you to climb up on my shoulders, that you’re not heavy, you’re my brother. Or I might tell you that you are heavy, and that you should hop down until you lose a few pounds. I might just sidle up behind you, put my big strong man hands on the small of your back, and whisper in your ear the words of the poet, Kenny Rogers: “We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow?”

      To which you’ll say something like, “I can’t, I’ve got to go home and wash my hair.”
      To which I’ll say something like, “Shhh. We’ve got tonight babe, why don’t you stay?”
      Wherever this takes us, our journey begins now:

      <i>Matt Labash is a senior writer with The Weekly Standard. His first book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Fly-Fishing-Darth-Vader-Evangelical/dp/1439159971">Fly Fishing with Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys</a> will be published next month by Simon & Schuster.</i>

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I realize the conventional wisdom is that fish never hit dry flies in cold weather. But is it true? I’d hate to have to wait until springKyle Bash

No, it is not true. But because the prospect of fishing dries in winter (or flies that sit atop the water, causing fish to rise) is such an important question, I am dedicating an entire column to it. This is a column milestone, of sorts, in that it’s the first question for which that has ever happened  (pinch yourself). So apologies are due in advance to all non-fly fishing readers, whom I risk alienating. Though I encourage them to stick around anyway, since studies have shown that 84.7 percent of all life’s questions can be answered by solving fishing riddles. To provide some hardcore specifics, I’m calling in a guest contributor, a very wise man and one of my fishing gurus, Theaux Le Gardeur. Theaux runs the Backwater Angler in Monkton, Maryland, one of the finest fly shops on the East Coast.

Whenever I fish the Gunpowder River, a scenic tailwater that runs just south of the Pennsylvania line, before I even buy junk food or take a squirt (the Gunpowder is a long drive), I wouldn’t think of hitting the river before first going to see Theaux, who holds court from behind the counter at the Backwater, as his Welsh Corgi, Ella, lazes on the floor. A Renaissance Man and a Louisiana boy from Covington, Theaux regales me with good conversation about everything from fishing to politics to music to New Orleans exotica  (his father, Maurice Le Gardeur, recently released an entertaining and beautifully illustrated book, “Carnival in New Orleans, a Fantasy,” which contains everything from Mardi Gras poems to recipes  for Creole File Gumbo). More important, Theaux stocks me up with lots of flies. Not because I need them, necessarily – I don’t even fish half of them. I just like to have them in my vest as a confidence-booster. Fish, like women, smell desperation and do not respond to uncertainty. If you want them to come your way, you have to project self-assuredness. So it’s not always about the fly you fish. Sometimes, it’s about the fly you know you can fish if the fly you’re fishing fails.

Even during lean winter months, when the weather is cold and the fishing is colder, I turn to the Backwater Angler’s website for solace, to watch videos of Theaux’s partner in crime, Jason du Pont (who also ties some of the deadliest shad flies in America) catch fish in all conditions. Warning: if you’re susceptible to fish envy, do not watch this nymphing display.