Sunday, April 15, 2007

Remote Control Fly Fishing

After months of planning, I finally had assembled all the necessary pieces to implement my grand vision of remote control fly fishing. Let me quickly recap how we got here:

  • The Nikko RC boat was the first component bought from Fry’s for $30. Whoops, forgot the necessary battery.
  • During my next trip to Renton I acquired that battery - $20 more.
  • Next, I traded a beer at the Rogue Brewhouse in Issaquah for some fly line from a washingtonflyfishing.com member.
  • An initial test in the local retention pond was not encouraging. The motor seemed to stutter and the range was horrible. I assumed that the problem was due to electrical interference from a nearby electric station. I was wrong though.

Fast forward to the afternoon of 4/20 on Lake Alice. I’m sitting in my 12’ jon boat at the far end of the lake. The only other fisherman has just left so now I can try out my vision. I’ve just cut about 25 feet of fly line and tied it to the back of the RC boat. On the other end of the line I’ve put an 8’ leader with an indicator, a split shot and then an olive snow-cone chironomid. I use the controller to drive the boat out about 30 feet and then it stutters and stops responding. Dammit! I don’t understand why the damn boat isn’t moving. I press forward on the controller knobs over and over again but nothing happens.

Out of the corner of my eye I see the indicator submerge like the yellow eye of an alligator. Great! Now I have a fish on the end of the line and I can’t get the boat to move! I motor my Jon boat over to the RC boat, grab the line, net the fish, a sturdy 10” rainbow planter, and let it go.

I stare at the RC boat some more, frustrated that everything finally seems in place – the boat is here, the battery is charged, I got the fly line, there’s no one else around, the weather is perfect, the fish are willing but my RC controller has some kind of erectile dysfunction. Epiphany! I realize that the wire antenna on the RC boat cannot be allowed to dangle in the water! So I tie it to the boat’s whale tail and now it works like a charm! The little remote chugs powerfully in a circle and bumps into the front of our boat. Cheyenne, my faithful canine companion, sits up from her usual nap with interest; “well, this is new!” her expression seems to say. She realizes its not food and not prey and she’s quickly disinterested again. She holds down the front of the boat very well.

I reposition the RC boat and wait. And wait and wait. I’m staring at the indicator like I’ve never been able to do before. When I fish this way using a rod I never have the patience and I start slowly reeling in and tell myself that I need to the keep the line taught. I’m not a very good chironomid fisherman. Until now. Now I have the patience of a saint. I’m staring at the indicator like a cat watching a goldfish.

The indicator suddenly jerks backwards and then underwater. My thumbs are already perched on the controller sticks and I send the boat shooting forward. But the fish is already gone. While I was watching the indicator, the RC boat had drifted toward the indicator leading to a lot of slack line.

I turn the little boat around to reposition it. As the boat is making its U-turn a small fish is suddenly jumping behind it. He’d taken the midge while I was repositioning the boat! In the interests of science, I pit the boat against the fish to see if it can handle it. Well I’m happy to say that the boat seems to handle a 9” fish with no problems at all. The fish seemed to swim laterally anyway. That is, he appeared to want to swim perpendicular to the direction the boat was going. That seemed like really good news! I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I let the fish go and reposition the boat. Over the next two hours I see the indicator go down 10 more times. On two more occasions the fish hook themselves and I have the pleasure of steering the fish over to me with the RC controller. I continue watching the indicator like the world’s most dedicated chironomid fisherman. Honestly, it was TOTALLY FUN - like when I first started fishing with worms and bobbers.

After a few hours, to mix things up, I took off the midge and tied on a burgundy colored woolly bugger that I’d found in the launch/parking lot. The boat moved noticeably slower while trolling this thumb-sized fly. I saw the indicator dip once when the boat was paused but the fish was not hooked. Shortly after this, the boat appeared to run out of juice as it moved slower and slower and then stopped responding for periods of time. I retrieved my little proxy and congratulated it on a fine day.

I fished in the ‘conventional’ style with my fly rod for a few more hours catching another three fish (on the same olive chironomid the RC boat used) and losing several more. As it got dark, I steered the boat to the launch. There was a spin fisherman at the launch with a fishing rod propped up on a stick. I beached the Jon boat and Cheyenne jumped out and promptly urinated on the guy’s rod; “hey, hey, HEY!” he yelped as he stumbled back from this unwelcome greeting. I don’t know what gets into Cheyenne sometimes. After fishing with a remote control child’s toy we have no right to look down on our spin-fishing brothers! Or do we? Maybe this is Cheyenne’s way of saying “watch out, fisherman, there’s a new game in town.”

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