The Curse

Don't fish with me, not ever
Rain on the flats of Ascension Bay.
Rain on the flats of Ascension Bay, Mexico (photo: Chad Shmukler).

Don’t fish with me.

Not ever. Not if you want to enjoy bluebird skies, calm, wind-free days and glassy flats. Not if you don’t like snow, piercing winds, sleet, hail or pestilence.

I’m cursed. And I need help. I need some French Quarter voodoo, a slump-buster of sorts. Something to get me off the meteorological/Biblical shit list.

As far as I can tell, it started a few years back when a buddy and I visited far northern Saskatchewan -- Cliff Blackmur hosted us Athabasca Lodge for an end-of-summer pike-and-grayling Odyssey. The fishing was awesome. Simply fantastic.

But it all happened under slate-gray skies, rain and, near the end of the trip, honest-to-God snow. We asked Cliff if the weather was normal for that time of year, and he simply shrugged.

“Honestly, it’s a little early for this,” he said, waving his hand toward the vast freshwater lake stretching from this dock to the horizon. “Usually, it’s pretty nice this time of year.”

We nodded and watched as the rain pushed into Cliff’s little bay in sheets.

“What are you gonna do?” I asked my buddy, and poured another glass of whiskey. ”We’ll tough it out.”

Five days later, we’d both managed to tangle with some huge Athabascan pike, massive lake trout that run up the lake’s tributaries like salmon and Arctic grayling that were probably better measured in pounds rather than inches. But it all happened in the rain. Or a biting Arctic wind that stretched the limits of Cliff’s little skiffs as we tried to push across the lake to find new fishing holes.

Or snow. I managed to hook a fat walleye while being belted by ice pellets being pushed by a biting monsoon driving out of the Northwest Territories. It was awesome and awful at the same time.

A year or so later, this same buddy and I ventured to the southern Bahamas in search of bonefish -- we stepped off the boat the first day under gray skies and put our noses into a 40 mph wind. Visibility on the flats was horrid, and nobody even saw a fish that day. The wind and the rain persisted all week -- a few of the veteran flats guys brought some fish to hand, and on the last day, I finally had a couple of good shots, but my salty experiences were pretty slim.

I blamed it on the weather, and I was pretty sure one of us was burdened by some bad Ju-ju.

My friend and I exchanged sideways glances on the flight home -- who was the curse? Is it him? Or is it me?

A year or so later, a different friend and I met down on the shores of the Sea of Cortez -- we were early for the roosterfish run, but just by a week or so. We figured we might get some shots. You know, if the weather cooperated.

I was heartened at first -- my buddy’s flights got all sideways thanks to crappy weather in Chicago, and he arrived a day late. I figured this was the proof I needed. I wasn’t the curse. Others just foisted it on me.

So as I rose early the next morning and wandered down to the beach to cast for jacks and cabrilla, I was devastated to hear that, during the previous night, the wind had changed directions.

“The weend,” my host explained to me in his heavily accented English. “Eets blowing de wrong way. Eets no good for de feesh.”

Indeed. That first day I managed to hook what they call a Mexican lookdown -- a pompano-like critter with a funky snout. It was fun, but it hardly strained the 8-weight rod I was hoping to test out on big roosters, jacks and sierra mackerel. I went back to my room, grabbed some cash and wandered up the road to the mini-super. I plucked a bottle of middle-shelf tequila from the rack, some orange juice and a container of fruit punch and sauntered on back to the resort.

Stretched between two palm trees behind my room was a hammock. In the palm trees hung clumps of coconuts. Using an aluminum fly rod case, I managed to coax one of the big fruits from the tree, and using the corner of a cement slab, I managed to peel the outer layer from the coconut and then open a hole in one end.

Tequila. OJ. Fruit punch. Coconut milk. And the wind continued to blow. From the wrong direction.

Thankfully the hammock was delightful. Own the curse, I thought. It can’t last forever.

Or can it?

A trip to the tropical north of Australia’s Queensland a while back turned into a rainy pursuit of jungle perch in croc-infested streams. Once, years earlier, I ended up stranded for three days in a lodge at the tip of Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska, making me wonder just how long this curse has followed me. Just last summer, I and a fishing buddy got snowed on in August while we chased grayling on the Denali Highway.

Even on a trip to sunny and warm Ascension Bay last winter, the first bonefish I caught came to hand during a squall, and my buddy Chad, guilty of letting the curse rub off, chose to fish one day without a rain jacket in the boat. He succeeded in inviting disaster and created circumstances that certainly emboldened the curse. And he got soaked to the bone because of it, even though it was clearly my doing.

I guess the good news is that it doesn’t always mean the fishing is off. As I said, the Athabascan trip was phenomenal. So was the trip to Ascension Bay. And a second trip to the Bahamas with a different set of fishing companions was quite fruitful, inspite of periods of rain.

One crystal clear day last October I took the kids up to a little brook trout stream in Island Park, and watched the thermometer on my dashboard go from 75 to 45. When we got to the creek, the brookies were nowhere to be seen. But there were frogs everywhere, caught off guard by the sudden temperature change.

Seriously. Frogs.

But it all came to a head last week. I was heading to my organization's headquarters in Arlington, Va., just across Key Bridge from Washington. We were to spend Presidents’ Day chasing big browns and rainbows on Virginia’s Mossy Creek, but the winter grip on the Eastern Seaboard continued, and we had to cancel the trip because the high temperature in Harrisonburg was 20. Oh, and it snowed six inches.

Instead, we ended up searching for open restaurants in downtown D.C. and counting the rats -- I shit you not -- that scurried from under every bush and every park bench, pushing their way through the snow like squirrels. Only they were bigger. Like cocker spaniels.

For the life of me, I can’t pin down what I did to cheese off Mother Nature or the weather gods. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never been aboard a boat with a banana on it. I’ve never walked under a ladder. I’ve never uttered “Candyman” three times while staring into a mirror.

But the curse lives on. So, friends, it’s best if I fish alone, or with those who don’t mind rain, snow, sleet or hail. If you can handle rats and frogs and black flies and … well, you get the idea.

Don’t fish with me. Ever. Not ever.


Tell me about it. With the exception of a fine day on the Upper Ruby, our outings together have been seriously weather-challenged. That said, I'd face the winds and the rain with you any day, anywhere. And besides, the best fishing stories seldom start with bluebird skies.

Hey Chris - you are still living the dream fishing at all those destinations!

Dear Mr. Hunt. On behalf of drought-striken west coast steelhead fishermen, I beseech you to fish the California coast at your earliest possible convenience.

Next month, Todd Tanner... Time to save the world, I guess...

I've got a similar problem. I'm the fish "cooler' to use a Vegas term. All you hear from the guides is how they've been having double digit days and fishing has been phenomenal but the moment I show up the bite dies and we're lucky to get into one or two fish. If you think you can catch fish under any circumstances, come out with me. By the end of a week you'll be doubting all of your skills and second guessing every part of your gear setup and fly selection for whatever we're targeting.

Maybe we need a group exorcism for this bad juju.

-The Cooler

Chris, I have a plan. Apparently I am equally cursed, but maybe by fishing together we can cancel it out. Think matter + antimatter annihilation. If the curse persists, I'm more than happy to join you in owning it. I'm a fairly proficient beer drinker and a fan of fun times, whether there are fish involved or they choose not to join the party.

Otherwise, thanks for a solid read. Solidarity.

Count me in too, A.J. With the three of us together the skies will part.