Mike Farnham was not happy. It was 4 a.m. on Sunday. He was flopped out on a fishing partner's floor, the couch cushions forming a "T" to support the 185 pounds that is Farnham.
It had been a restless night. For starters, his girl friend of six years had spent the evening outside the front door, honking the car horn long after dark settled across the street.
"I told her I'd take her out to an early show," Farnham said defensively.
The anglers had stayed up until midnight, inventing flies to cast to shad, said to be making their annual spawning appearance on the Rappahanock.
Now comes a third angler, grumbling and barking orders in the pitch black before dawn.
It was par for Farnham, who in the past year or so has totaled his car, been forced to sell his boat to pay off debts and most recently lost his job because GE moved the plant he worked in to New Jersey.
None of it gets Farnham down. He views each disaster with an equanimity acquired over 14 years of fishing for every species with nothing but hand-made flies and a fly rod.
Farnham is a fly-fishing freak. His specialty is largemouth bass, which almost no one pursues on flies. But he's happy to spend a day drifting his creations past pickerel or pike, smallmouth, perch, shad, trout, bluefish, carp, bluegills, crappie or anything else that swims and breathes through gills.
That makes him a scientist, because no one makes pickerel flies or carp flies, and each has to be designed and built on faith and ingenuity.
Farnham chases largemouth bass with lizard flies and worm flies, salamander flies and minnow flies. He makes them from furand feathers in the boat, trying hard to duplicate something he's seen in the water, then refining it to make it look alive.
And it works. Last year he boated 116 bass weighing a total of 220 pounds, fishing mostly in the area, principally at farm ponds and Rocky Gorge. That's good by anyone's standards, regardless of tackle.
Part of it has to owe to Farnham's remarkable ability with a fly rod. Casts of 70 and 80 feet on seven weight floating line are nothing to him. He can hit a sunken log, brush pile of a rocky ledge from distances that would make a baitcaster blanch.
"It's all practice," he said. "I was good today, but last week I didn't have it. That's because I hadn't been fishing for awhile. I bet a guy I could strip out of all my line and still keep the fly up, but I lost it with five feet left to go. Today I could have done it."
For all his expertise in building flies and putting them where the fish are, Sunday was not Farnham's day. The start was slow, and as the fishermen breezed down deserted 14th Street the first rays of false dawn already were glinting above the tall, faded buildings.
By the time they hit the Rte. 1 bridge at Fredericksburg it was full daylight, and then a half-hour of research preceded the first cast.
The end result of four hours of battling the rapids in chest-high waders and flipping shad flies into the slow pools was two big shad on the hook, none on the stringer. "It was worth it to feel those big shad on the line," Farnham said with a grin. "It was hold-on time."
But holding on doesn't land fish, and the shads' leaps and runs finally did the job as the big fish spat the hooks. An earlier start could have made the difference; local anglers who arrived at dawn were cleaning stringers ranging up to six of the handsome spawners.
Even the strikes disappeared by 10 o'clock. The anglers took stock of the failures and decided to move on to nearby Lake Anna to hunt bass.
The boatless Farnham was thrilled to ride the waves again on a rental craft from Lake Anna Marina, but the fish were as uncooperative there as their river brothers were at Fredericksburg. As dusk hovered over the western woods and the anglers cashed it in with one small bass and a handful of crappie anad bluegill.
Exhausted, Farnharm swore he was fed up with fishing. Then back at the dock one of the owners comforted patrons with a promise of a guided tour some weekday.
By the time we hit Occoquan, Farnharm was busily planning his week around a free tour of Anna.