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Sport: Super Fly

Dexter van Zile

Standing on the bow of a flat skiff a few yards from North Monomoy Island off of Cape Cod, Ken Abrames makes a kind of whipping motion with his fly rod. While the passengers on the nearby guide boats cast their flies into the deep water without any success, Abrames follows his own dictum of never casting into an area just because other people are fishing there. He places his lure 30 yards or so into the flats.

“Think in terms of energy when it’s time to cast,” says Abrames, his weathered face indicating a 60-something age that he won’t divulge. “Look for the edge of the currents. You want to look at where things converge on the ocean floor, where deep water comes to a shallow point. Striped bass are like humans in that they want a good vantage point to see what’s around them. They follow edges like we follow sidewalks.”

A moment after the fly hits the water, there’s a flash of light as a fish strikes. The line becomes taut, and Abrames has a 30-inch striped bass on the hook. After landing the fish, he smiles briefly and shakes his fist at the other guide boats in a gesture of triumph and defiance. “Sometimes,” he says, “it’s about kicking ass.”

For Todd Murphy, a Cape Cod fishing guide who has come along on the trip to learn a few tricks, the fish on the line validates all of Abrames’ talk—and there is lots of it—about the proper way to fish: Always sharpen your hooks; never underestimate the intelligence of the prey; learn the techniques used by fishermen who’ve come before you; remember that image has nothing to do with catching fish. “When he talks to people, it’s sincere,” says Murphy. “He wants you to do well. It’s like hanging out with a grandfather who has a passion for handing down the traditional techniques and the history of fishing.”

Murphy is among a growing number of saltwater fly-fishing enthusiasts in the Northeast who regard Abrames as a mentor, one who dispenses wisdom on the sport and other matters, sort of saltwater fly-fishing’s answer to Bagger Vance. Although Abrames, who makes a living as a $900-a-day fishing guide and by selling the flies that he ties, dismisses any suggestion that he’s become a kind of fishing guru, he does acknowledge using the sport to communicate his views on life in general. “People are too insecure. They’re afraid to do things,” says Abrames, who has authored two books on fly-fishing, Striper Moon (1994) and A Perfect Fish: Illusions in Fly Tying (1999). “I want to empower people so that they feel like they belong on the planet.” From Abrames’ perspective, catching fish is a better means to this end than any self-help seminar.

Every Tuesday night, lawyers, professors, and accountants are among those who gather at prearranged spots on the Rhode Island coastline to fish, but mostly to hear Abrames talk about fishing. Typically, the evening begins at about 6 pm and can last well past midnight. The Tuesday night sessions, posted on Abrames’ web site (www.stripermoon.com), attract fishermen from through-out the Northeast, says John Cook. “He’s not really a guide,” explains Cook, a Tuesday night regular from Rhode Island who is an avid fly fisherman and also the division vice president of the Northeast and Caribbean for The Nature Conservancy. “He’s a fly-fishing master who’s made the decision to share what he knows. He’s at the top of his game, and he’s decided to reach out.”

When the Tuesday night gatherings began in the spring of 2001, Cook says, most of the participants were local. But as word of Abrames spread, fishermen began arriving from northern New England, New Jersey, and Virginia—just for a few hours of fishing, some words of wisdom, and perhaps the chance to land a 30-pound striper, an epiphanic experience, argues Abrames, in which you assert your predatory nature. “There’s nothing on the planet that we can’t take down,” he says. “That’s not necessarily something to be proud of, but it says something about who we are—and there isn’t a successful businessman alive who doesn’t already understand what I’m talking about.”

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