Sports history includes several streaks that are regularly discussed to the point where they have become common knowledge. And most of these records are so incomprehensible in nature, that many view them as unbreakable. Even the most casual of sports fans are awestruck by; DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, UCLA basketball's 88 consecutive victories, and the Boston Celtics 8-straight NBA titles, just to name a few.
May 31st, 2007 was a dark day for me both literally and figuratively. Unusually warm and humid weather had settled into eastern Pennsylvania and threatening skies greeted me as I arrived at the Bowmanstown turn-off along the Lehigh River. I knew I was facing a tall order upon arrival. In my experience, anytime that you need your vehicle headlights to see while driving at 5 o'clock in the afternoon (at that time of year), funky fishing is sure to follow. Sure enough it was dark, blustery, muggy, and the fish - along with the insects they gorge upon - were having none of it. After a little over 2 hours of flailing away, a fabulous lightning display chased me off the water and I plopped back down in my truck seat – SKUNKED! I really can't put into words what I was actually saying to myself (due to website censorship settings), and it's not like I had never been skunked before, but this one annoyed me because it ended a streak of 69 consecutive trips without taking a zero. I felt completely deflated like Senator John Blutarsky being notified that he was being expelled after only 7 years of college. As the saying goes however, when one streak ends… it's really just the beginning of another!
Most of you probably wouldn't know this, but I am a meticulous keeper of fishing journals. Since 1988 I have logged every trip in great detail, and it has served as my greatest point of reference for drawing upon, and preparing for future fishing trips. Obviously without this kind of record keeping, I wouldn't have even known that I had a skunk-free run going. In fact I didn't really think about it until one of my buddy's brought it up, so I looked it up. As it turned out I was right around 40 in a row at the time and looking back through my records it was the longest such run of good fortune that I had ever recorded. Thus The Streak
was born. And now it would become a thing with us… "How many in a row is that?"… "Better catch one. You don't want to break your streak!"… And so it went, all in good fun until that awful Thursday night back in 2007. It probably didn't make your local (or national news), but in my small circle of fishing friends I took quite the ribbing.
On June 2nd, 2007 I climbed back up on the horse. While wading the gentle flows of Bushkill Creek just above Stocker Mill Bridge during a steady hatch of dorotheas
, I managed to bring 2 browns and 2 rainbows to the net. As I was wrapping up I saw my buddy standing on the bridge, and when he saw that I noticed him he excitedly joked, "That’s one in a row Joe!" Funny guy, but he was right. Back at the cars we talked about how long it would take and how lucky I would have to be to hit 70 trips in a row without smelling the skunk. It seemed… well… incomprehensible! The trips started to pile up though, seasons passed, years went by… and then life got in the way. Work got really busy requiring me to travel more, my daughter was getting older and we were onto other activities, and then something happened that I never saw coming… we moved to Utah!
In 2010 the company that I work for decided to relocate and I seized the opportunity to leave behind the small town in PA that I was born and raised in and headed west seeking new adventures. This was quite a curve ball to my fishing of course. Bodies of water that I had logged hundreds of hours on over decades were now 2,000 miles away. All new fishing adventures lie ahead, but I didn't know anything about any one of them. I really didn't fish much in that transitional year, but made a serious effort to dive back in the following spring. I quickly realized that the trout calendar that had become imprinted on me over the years needed to be thrown out. I was facing all new conditions now in the form of weather patterns and water types. Gone were my Pocono freestoners and Lehigh Valley limestoners. All were replaced by temperamental tailwaters and alpine lakes (trout live in lakes?). More daunting was that my 800-page fishing notebook was now rendered pretty much useless as far as providing historical insight. Also, I needed new fishing buddies as my old gang back in PA seemed unwilling to make the 2,000 mile journey on a weekly basis. One of my colleagues invited me to join him on the Provo River on March 12, 2011 – my first fishing trip in Utah! I was psyched, the weather was beautiful, and I was promised a river full of big fish (that should have been a tip-off). First impression – THERE MUST BE 3 FEET OF SNOW UP HERE! It was not super enjoyable, and my eastern fly boxes were not speaking to me, but I did manage to coax a single 15 inch brown trout into the net on an old standby – red Serendeepity. Once home and freshly humbled, it got me to thinking about the streak again. Well I didn't get skunked (I told myself) and my logbook revealed that this was trip number 34 since that awful day on the Lehigh River. Man I really hoped the number would be higher than that.
It was somewhat of a struggle early on, but I always managed to catch a couple of fish and then a revelation occurred in September of that year. I joined a website called The North American Fly Fishing Forum
and it felt like I had been reborn as an angler. This site was nothing like most of the others. It was well-moderated and there was no sniping, and no "clicky" behavior. Just a bunch of good people sharing stories, trading tactics, and always willing to help a fellow angler out. There is no way to tell where my fishing life would be today without NAFFF, but I am pretty certain that the streak would never have made it to 50. During this time I was feeling more informed than ever and tying all these cool new fly patterns that folks were sharing. Through NAFFF I also discovered a man, a place, and a way of life called Planet Trout <head exploding sound & visual>
! The culmination of these findings pushed me to new angling heights and tremendously expanded my knowledge of the sport.
As I chugged along, racking up trips, making new fishing buddies (even joking about the "new" streak) the day finally came. In the cool flows of the Provo River on the afternoon of September 14th, 2012 I used a pair of soft hackles that had duped so many fish for me in the past to bring 14 hard-fighting brown trout to the net. My 70th consecutive trip without posting a ZERO! Oh it felt good, although there were a few nail-niters along the way. Nine times in fact I called it a trip after landing only a single fish, but 1 fish beats NO FISH every time. Feeling like my angling stock was on the rise, I just wanted to keep it going, and that's exactly what I did.
I hit a major milestone the evening of September 5th, 2013. While swinging a Partridge & Yellow on the middle section of the Provo River I fooled 5 trout and in the process hit the century mark… ONE HUNDRED (100) trips in a row without the skunk finding me! I never even dared to dream of this. To be honest it was getting easier by the trip. I actually started to think that I was becoming a better angler. Maybe this is how it is for everybody (I thought). Maybe nobody ever gets skunked, and I have finally arrived at the party. Better late than never I suppose.
I was really starting to hit my stride in 2014. Now my angling transformation was complete. Back in PA there were long winters of fly tying followed by the slow starts of early spring. Around mid April things would start happening followed by an explosion of insect and trout activity that was largely over by mid June. Now I was fishing through the winters (tailwaters never sleep). And in the heat of the summer – which previously put me into "bass mode" until fall – the fly fishing got even better. I even took on a whole new challenge that spring – fishing stillwaters. Lakes and ponds are a different ballgame entirely from flowing waters. Back were the seasonal limits of ice out and freeze up along with a very diverse and different food chain. Perhaps the biggest adjustment was in knowing how to find the fish. I was no stranger to lake fishing, but lake fishing for wild trout was something I had never experienced. It was (and still is) incredibly challenging at times, but I always seemed to catch at least a few fish and eventually developed a pattern of consistent success.
My next major milestone came on the morning of June 26th, 2016. During the maiden voyage of my new float tube (a comedy of errors in itself) I coaxed 2 cutthroats from the depths of Strawberry Reservoir making this the TWO HUNDREDTH (200th) consecutive trip without a skunking! This run from 101 to 200 was just phenomenal. I averaged close to 9 fish per trip, almost topping 30 on a handful of outings, and narrowly escaping zeroes with 1 fish landed on seven occasions including a nip/tuck "happy hour" visit to a local reservoir; it was one of those evenings where fish seemed to be rising all around me. I was going through flies trying to put something together to capitalize on the activity. I finally hooked a willing cutthroat on an A.P. Emerger, only to lose it! NO! Then I hooked and landed its twin on the very next cast just as the bats arrived and the fish disappeared.
On a gorgeous day in late September I decided to take the day off work and hauled my float tube back to Strawberry Reservoir. I figured that I knew what to correct from my previous attempt and was now ready to slay some fish! It didn't take long and I had my first hook-up on a chironomid. It was a feisty rainbow that cleared the water by a foot or two and then sped off throwing the fly. Not unusual, but it turned out to be the theme of the day. Three more solid hook-ups, all ending in the same manner - lost without a full understanding as to why. And so it ended, on September 27th, 2016 Joe Dziedzina (a legend in his own mind) got skunked, zero, nothing, nada! Even worse, as I kicked back to the shoreline in secret shame, I went to stand up in about a foot of water and both my legs refused to straighten out. I tried to take a step forward to catch my balance, but the kick fin dug into the mud, and I did a full swan dive/face plant into the lake! There I laid, face down, both fin tips now dug into the lake bottom, life flashing before my eyes, and all I could think about was my streak ending. Eventually I decided that I wanted to go on living, rolled over, and stood up. When I emerged from my watery grave I noticed that there were about a dozen boats with plenty of witnesses to this event. I can only imagine how hilarious it must have looked from their vantage point. "Not one of my better dismounts" I muttered as I turned to retrieve my float tube, nearly stumbling again in the process.
And there you have it. 208 consecutive trips, over 9 years 3 months 27 days, 1,597 fish landed, average time on the water was about 3.5 hours per trip, with 22 times having been saved by a single fish to extend the streak. Not sure where this streak ranks on the (slightly) more famous list that I opened this article with, but I am quite certain that this will be my personal high water mark. I would never say never though as my current streak is up to 13 trips so maybe, just maybe I have one last great run left in me.
Interesting is that many of my favorite memories over the majority of this streak are captured here on NAFFF in the form of trip reports. I always try to give back to the site in some small way. Sharing stories and pictures with fellow members that have helped shape me into the angler that I am today is my preferred way of doing this. In fact I posted a full report on my last productive trip (before Strawberry Reservoir broke my heart) to the Coldwater Fly Fishing
forum. It occurred September 2nd on a high mountain stream in the western Uintas Range. On this day, I hit the Grand Slam
; rainbow, brown, cutthroat, and brook trout (in that order)… all wild, all on the same day, all from the same river. If I was going to pick a fishing trip to end the streak on, I would be hard pressed to come up with a better one than that over the past decade. You have got to love all of the highs and the lows of angling along with everything experienced along the way.
I would like to thank all of my fellow members here on NAFFF for helping me to build this story. And I can't wait to see how the next chapter unfolds. Here are a handful of pictures from my memorable run between the skunks:
Meet Earl the Door Man, a frequent opponent on the Bushkill Creek near Tatamy, PA. My friends and I tangled with Earl several times before an unexpected (manmade) disaster took him from us. That's a whole other story for another day.
, one of the shining stars of the famous Sulphur Hatch that marks the pinnacle of so many dry fly seasons on eastern trout streams.
The late great Rian Siska, an environmental warrior and proud representative of the "old guard" wet fly anglers of the Pocono Plateau. He taught me so much during our short time fishing together. His impact on my life as an angler has been tremendous. Rian really opened my eyes to trout stream entomology and fly design. He truly was one of the greatest anglers that I have ever known. Miss you brother!
Another dear, departed friend… here's Toby and I along the banks of the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park (I'm the one with the hat). Toby was the best friend of dog lovers everywhere and a perfect little gentleman throughout his entire life. I've tied hundreds of flies through the years with Toby faithfully snoozing by my side.
Over the course of this streak, I was so fortunate to watch my daughter grow up and exhibit the same passion for the outdoors that has played such an integral role in my life. Here she is from our July 4th trip on the Provo River back in 2013 where we intercepted a spectacular Green Drake hatch. She is all set to graduate with a degree in wildlife biology and fisheries management and I could not be more proud.
Our move out west has put me in proximity to so many destination fisheries. One of my favorites is the Gunnison River in Colorado above Blue Mesa Reservoir. I swear these are some of the strongest fish I have ever encountered. Here's a broad-shouldered brown from the Palisades section (mountain lion country).
Winter fishing on tailwater rivers has become a real obsession of mine. Here's a beastly rainbow from my new "home water", the Provo River.
Nothing raises the hair on the back of your neck like fresh bear tracks along the river bank. These occurring after
we arrived (snapped this as we were about to leave). Makes me wonder that for all of the fascinating things we see during our time on the water, there must be so many more that we miss.
Ah, the evolution of the "selfie" took place over the course of the streak. Late December on the lower Provo River… I call this one, "Fishing… serious stuff."
The coolest thing about fishing lakes is that the fish (on average) can run big. Here's a beautiful Cutthroat from Strawberry Reservoir. Not sure why they named it Strawberry Reservoir, because it felt more like "humble pie" the last time I was there <RIMSHOT>
… thank you, I'll be here all week!
Ah, my new favorite place to be… on an alpine lake high in the Uintas. Places like this are what dreams were made of when I lived back in PA. I still dream about them, but now I can simply wake up and drive to them. This one appropriately named – Jewel Lake.