There are a few constants in fly fishing: a rod, a reel, and line, plus flies and a leader. The rest is up for grabs. You can head out on the water and have an epic day, or wind up thinking the time burned could have been better spent in the garden. There could be a blizzard-like caddis hatch, or you could snag every streamer you own on unseen rocks. You could meet partially overcast skies, a sun high and bright, or two feet of fresh snow. You can catch every fish in the river, or go home ‘hungry’. Such is life. At times jubilant, then melancholy. A walk in the park, followed by aggravation and/or disappointment.
I woke Saturday just before five, and with some restlessness in my mind. I’ve fished almost exclusively for trout and carp this summer, a much too brief and less than fruitful trip to Florida for redfish the only break. And while I’ve had a wonderful time hanging out on river and lake with friends, I also felt a strange desire to head out this morning alone.
After exiting the truck I was immediately greeted by a triumvirate of exuberant Golden Retrievers – they had gotten away from their handler during their morning walk and decided I was worth meeting up close and personal. I considered it as joyful a start to the morning as I could ever hope. Rod rigged, I headed up a canopied dead end road while a faint morning mist whisked between trees where the sun’s first beams had not yet penetrated. At the trail head, I laid my rod and bag down on a bench, immediately reminded that the last time I had visited this place it was not a solitary pursuit. I don’t generally fish by myself, but things change.
Down the trail I went, immediately noticing that it was well worn from horse hoof (and human hoof) traffic. The last time I remember thinking the fishing must be really good, as the path was devoid of wear. At the end of a short decline, a open gate, latch donned in chain long since wrapped round and round itself to prevent fair use, invited me in. Last time that gate had been closed.
Crossing the small field to the water, my sandals immediately became soaked in the fresh morning dew. My recollection of last spring was dry and barren, what grass existed matted down by the weight of snow that only briefly disappeared for the run we’d made. Now, the field was in full bloom, complete with tall blades and thorny underbrush. The sights, the texture, even the smell – all changed.
Treading on, I noticed blade and spine brushing against my barren lower legs. It wouldn’t have bothered me had I been wearing pants as usual, but it is summer and summer means shorts. Nevertheless, I wasn’t perturbed. In fact, the brush wasn’t so heavy as to cause any injury, and the faint scratching on my lower legs actually felt good against my slightly dry skin.
Upon reaching the waters edge, I spotted no signs of my prospective quarry. So I began casting blindly, hauling as far as I could toward the center of this dead still pond while simultaneously stomping down the grass just a foot off the bank in front of me to prevent tangles and the inevitable short stops of the multi-colored deer hair popper in flight. I was seeking bass, and bass enjoy cover. Why hurl this fly where no cover existed? It defied logic. And then wham!
One gloriously chubby fish had taken the bait, and after a millisecond’s struggle keeping it away from fallen limbs near the landing bay it was hanging off my hand. Nobody around to show my prize to, it was memorialized in zeros and ones, an outcome that wouldn’t generally satisfy this angler. Yet something had changed.
The sun rose just above the treeline far across the field behind me, signaling a new day was well in hand too. It warmed my back ever so slightly, a balancing act for my cold, damp feet. Into the morning I cast that popper, first far, and then near. Every so often I’d see a violent splash around the fly, or a shadow cruise up behind it for a gulp, and reel time would begin. I recall this venue producing fish, but not like this – within an hour thirty I had a dozen bucketmouths in my grasp, and at least two or three more that had been lost midstream. I also recollect that of the times I’d visited the bass were healthy, vibrant specimens, the stunning iridescent green appearing down around their lateral lines making up for the fact that they were, for the most part, small.
Even that had changed.
Retracing my path to the truck, I realized my own steps seemed lighter, nary a hint of anxiety driving them. I absorbed with precision the sounds of birds chirping and the rustling of leaves in the mid-morning breeze. I also bumped into a German Shepard and a Bernese Mountain dog, they too wanting for my attention. I complied, and tails wagged. I made a quick phone call to confirm some future dinner plans, and then stopped by the fly shop. Thirty minutes of verbal abuse later (some things never change), I was eating a breakfast burrito compliments of one of the shop patrons.
A fly fisherman comping grub for the hell of it? Now that’s what I call change. I accept. But sorry dude, you’re not my type. No embrace.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks go out to Fishing Jones, for cluing me in.