Over the many years that I have been fly fishing, I’m always told that I don’t like it. While it’s annoying to be told how you feel about something to begin with, I also feel this accusation is unjust. I don’t dislike fly fishing. But every time I fish, my day seems to follow the same chain of events. So when I’m getting ready for a day on the river, my face must exude the anticipation for what’s to come – something I’ve already accepted to be the reality of my fly fishing adventures.
It goes like this:
Go to the river. Put on gear. Put together rod. Stare blankly at my empty rig and think: hmmm I hope it’s not a nymph day because I really don’t have an indicator, 6x, 5x or really any tipit, weights, nor do I know which order they go in even if I did.
Whomever I’m with, then says “here, I’ll rig you up”. So I never really have to answer those pressing questions for myself. I head through the brush, wade in the water and flop my rod around for a little bit and say, “It usually takes me a little bit to get warmed up.”
Then, I’ll get a strike. The sheer excitement from faking out a pea-brained craniate makes me jerk my rod tip as if I’m lashing a menacing bee and I pull the fly right out of the fish’s mouth. I look down at my rig and realize that I now have an enormous knot. At this point, whoever it was that rigged me up in the beginning sees me struggling, reel between my thighs grabbing at what looks like air to capture the ailed line and they will shake their head and whisper something under their breath. Now the second portion of this sometimes varies. Sometimes I’ll catch a tree after the infamous first strike. Other times I’ll just straight up get a knot and not know. Most of the time it ends in entanglement, frustration and whispers from my “guide”.
Then, the day begins. I untangle the knot, get warmed up and I start laying it in there, like the fly is an extension of the river. No drag. Glorious little ripples next the invisible line. Like the way the god of flies intended. That fish would be dumb not to eat the delicious pin wrapped in thread.
And I wait. And cast. And wait. And cast. And mend and flip and back cast. And wait some more. And then,
This goes on for about an hour, where I’m really showing that river whose boss. I’m a casting machine. I could even do it with my eyes closed. Behind my back. Lefty. Whoosh.
After about an hour of this river dance I do, still I get no second strike. Its like the fish saw me screw up the first time, located my fly and all banned together in agreement to not to give me a second chance.
Sometime around the end on the hour, I get sloppy and I tangle my fly again. This time, losing it. I have to rig that shit up again? The same panic I felt in the beginning comes back and I think, where’s my guide? He’s over there and wouldn’t you know, he’s got a fish on. And it looks spectacular – the battle between him and the fish. He’s moving the rod methodically with the sporadic jolts of the fish’s movement. Swaying slowly back and forth as if the bend in the middle of his tummy were a mirror to the tip of the rod. The fisherman has a slight grin, knowing he’ll land this fish if his life depends on it. He’ll hunker down till that fish swims himself to death – and he falls into a quick vision of Brad Pitt running down the middle of the river chasing the fish of a lifetime.
When the fisherman comes too – the trout is close and he pulls out his net. Then looks up at me, and smiles a shit-eating grin only someone who just netted a perfect rainbow on a warm summer day could contrive.
Then I quickly come back to my reality. A riggless rod, a lost strike, and a mid-day hatch boiling the water around me. Urgency sets in. I must get my fly back in there. Look at all ‘em. It’d be virtually impossible for me not to catch one now. If only I had those flies…
My “guide”, coming off the euphoria of his recent catch, then takes pity on me and says “I’ll rig you up real good this time”. So we stand in the water, and I watch as he ties knots with his weathered man fingers, cracks in the skin, the finger nails flat and worn with age. Yet somehow he ties the knots of nearly invisible line as if they are with rope. At this point, my anxiousness turns to slight boredom and my attention goes to my frozen toes.
Then. The guide is complete, I snap out of self-pity of the moment and he is about to give the rod to me. Excitement. It’s my turn now, fishies. Watch out.
He decides, since he is the master of all that is fishing at this point, to give me some tips. “Lay it right there in that seam.” And then, he casts with my rod to show me, while sputtering some other words of wisdom. First cast. SNAP. He’s got a fish on.
At this point this scenario can go one of two ways. He goes, “oops”, then lands the fish and apologizes for being just that good. Or second, which generally is what occurs, he hands me the rod and says “your fish.”
Look. A fish is a fish is a fish. But taking ownership over a fish mid-catch is not a notch on the belt. The “guide” rigged me up, spotted the fish, cast my rod, and set the hook. As far as I’m concerned, that’s his fish. The landing part is fun, but come on. Who’s kidding whom here? After this occurs, I’ll probably lose it, or I’ll half-heartedly reel it in, net it and set it free. Then I’ll fish the waters that have just been disturbed by my counterpart and maybe I’ll hook one or maybe I won’t. It doesn’t really matter. I’m defeated by now.
So I’ll give it another college try and eventually meander over to the shore to watch my guide catch a few more and think deep thoughts about the beauty of the river and feel lucky for the day and awestruck of the talent of those around me. Now this story probably makes you think, well yeah, sounds like you don’t like fishing. But to the contrary: I enjoy this little escapade. A day on the river – sun beating on your face, tanning your arm below your shoulder, water pushing against your legs beneath your waiters, toes suffocating from the cold, the sun shimmering off the surface, gentle gulps of hungry fish, excitement from the prospect of tricking them – just makes me want to learn how to tie up my own god damn rig.