I once dreamed of deep
pools, perfect casts and plump rainbows. I even found these things
on occasion, hiding beneath canyon rims, along cobbled shorelines
and chest deep in icy February water.
But nearly six years
ago, I untangled my last knotted leader, wound up my reel and gave
up on fly-fishing. Eyes on climbing ropes and rotomolded kayaks, I
figured fishing, like golf, would be my remedy for the aches of old
age. I said farewell with no regrets and casually gave my reel away
and easily bartered my fly rod for a pair of last year's
I thought the addiction
died easily. Over those six years, I rarely missed, or even gave
thought to, fishing. That is, until recently, when fly-fishing came
back to collect, the suppressed urge returning mysteriously and
Any fool can go out, buy
a high-dollar fly rod straight off the rack, hear the register ring
and kick off years of misery on the water. Having been that fool
once before, I insisted on really getting familiar with the gear
this time. Going above and beyond the call, I test-drove two rods
in the alley behind the shop. After three casts with each, the
courtship was over. I'd made up my mind. Like I said, the urge to
fish demanded justice.
"I need this rod, a
reel, line, leaders, tippeting, a couple fly boxes, some flotant,
indicators, weight, waders, a vest, and a fairly complete supply of
flies and nymphs."
The grinning merchant
began pulling objects off the top shelf, briefly sizing me up for a
pair of the latest in Gore-Tex wading wear before feeding me an
estimate. I flinched away from the number, and visions of food
stamps danced in my head.
"Okay, I'll actually
need this rod, your cheapest reel, a handful of flies, and could I
get you to throw in the line and backing?"
The merchant's grin
sagged a little, but the register chimed anyway.
Armed, ready and
boasting new credit card debt, my thoughts turned to good water,
and I set out for what I thought would be a secret spot. On the
river, I quickly realized that I should not have listened to that
In the first half hour,
I blew through $12 in flies, sacrificing bits of hackle, hook and
peacock plume with bad casts and bogus fly placements. Only two
flies remaining, I tied one on, laid it out along a riffle, watched
it disappear and felt tension on the rod.
I played the line and my
exhilaration for close to a minute, trying to work my catch into
calmer water. The bubble burst when I noticed a pattern. My fly had
attached itself to a good-sized stick, and after a couple swift
tugs, I lost that one as well.
Not to be dissuaded, I
tied my final fly onto the invisible leader and approached a large
section of slack water with stealth. Laying low and trying to avoid
being spotted, I actually mustered something resembling a textbook
cast, my Blue-Winged Olive settling dreamily onto the water. A
large splash hit almost instantly and my pulse quickened. But as I
applied tension, the fly and line popped right out of the water,
flew through the air and piled up on my chest. Just then, another
splash hit and the source became obvious. There camouflaged on the
shore sat a small fuzzy man, who resembled nothing so much as a
river troll. He was curled up in a cheap sleeping bag and had a
40-ounce bottle in one hand and a large rock in the other. As it
turns out, my secret spot was actually his summer home, and the
next splash got dangerously close. I was out of flies anyway, and
managed a faint "until next time" as I packed it in.
Snags, tangles and lost
bugs dominated "next time" as well. But unlike my first catch, I
felt tension on the rod only after I managed to catch and land a
small chunk of my wife's neck. The upside to "next time" was I
didn't lose any more flies and never had to deal with the river
troll; we left the river immediately.
Outwitted by trout and
emasculated by microscopic hooks and feathers, I set out for a
final fishing trip not long ago. Another swipe of plastic brought
me more flies, and I decided it was time to fish below the
Picking through the box,
I chose my weapon, a good-sized Yellow Humpy, tied it on and sunk
in icy water up to my waderless crotch. My first cast rolled nicely
as bugs clouded the late summer air.
My second cast mimicked
the first, and as I stood mesmerized by the motion of my bug, a
silver flash erupted from the depths and nailed it.
In a perfectly lucid
moment, time slowed and I watched the large trout realize something
was amiss and flee for cover. The moment was broken only by the
first genuine scream of my new reel and a wicked bend in the
At long last, the game
For what seemed like an
hour, I carefully followed the fish's progress, always going easy
on the tension and trying to casually tire it out. Eventually, I
eased the trout into an eddy, slipped out the barbless hook and let
At that moment, I
started dreaming of deep pools and perfect casts again. Yes, I've
dropped more dollars on flies, unknotted bunches of line and done
damage to the local willow population. But I've also started to get
the hang of this "old man's" curiosity again and thankfully enjoyed
many more strikes, screaming reels and genuine bends in my
Sadly, I also get the
sense that quitting this habit won't be quite so easy this time