Fly fishing started for me as a boy. A boy with a rod and not proficient at most anything.
I had a good Dad and I'm lucky. He taught me to pilot dirt bikes and snowmobiles. He taught me how to chop wood, make fires, take care of people, and be a good man (quiet as he was).
He taught me how to hold a rod. How to treat it right. Walking "tip up". How many damn times did I hear, "tip up!" while walking on a trail? So many times. Somewhere in between my boyhood daydreams was my Dad calling out that reminder. It was annoying for me to hear. I was stubborn. I called out, "I AM KEEPING THE TIP UP".
I really wasn't. I was thinking of that summer girl down the way who was here for only a couple of weeks on vacation. He probably didn't know I didn't want to be out there at all. Maybe he did?
He tried to teach me finesse before I was ever able to finesse anything. Good on him for trying. There are just some things that kids are going to do in a chunky matter. That's how fly fishing started out for me and probably a lot of others. Real chunky.
I went through all the lessons from my Dad. Everything had to do with the cast. How to do it right. I could see his face. Half stuck between his enjoyment of just having me out there and also wanting to teach me a thing or two. I now know that he walked a razors edge. Teach me or entertain me. Sometimes it's hard to do both things at once. If you put too much pressure on a kid, that kid is going to lose interest. After all, I had kid shit on my mind.
I owe my Dad a lot for that time. Love that guy. Whether I listened or not. Daydreamed or not. Was interested or not. He was still right there. He made me interested in something I had no idea I was interested in at all.
I kept growing as most of us do. I still kept a pretty keen interest in fishing through high school, but it was always on my own time and in my own way. I would wade out in the evenings during the summer on the lake where we lived. Right before dark. The predator fish would come in to feed and I would pitch them a Rapala that always worked (old faithful). I figured that out on my own. Trophy bass and walleye floated up on the end of my line over the years. I wasn't fishing with my Dad anymore, but I would certainly regale him with the stories of what the neighbor boys and I caught. It seemed to please him. Sometimes he was even out there with us in the dark. I loved those nights.
After high school I quit fishing for quite a long time. I moved to South Carolina. After three years there the interest sparked again. I bought the cheapest fly rod I could find (because it was all I could afford) and started fishing waters that no one fishes. Tiny steep creeks mostly. Places where people hike and admire the 3 foot wide water, but never fish those stretches.
I fished those stretches. One by one I pulled out fish that shouldn't be able to live in those places. It was a good thing I had the shittiest rod ever made, because most of my "casts" were actually just "placing" my fly somewhere at the end of that heavy stick. Yet....it worked.
Had I ever tried to cast that rod I would have been in a world of hurt. I still have that rod and I wouldn't dream of trying to cast it ten feet. Instead, I was in a world of tiny creeks mostly populated by tiny fish and I was slaying them all. All 3 inches of them most of the time. It didn't matter though, it was exciting to me after so many years away from fishing.
Something perked up in me at that time. Something reignited.
I would move not long after. Up to the Pacific NorthWest. I bought another absolutely worthless rod and caught hundreds upon hundreds of cutts on that piece of shit. I never thought of it as a POS during those years. Something that most trout fisherman forget.
Over the course of the last 8 years, the river has become my second home. I have learned a lot.
I look back at my time with my Dad and I think a lot about how he brought me out on our home rivers even when he knew I had other "kid things" I wanted to do.
I have changed. I changed from a kid who catches fish with a fly rod into a man who appreciates fish caught with my fly rod.
Those two things are not the same.
I don't know if my Dad ever intended me to learn this lesson. I will have to talk to him about that later.
About three weeks ago I saw a show. It was the kind of show that fly fishermen wait to see. They can't buy tickets or stand in line for the spectacle. They can only earn it with their actions.
I went out to my local river. I pulled up in a spot that I love. I usually walk down to the river when I get to a spot. I usually watch what is going on before I ever suit up.
This day I grabbed my rod and stepped towards the bank. It was already rigged with a streamer from my last trip. I thought I was just going down there to get some peace and knowledge before I started the next few hours of the day. I thought I would look up and see what the clouds were doing. See how much sun I would have cascading down. Make some decisions about my chosen methods for this outing.
As I approached the bank, I saw a big boy. He was hovering in the perfect place during high water. Tight to the bank.
I had managed to walk up to that bank just two feet behind him. I held my breath. He did not spook.
The first few casts of the day tend to be a warm up. Warming up for when you get to see something like the thing I saw in front of me before I even had my waders on. This trout. This big, beefy trout.
I trembled a little. I slowly unhooked that fly from my rod, dolled out enough line cautiously, and sent that dry streamer upriver.
You and I both know that when we get to the river that we wet that dry streamer. So many times it wants to float a bit. It doesn't want to succomb to the river. It's never a big deal.
This time it was a big deal.
That streamer tried to float. It did a half wet, half dry dance on the surface. That trout still reacted. It went upstream and it checked out the food. It left the cozy environment of the bottom and it hit that streamer regardless of it's half alive, half dead demeanor.
Since I was on the bank, I could see it all. I had an aerial view. It was hard not to set too early. I set too early.
I was only there for 1 minute at this point. What could you expect?
That trout took off into the depths. I couldn't feel too bad. I couldn't mourn that loss.
I stood there and that trout returned. Same place. Same prowling demeanor.
I tried again. Upstream. Wet streamer now. It sank. I had a "goodyear blimp" view of it all.
Low and behold, that trout moved again. It lunged forth to grab that streamer. It gave all it's effort.
It missed. That trout missed.
It swam away into the depths again. My streamer floated on down stream with me rigid as hell at the helm.
Given the fact that I had only been fishing for about 3 minutes, I really couldn't let it bum me out. I hoped the rest of my day could resemble that moment. It's so rare to be high up on a bank like that and really see the action. I got to see it twice. I was satisfied to see it and to have that experience.
I started planning to walk away. To put my waders on and go where I know the big fish prowl. I retrieved some of my line into the reel and then, suddenly, that trout returned again. Same place Same demeanor.
Can lightning strike thrice?
Only one way to find out. I put my streamer upstream again. I had reeled in some line thinking I had failed, so this streamer had a really short leash. I could see it all from my vantage point. The blip of water where it landed. I cringed. Would it scare this fish?
It didn't. It floated high. Near the surface. I thought I was completely out of luck on this fish. Everything I know as a fly fisherman told me I was out of luck.
It floated. Floated high. Damn well near the surface. This trout still reacted.
It moved. I tried not to move.
And that's when I saw it. This "art" of it all. This beautiful moment playing out in front of me.
That trout didn't pounce. It, at first, didn't even move. It was lightning striking three times. And that just doesn't happen.
But it does. That high floating streamer moved through the river. That trout moved with it in time. The trout did a dance I will never forget. It moved underneath. It went vertical. Vertical.
For seconds. It felt like minutes. I could see it all. I watched it all from above.
A vertical trout. Not striking, not moving. Just floating. Just under my decoy. Just pondering.
Moving downstream with the same velocity of the streamer. Just kissing it. Just waiting. Just completely upright. Vertical.
It was amazing.
Watching that. Waiting for that. Seeing that.
It is something I will never forget.
That trout struck straight upward. I set. It was pulled to the bank and was then released without ever leaving the water.
I found myself out of breath. I found myself with a very high heart rate. I found myself with the biggest, shit eating grin on my face.
Lightning struck three times. I got to see it.....
I thought of my Dad. How he taught me everything about the rod and nothing about the art.
The art that the fish and the fisherman can make together.
Did he teach me because he knew? Did he know I would see things like this? Has he witnessed things like this?
I don't know. I intend to find out, but I don't currently know.
Whatever the case may be, I got to see this dance first hand. It was, and will forever will be, important to me.
I'll tell him about that experience. I want to hear about the times he has had that are similar.
He taught me about the rod and the line and the reel. He taught me about the character of rivers.
He never told me about what I would see when I became proficient.
I can only imagine that he knew all along......