The fish are rising, and they’re close.
You enter the water delicately and wonder how loud the sound of your boots stepping on river rocks is below the surface of the water. You strip out line from your reel in preparation for the first cast. You fling the rod forward. Line shoots out of the last guide in a loop.
You cut off the momentum and reverse the direction of the rod while clamping the line against the grip with your finger to hold tension and keep line from slipping out during the back cast. The rod responds, the line travels behind you.
You bring the stick forward again, allowing line to slide through your finger before cinching again and sending it back behind you one last time.
This is the back-and-forth whipping action that makes fly-fishing look complicated, hypnotic or even silly to some, but you don’t care. There are fish to be caught and you’ll get them with a fake fly made out of feathers and thread.
Just a little more line out on the forward cast and the fly will be in the perfect spot. As you bring the rod forward, it sticks. Your No. 16 elk hair caddis is snarled in a tree behind you that, as far as you knew, didn’t previously exist.
At this point you wonder if you are going to lose a fly before you’ve even had a chance to show it to fish. You are able to retrieve it, and vow to pay more attention. You are more careful the next time and as the rod flings forward, you release the slack, sending the fly line shooting through the guides toward the rising trout.
You watch the little fly float down the river, with a slow, sustained exhalation until no air is left. The fly continues, and you need air, so you steal a little, but not too fast or too loud because the little fly is just about where a fish should be.
But it’s not.
The tippet goes taught and the fly drags into a swing. There’s still hope, of course, because trout will sometimes take dry flies that are swung, skated or stripped. When it’s obvious that wasn’t the cast, you try again. Sometimes it takes a few extra false-casts to dry out the fly, then you lay it down, the tippet unraveling perfectly, the fly making a delicate landing ring on the water. You wait again. Nothing else on earth exists.
There is no such thing as peripheral vision, work, presidential elections or health care premiums. Your life is a fly and a fish.
A gaping mouth emerges, you set the hook before there is anything in which to set it. The fish swims away. You move and try again hoping it won’t be long before you get another shot.
You false cast, take the deep breath then botch the cast horribly. The fly is upside down, half submerged, line and tippet dragging through the fishy run. It’s like you just asked a girl on a date after a garlic and red onion belch.
You try again. Relax the wrist and arm. Gentle with the shoulder. A nice little point.
The fly is down, the current true. This time the fly disappears and because you are so shocked it actually worked, the fish has time to turn and you set the hook into the corner of its mouth.
With a five-weight fly rod a foot long fish can make the tip gyrate, but the rest is absorbed in the graphite. With a one-weight, every fin flick is transferred directly into your ulna. You don’t worry about the .005-inch line diameter, you wonder if the rod itself will hold. Since it is premium graphite it does, but it sure was fun.
The fish to hand, you admire for a second then let it go.
All is right in the world, and you are reminded why you do this.
To contact Jeff Lund, email firstname.lastname@example.org.