One of the great things about fly fishing is that it usually leads its participants to others things. To some it simply ends at buying gear and getting a few fish in. But to most it turns into a passion. Be it learning to tie and create your own special blend of feathers and fur to try to coax that unwary butterbelly from its moss-covered shelter on the bottom of the creek bed. Some try to recreate the scenery by putting paint or pencil to canvas in an effort to capture a moment of splendor on the water like Deyoung, Whitlock and Hada. For most a camera is a staple in the vest or pack to have physical proof of that 20″ fish that was tricked into being pulled from the water or to just capture a fish on flim in a portrait that is not the typical “Grip and Grin”. But a few go back home and reflect on their experience and recreate the day with a pen and pad. I love pictures and painting but there is something special about reading a story written with all the color and warmth that cannot be captured in just a visual experice of film or canvas. Some thing powerful about recreating the image in each of our own minds instead of having the moment laid out for you. It seems as if we can put ourselves on the creek bank in the moment in time in which the story was written. Be it with Santiago holding tight to line attached to a marlin with one hand, while cutting a piece of fish to calm his hunger with the other hand to calm his hunger in Hemingway’s 1951 Cuba. Or imagining the Native Indians corralling the buffalo and forcing them off the cliffs at “Head smashed in Buffalo Jump” as David Ames describes the history of the local while you cast a line in a unamed river. To experiencing the pain and reflection of the moment of being on the banks of the Big Blackfoot as Norman Mclean fishes with his brother for what would be their last time in “A River Runs through It.” Although Robert Redford did a great job making a movie, I don’t believe Mcleans lifetime of creating and “perfecting to art” could be condensed down into 123 minutes. Although the movie made millions want to try fly fishing and buy real estate on the banks of any flowing water. You don’t get the same effect as having to create the image of the bond of two brothers in your own mind.
I say all of this to say I love it when someone takes the time to put “ink on paper” to share their experience on the water. Josh Carroll wrote this little story about their trip a few weeks ago and emailed it to me. So I decided to share it with those of you who had to head back to the office or job site today, or those of you who were lucky enough to be off today.
It was a little before 4:00 am when the phone rang, as the torrential down pour continued outside of our window.
“You ready? I’m coming to pick you up and then we’re gone!” It was my best friend Forrest on the other end.
We had been planning this trip for about three weeks and had intended to leave the night before but unfortunate circumstances with sick spouses and weather hindrances the trip seemed to be headed for scratched. The call was not only an unexpected one but a very welcome one at that.
I jumped out of bed grabbed my gear and said “YEAH BUDDY! Hurry up and do you want me to call Adam?”
Adam was one of our other best friends whose place we were staying at for on the Little Red River for the much-anticipated weekend. You see the trip that we had planned was a weekend getaway of non-stop fly fishing on the Little Red River and we would break for only necessities like food and sleep (if we needed a bathroom break the side of the river would do).
Forrest made it to my house and before I had even finished getting dressed, we had loaded our gear up and began our trip. About the time we started the truck, the rain had started pouring even harder. At this point he looked at me with a look that essentially communicated “at least this time if you get wet it isn’t because you fell again.” I laughed knowing exactly what that meant and voiced his thoughts.
“Well at least you won’t be able to tell if I fall in this time”.
You see it had become a running joke that if we went fly fishing I was bound to make a trip into the water on accident, as I hadn’t gotten the hang of my new waders. The last time I fell in, it seemed as though I would never get out, because my legs were pinned and I was getting dunked repeatedly as I would gain traction and then fall again. Another of our friends was along for that trip, Dustin , and he said it looked like a mentally handicapped goose trying to take flight.
We laughed pretty hard at that as his truck pulled out on the road to make the hour drive to Adam’s house. We began discussing our game plan and backup plans and even backups to our backups. The longer we were on the road the more excited we got, because for some reason we always had better luck when it was rainy and cold. Add to that this was opening season for bow hunting the local whitetail deer. These two factors let us know that we would have the river to ourselves and that boded well for us.
Forrest was anxious to get started, as he had a completely new arsenal of knowledge of where the fish were and, not to mention with his ammo box of flies, it seemed like there was no way he was going to catch plenty of fish. I was anxious to get started due to the fact that I finally felt the official fly fisherman complete with a legitimate rod and reel outfit, that I had recently purchased at The Toad Fly, our local fly shop (but that is another story), and my own flies that all of which I (with the assistance of Forrest) had tied myself. Armed and dangerous we pulled into Adam’s drive, rather than unload our bags of clothing and gear we immediately loaded up and headed out to the river.
About five minutes away from the house my stomach started speaking up at which point I looked at Forrest and mentioned about how hungry I was, he agreed as did Adam, so we stopped at a gas station to grab a healthy breakfast of Mt. Dew and chocolate donuts of which we ate standing around our trucks talking about the day’s “plan”, if you can plan this sort of thing. The fact that it was early September and we could see our breath (a good sign if your trout fishing) was causing us to get even more excited. Breakfast handled we loaded back up and completed the fifteen minute drive to the walk-in access we used (name shall remain unknown as I don’t share well) and got geared up and rather than wait for the sun to rise, we donned our headlamps and headed out.
The remainder of the morning was spent standing in the rain and watching the fog and low clouds roll over the ridges and hill tops in the Ozarks. The torrents would ease up enough that you weren’t getting completely soaked one minute and then the next would release the deluges relentlessly pounding you. Still the rain only accentuated the fun we were having. Why? Because when one is standing waist deep in a river, with only the occasional house in view, isolated from the outside world throwing the line of a fly rod through the air and watching the fly you made land on the water and settle lazily on the river, with two of their best friends barely within earshot, you feel completely released of all responsibility because nothing matters in that moment except that you remain only slightly aware of what your bait is doing so as not to lose the ever so subtle bite of a trout on your line. I say nothing matters because it really doesn’t, when you are on a trip like that it is understood that you’re not available and things like bills, work, and even relationships are an after though, simply put you have complete release on everything. The only relationship that matters at that time has become don’t throw over my line in my run and don’t brag too much when you grab the big one I saw fifteen minutes ago.
Inevitably someone gets skunked and I am usually said person, but on this particular trip God saw fit to place a couple of beautiful fish on my line, add to that we had hammered the record amount of fish we had ever caught up to that point. We walked and waded for the next three hours and laughed about the rain, stopped breathing when a fish landed on our hook, and groaned when they either spit the hook back out or broke us off.
I heard or maybe read somewhere that fishermen have to be one of the oddest things in society because “no man in his right mind would repeatedly place himself in the position to be outwitted by a fish (which by all accounts is less intelligent than said fisherman) on a continual occurrence.” What is so ironic about this is that it is true. These fish do outwit you or better said, do figure out that something is amiss about your fly. That is what makes fly fishing its most fun, especially when you have the satisfaction of duping said fish by designing a bait that, when one looks at it from a purely scientific stand point, shouldn’t work, but it gets that yank on the line and the indicator dips under and suddenly you’re fighting a trout that defied logic and took your little bug made of animal fur, feathers, a hook, a sandwich bag/plastic strip, and some thread.
At the end of the day we sat around the dining room table at Adam’s house and discussed how much fun that was and in even greater detail how amazing that it was that the rain washed my ratty old ball cap clean enough to pass as a brand new cap… and we planned. We planned for the next day. We planned for the upcoming brown spawn. We planned future trips with our kids that weren’t even born yet.
Then after all of the planning the talking stopped and we just enjoyed. We enjoyed the subtle sense of accomplishment we felt at having a good day on the river (whether successfully “catching” or not). We enjoyed the silence that only good friends can enjoy together and not feel obligated to converse. We enjoyed the fact that God allowed us to have a good day of His creation and the blessing He gave us in wives that are understanding and even willing to let us go on these trips for the weekends (even when one is ill). And we enjoyed the sound of a good September rain on the tin roof of Adam’s cabin.
The following morning was more of a quick hour to two-hour trip to our same spot that yielded, not a huge fish, but easily one of the prettiest browns I had ever seen. We set up a staged photo “op” of the fish on a beautiful grass island about the size of a small sedan and took pictures of the fish and the surreal view of the river with a rolling and clearing fog on the surface. As Forrest waded back out into “the spot” I stayed back and admired the way the line flew in his casting motion and after a few minutes began to pack up for the trip home as it couldn’t possibly get any better and for me to try would only cause it to sour.
“Why are you guys quitting so early?” the old guy startled me.
“Gotta head home, besides the water is a bit high for me, you just getting started?” I replied rolling my line up.
“Yeah, came out yesterday but no luck, thinking this hole is busted” he replied
“Yeah! We’ve been out here all weekend and this hole just now started to heat up but it just depends I guess,” I trailed off as Forrest was walking up.
“Well Good luck to ya, guess we’re headed out.”
He nodded at that and walked to where Forrest came from.