The opening of this trout season will mark an anniversary for me. It will be five years since I was struck down and barely evaded a float down my last river. I had no idea that my heart was in trouble. The brief, bubbly burning sensation below my Adam’s Apple had been dismissed by the medical types, so I went fishing.
Friend Andy Boryan and I were savoring what would be the last of the great fishing on Big Spring, and I had found a big, wild rainbow rising to a sparse emergence of tiny olives. My size twenty fly laid gently upon the surface turned the trick and I played and landed that beautiful fish with my old Granger bamboo rod. A heavy, twenty inch bow will get you excited, but oh the burning felt like so much more than joy and elation. Not too many days thence I was laying in a hospital bed taking regular doses of nitroglycerine.
There was fear, and disbelief, and a lot of hope that the surgeon could save me. She did. I worked hard in recovery, resigned to the fact that I was going to miss that precious spring upon the rivers that sustained me. A month after the surgery I was able to cast a fly rod, so I went fishing.
My early May newspaper column from Chambersburg’s Public Opinion told the tale of the beginning of my season here in the Catskills. The season I nearly didn’t have:
“I have seen Hendricksons, but not the heavy hatches common to these rivers. Conditions seem perfect, but the bugs have their own agenda. Rather than the typical 3:00 PM emergence, there seem to be a few flies on the water from mid-morning until dark. Finding a good trout rising to these sparse pickings has been extremely challenging, even with the best of help.
Knowing that my body is not yet ready for the rigors of wading the great rivers, I have enjoyed fishing from the luxury of McKenzie drift boats, ably piloted by guides Ben Rinker and Kevin Corser. Both have toiled at the oars, dragged boats across riffles to shallow to float the craft, and managed to put me in front of the fish that were willing to eat a bug now and then. My hat’s off to both, fine guides and the best of company on the river.
Of course the Red Gods have to have their fun as well, typically at the expense of the wayward angler. A picture will tell the tale best: After scanning the river, the sharp eyes of the guide have located a trout casually sipping duns. The approach is perfect and the cast true, as are the next twenty casts until the wind blows the fly of course a bit and the angler cannot see it on the water, fixing his gaze on an actual Hendrickson he believes to be his fly. Of course that is the one and only cast that produces a take.
There are variations on the theme, but these are the kinds of things the Red Gods like to toss out to fly fishers. It must give them a multitude of enjoyment judging by the frequency they play such games.
Undaunted we push on until evening, interrupted by a fine Delaware rainbow that actually eats my fly while I’m looking at it and fights with great spirit and the reel spinning runs his kind are known for.” Fishing isn’t always perfect, but even the challenging days are a gift when we have the sense to realize it.
“It is evening, and the sun is off the water, yet still lights the treetops along the east bank of the river. It is absolutely gorgeous as all my days here have been. There is a riff ahead, pouring hard against the steep bank of an outside bend, and I cannot wait to fish it, but as we approach there are two drift boats anchored in the prime spots.
Kevin is looking east however, studying a soft edge where the fast water meets slow. With a subtle pull on the oars he glides the boat into position and tells me to watch that edge. There are trout rising in a line, most in the faster water, a few more subtly just inside in the softer water. One of Mary Dette’s Hendricksons elicits a rise and the battle is joined, the fish charging downstream and using his weight in the current! In the net he measures nineteen inches, a wonderful Delaware brown, and the highlight of the day!” I cannot explain how grateful I felt to be alive and fishing that day, but if you happen to be an angler with a near-death experience in your resume, you understand.
This season will open five years from the day I had to place my life in the hands of a lady I had just met. Thank you Dr. McCarty.
I have done a lot of fishing since that fateful day in late March, and loved every minute of those five seasons. Walking the river banks, sitting alone in the sunshine waiting for the hatch, or stalking into range and casting to a gorgeous wild trout, I have lived to feel the energy of the rivers flowing through me. My time on the rivers healed the part of me the art of the surgeon’s scalpel could not; my soul.
I take more time now to appreciate each facet of life: my time outdoors, conversations with friends, little walks with my girl, little daily tasks most of us regard as a bother. They are all worthwhile, all special. I find myself looking at the sky and the light as it rises and falls behind the mountains. I still laugh out loud when a trout finds a new and exciting way to avoid my fly, jus as I laugh when I slip a good one back into the clear river at my feet.