Success and Regression

Sign from above?

It was another gorgeous day, even more beautiful than the days before, and I sat a while then stood in the river waiting for the inevitable. Inevitability doesn’t come with a time table. The rivers have continued to recede, offering perfect conditions for the dry fly and a rush of spring hatches. With water temperatures once again reaching the magic fifty degree mark, I was certain something wonderful would happen.

After three and a half days of waiting, the sinner within me reared his ugly head. I cut away my dry fly and knotted a Hen & Hare’s Ear to the 5X tippet. Curiosity got the better of me after staring into lifeless, perfect water for two hours, and I had to know if there was a trout out there. I made several swings nearly convincing myself that the trout had vanished and only magically appeared upon the wings of the season’s mayflies. About to rebuke myself and cut the fly off, I made one more cast, longer and further upstream, and then fed a lot of slack line out behind the mend. The fly swung deeper, and a fish took hold.

Though the life I felt through the quivering bamboo excited my senses, I had mixed emotions. Nevertheless I enjoyed playing this fine brown trout in the clear, sunlit water, at last bringing him to the net, only to be startled by an exclamation from behind. An audience, a witness to my sin! The voice seemed somewhat familiar, and I recalled a gentleman I had met at the Dennis Skarka Fly Fest last February.

I released the brown, eighteen inches of vibrant gold and bronze, and thanked him for his service before turning to speak to my unexpected companion. Indeed the gentleman knew me and was the same fellow I remembered. We had shared memories of the Cumberland Valley more than a year ago, a place near and dear to our hearts. We spoke pleasantly for a few minutes, before he excused himself to find other water, like me, ever hopeful for a rise of trout on such a gorgeous afternoon. I hope he found one.

Upon his departure, I cut the weighted fly from my tippet and offered an apology to Mr. Dorsey and the late Mr. Maxwell for subjecting their beautiful, classic dry fly wand to such indignity. Perhaps I am too harsh in judging my own shortcomings, for these venerable masters of the craft, in describing the Hendrickson models among their Individualist bamboo rods had this to say in 1979: “These rods are graced with exceptional ability to adapt to diverse fishing situations. The Hendrickson rods are capable of long casts, yet meet the challenge of short in-close dry fly work with equal ease. They do not differentiate between surface and subsurface work and adapt to both equally”.

I do not dispute that the rod performed admirably, nor that I enjoyed catching a nice wild trout on this breathtakingly beautiful afternoon, though I cringe a little any time I cast a weighted fly on a fine cane rod, even the off-season rod I often carry for winter fishing. Bamboo represents experience, skill, tradition and an unwillingness to compromise on the part of a rod maker, someone who appreciates these things as essential to the soul of fly fishing. My apology was an honest expression of my belief that it was deserved.

There were evils far more potent at work on this day than my minor indiscretion. The engines of construction offered evidence that a small but favored wild place may soon be lost. Most of us have but a few such places if we are lucky; places where our spirits soar as we approach, and all in our lives seems better while we linger there. Penance for my indiscretion? I place too much portent behind the brief, simple act of a fisherman. Perhaps simply, cruelly, inevitability.

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