Lessons

A trophy wild rainbow hovers in search of prey amid the crystalline waters of a Pennsylvania limestone spring creek

My winter reading has taken me back to my roots of late, just this morning dreaming again through the works of The Master. Ed Shenk wrote with the same friendly tone he conversed with, and I treasure the memories of our talks. I still catch myself wishing I could sit down with him in the comfort of my little fly shop as I once did.

I had learned of Ed early on, as my fascination with difficult trout and difficult waters drew me north to Pennsylvania from my Maryland home, finally meeting him in September 1991. It was after our meeting that I first ventured to the shrine of his Letort, the most famous trout stream in fly fishing. I recall creeping through the meadow at Bonny Brook, Ed’s favorite reach of stream, marveling at the mystifying combination of hanging willow branches, head high grasses, submerged logs, the bright green leaves of watercress, and the dark waving tendrils of elodea. My mind was ablaze: How in God’s name do you fish this?

Reading Ed’s words in his “Fly Rod Trouting” and haunting the meadows at his side the following spring, I began to learn the answers to that question. Thirty years later I remain captivated by difficult trout and the lessons of the Master.

The famous Barnyard meadow of the Letort amid the glory of spring! I learned many lessons here, including perseverance. One evening I fished to a tiny, irregular dimpling rise beneath an overhanging bush as the first sulfurs began to appear. Two hours later I finally enticed that reticent trout and won the ensuing battle that brought my largest Letort brown on the dry fly to net!

I fished the Letort often in those early years, driving two hours before dawn to haunt the meadows at first light in summer, hoping to catch one of it’s legendary monster browns out foraging over the weed beds on the edge of darkness. I learned of the ESP exhibited by those trout; crouching in the grass and searching with my eyes, only to have leviathan streak downstream from somewhere far above my hide!

I began to realize in those days that wild, old, trophy trout were a gift from the river. As an angler I worked hard to improve my stealth and casting, to tie better flies, but it was clear that all of that was not enough. Such work was how one earned the fleeting opportunities to receive those gifts the river gods might bestow. More often than not, the hard work was rewarded only by another harsh lesson, and not by a spinning reel!

Progressing over time, we learn to appreciate all that the rivers bestow. Eventually perhaps, we begin to earn opportunities for the ultimate elation.

I have learned to gratefully receive all the gifts that the rivers of my heart bestow, whether a simple moment of sunlight streaming down the valley to light a distant riffle, or the rise of a coveted wild trout. The Master taught these lessons not just by his words, but by actions; the way that Nature teaches them.

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