Some fishing trips do not meet our expectations, some contain fleeting moments of bliss, and some transcend expectations to become surreal. These we lock away in memory vaults to recall over time, and much like rare coins, we bring them out to admire. We polish and shine them so they retain their beauty and brilliance, and they increase in value with time. We enjoy sitting by the fire and reminiscing with our buddies, and each time the story is shared the joy is rekindled within, a warmth and satisfaction that results in tranquility. This was one such trip.
Steve is always prepared. I know that he will always know the access areas, fly patterns, places to stay and eat, and any phone numbers needed for generation schedules each time we embark on a trip. He even has a checklist for packing. I think this came from his pilot training. You do not want to be five thousand feet in elevation and suddenly realize you forgot to fuel the plane. That could be a little stressful. Me, well, prior to developing my own checklist, I use to pack and then worry all the way to the stream. Did I pack my reel? What about my vest? Do I have the correct fly patterns? Then, I would go over in my mind several times my steps in packing the night before to obtain some level of assurance that I packed everything. But I know as long as Steve is around, all the planning needed, except for my personal equipment and clothing, will be taken care of.
Now, some things are just understood by fly fishing buddies. Like, you must let your friend know what flies you’re catching fish on. Of course, it is acceptable to throw out, “the end of my line,” for fun now and then. Yet, fishing friends have an understanding regarding other things as well. You see there is competitiveness among fly fishers. Not a competitiveness that precludes assistance on the stream, but one in which some secrets are reserved among friends. Fishing companions quietly retain things such as where the best spot is on the river and when certain hatches are outstanding. This is why I cannot disclose the destination of this trip. What I can tell you is not to believe everything you read or are told.
The trip began as most of our trips. I arrived at Steve’s house very early in the morning. Since my telling you the time required to get to our destination could provide some hint as to the location, suffice it to say several hours transpired on our trip. However, the time went by quickly as usual when I travel with Steve. You see, Steve is one of the best storytellers I have ever known. I continue to encourage him to write down his stories. I hope he will sometime soon. Before I knew it, we arrived at our destination.
Anticipation when coming near a fly fishing location is incredible. It begins as a little restlessness that grows into a full boil by the time you actually arrive. Much like the feeling you get when you have been driving late at night, and you dream of lying in the bed. The yearning is so strong that you can actually feel the softness of the pillow and can smell the sheets. You are so anxious that you can hardly sit still. We hurry to put on our waders and rig our rods hoping not to do something stupid like slamming the door on our rods.
After successfully completing our preparation, we proceeded to the river. As is usual with our trips, Steve immediately caught a fish while I suffered from “casting elbow” before finally landing a fish. I remember the first time I fished with Steve. It seemed to me that he was catching a fish on every cast, and I kept missing fish. While it was my first fishing trip to Arkansas, the fish were still trout, and I should be catching them. It got so bad that, at one point, Steve gave me a different fly thinking my hook must be defective. While I was walking back to my spot, he cast just behind me and nailed another fish. He had to get in just one more needle before I could catch a fish! I finally got the feel for the strike and began catching fish. I was hoping this trip would not be similar to that first trip with Steve. After all, Steve had fished at this stream before, and I had not.
The water in this river was extremely clear so we proceeded down stream to a riffle where the fish would not be spooked quite as easily. As I said previously, Steve is always prepared. He knew and we discussed along the way the type flies books indicated should be used on this river during the summer months. Nymphs and emergers were recommended as well as streamers, but nymphs were the flies of choice. We were catching a few fish, but not enough to cause our arms to ache. The area of the stream we were fishing was a deep pool formed by a small cascade with a run in the middle of the pool extending approximately forty yards down stream. The fishing was good, but we had had better days.
I was watching Steve cast. He has a beautiful casting stroke. I suppose the fact that he casts left handed may contribute to it, but I really enjoy watching his casting stroke. While admiring his cast, I noticed a huge snout quietly break the water’s surface and descend gracefully back into his riffled lair. At first, I thought this was just an anomaly. Then, another beautiful trout exposed himself as he surfaced for a fly. Now, all the books indicate that dry fly fishing here was an imprudent waste of time. We were prepared you see!
I immediately reached for my fly box and rushed to tie on an Elk Hair Caddis. Why is it that when you are in a hurry your fingers loose all semblance of dexterity? My first attempt failed as my excitement precluded tying a proper knot. You know what I mean! As you test the knot, it begins to unravel and what was perfectly straight tippet is now a twisted mess that you must clip off – more wasted time. When I finally got the fly tied, I cast the fly without treating it with floatant. As soon as the fly touched the water, wham! In fact, the fly may not have made it to the surface. As I lifted the rod to set the hook, the trout began racing downstream, and I heard that most treasured sound, that beautiful high-pitched whine of line leaving the reel. Steve turned back to lend his approval. After landing the rainbow, I told Steve, “I caught him on a dry fly.” At first, he just nodded in agreement as if to say – that will be the only one. But after the second of my next two casts enticed another big rainbow, Steve began to pay attention. My next fish was the largest Brook trout I have caught. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera or measuring device. One of our major rules is to always carry a camera. I guess we were not as prepared as I previously suggested. All I have left is a memory. I guess that is all that matters and all we can really ever hope for. Steve then quickly tied on a dry fly. I think it was a Royal Wulff. He caught a large trout right away.
We fished all day in the same location catching large trout on dry flies – Royal Wulff, Elk Hair Caddis, and Adams. The size and type of fly really did not seem to be a significant factor. In fact, we each ran the table. We caught brown, brook, cutthroat, and rainbow trout most of which were large fish. And all of these fish on flies the books indicated were not efficient flies to use on this stream. It may never happen again, but it happened on this day from around 10:30 AM until 3:30 PM when we were growing tired and hungry. Needless to say, we didn’t even think of lunch. The fishing was too good. This was the best fishing day of my life up to that point. Nothing is more exciting than catching large trout on dry flies. To see that enormous nose break the surface of the water to get your fly is majestic. Don’t always believe what you read!
It wasn’t until we each stood on the riverbank taking in the beauty of the river, trees, and sky that it came to us. We stood there several minutes seemingly paralyzed absorbing the experience of the day – remembering the joy of the cast, the rise of the fish, and the colors of trout. For most of the day, it seemed everything moved in a brisk pace, but now we could slow the film down and control the speed with our thoughts. Now though, all we have are the memories. We had no camera. But memories are unrivaled among human abilities. Whether you’re speaking of fishing, family, or love, memories are the greatest joy. That day’s journey was now engraved in our memory, there for recall for years to come. I can think of only one way to describe that day and its memory. It was and is beautiful! I thank God for that day.
After absorbing the memories of the day and the beauty of the location, we left to obtain a hotel room in the nearest town. We decided to wait until after dinner to shower. After securing the hotel room, we made our standard drive to the fly shop finding it closed. We went to a local all-you-can-eat restaurant. This is another standard procedure we follow. Dinner is to be at a local (non-chain) eating establishment in order to get a flavor for the locals. The restaurant was large, slightly dark with mounted fish of all types adorning the walls. The walls were paneling, and the locals, who appeared tougher than the knots in the paneled walls, were engaged in trips to the buffet. Steve and I opted for an order from the menu. I think we were both too tired to make our way to the food bar. Our waitress, who fit in with the sixty percent of Americans who are overweight (so do I), did not appreciate our order – it required more work. Most waitresses in these type establishments must get a fairly good hourly wage because friendliness is not an attribute they tend to employ. Maybe they have determined over the years that there is no correlation between kindness and tip levels.
Our discussion turned to the great day we had. We reminisced about the 16-20 inch fish we had caught. As we continued to talk, we began to truly comprehend just how great a day we had. We had been fishing in a trophy section of the river all day only seen two other fishermen. Each one continued down stream without fishing in our run. It is amazing how one can become absorbed in the experience of fly fishing. All events become meaningless with the exception of the sound of rolling liquid, the casting of line for a delicate drop of a tiny fly, and the anticipation of a rising fish. Steve and I have often discussed the attributes that provide the true enjoyment in fly fishing. At times we have concluded that it is the tug on the line. I’m not so sure now. I think this may not be the answer. Rather, it is the combination of all the factors of environment, casting, fly selection, the tug on the line, beauty of the trout, and the challenge that make the enjoyment pure, whole, and beautiful. As an example, I recall a trip in which I was alone. I arrived early and began fishing in an intense morning fog. A deer appeared on the bank, and we shared the morning, lost in a wonderland of tranquility. As the sun began to pierce the fog, it seemed as though everything suddenly moved in slow motion. As I cast, I watched as the line unrolled in an eternal reach to the stream and tiny droplets of water released from the line returning home to the river glistening like diamonds from the reflection of the sun. I have no idea how many fish I caught that day. I do not remember the tug on the line. I will never forget the image of the line unrolling, and the release of the diamonds falling in slow motion through the warm glow of the sun. This is a reason to fish – to gather and cherish such memories.