SKUNKED


SKUNKED

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,077

I’ve had fifty fish days. I’ve caught twenty-four inch cutts on gossamer tippet with a four weight bamboo rod. I’ve pounded ’em up to my own hand-tied dries when there wasn’t a fish rising for a hundred miles. I’ve floated big rivers and fished high-country headwaters and caught fish. I’ve been trapped by late spring snows and dodged summer lightning. I don’t have anything left to prove.

Anyway, that’s the kind of smoke I was blowing the other day when Appleton called to get a fishing report.

“That bad huh?”

“I couldn’t get a rise if I doped my fly with Stink Bait.” I told him. “I even thought about running a dropper.”

“Whoa! Don’t do anything you’re going to regret.”

“Look,” I said, “maybe we’ve gotten too hung up on the catching part. I mean, fly-fishing should be about the inner man, not how big or how many fish we catch. It should be about communing with a well-crafted fly-rod, finding the rhythm and poetry in a delicate cast, letting the beauty of the mountains and the sounds of the stream cleanse your soul. . . .  You know, rediscovery. . . . Getting back to nature? . . . You still there?”

“. . . Who else have you been talking to?”

“Nobody.”

“Good. Call me when the fishing picks up.”

Appleton was one of the first to go with barbless hooks. He became unpopular with the river guides when he tried to get the local fly-shop to go barbless. I’ve even known him to break the hook off and fish with an impotent fly when he got tired of catching fish, just so he could see the rise. He’s caught up in the corporate rat race now, and it’s hard to get him out if the fish aren’t biting.

I often get skunked when we fish together. I usually have the place scouted and let him take the lead as we head upstream, so the fish are spooked by the time I come along. Sometimes I’ll catch up to him and he’ll be sitting at a nice looking bend pool that he’s saved for me. He’ll point his rod at the hole say, “Let’s get the skunks out of the boat.” I don’t think he really wants me to catch a fish; he just doesn’t want to be seen with a guy who isn’t catching fish.

After Appleton hung up on me, I realized the danger I had put myself in. Word could get around that I’d zened out, shaved my head, and was wandering the backcountry wearing a loincloth and sprinkling ashes. My solitary life-style and the ensuing lack of . . . let’s call it female companionship, would be blamed for my moral decline. There would be a meeting; I would get voted off the island . . . or worse. The last time my friends thought that I’d spun out, one of them tried to fix me up—it was love at 425 pounds.

The next day I had a twenty fish day and was able to abandon my new religion and start wearing pants again.

It’s in the early spring, between the first warm days and the big runoff when I usually get skunked. The creeks are running high and off color, and the trout are hugging the bottoms of the deep pools in a state of suspended animation. You can catch them if you bump them on the nose with a Copper John or Pheasant’s Tail, but I’m stubborn about using dry-flies. I figured that since I was a fly-fisherman, and thus a member of the most hated demographic among fishermen, becoming a dry-fly purist, the most hated demographic among fly-fishers, would be a natural progression.

In my fly-fishing infancy, I’d become frantic when getting skunked. The level of panic seemed to be in direct proportion to the amount of money that had been spent on stuff. I had the best in sporting equipment, and I still wasn’t catching fish. I looked marvelous, but I obviously needed more stuff.

Back then, when my skill didn’t match my equipment, I’d fish for twelve hours at a stretch without seeing a rise. I fished like that for three days once in a pouring rain, stopping only for short breaks to crawl into my tent, where I poured. On the afternoon of the third day, I found myself standing in the middle of a muddy creek with my nose running, cold, wet, holding a bleached-out, six-inch German Brown in my pruned fingers, thinking what miserable specimens we both were of our respective species.

Nowadays, early spring fishing really is more about getting into the mountains, shaking off shack fever, and picking out the wind knots that form in my head during the winter. When you hike for an hour to get to a stream and find it running high and muddy, you can turn around and hike back out, or find a good sittin’ log and enjoy the scenery. I don’t pass up a good sitting rock or log when the fish aren’t biting. I know I can tie on a nymph and catch fish, but that’s not what I had seen myself doing all winter. I look around more, and wonder what I missed while I was pawing for answers in my fly-box, or squinting at an aquarium net. I think it’s because I can go fishing whenever I want to now that my attitude changed. I can always come back and try again tomorrow. Most people can’t do that, and I remember that sense of urgency, being limited to a Saturday every now and then, or one week in the summer.

I’ve never been a lip ripping, don’t make me take my pants down, trophy-trout hunter. I’m satisfied with my little high-country cutts, so on those fishless, early spring days, I find myself going through the motions just to get the kinks out of my cast, watching young Stoneflies crawling on my leg and only thinking about changing over from an Adams, just happy to be alive and still able to make the hike in. In a few days the streams will run clear and the fishing will be as good as ever, so it’s not bad sitting in the Sun, warming the knotted muscles in my shoulders, and thinking about the good day I’m having doing no harm. Not bad at all.

© Robert Robinson 2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

BACK IN THE SADDLE


This is a rewrite of “Saddle Up” I was asked for.

BACK IN THE SADDLE

By

Robert Robinson

WORD COUNT: 1,336

I turned onto the dirt road, trying to remember the directions I had been given. A right fork, a left fork, a bridge, a sheep camp, and something else had been mentioned.

The sheep camp didn’t surprise me, this being sheep country, but using one as a landmark seemed dodgy. I was pretty sure sheep camps moved with the herd. I was wishing I had written the directions down when I spotted the sheep camp coming up on the right. The sheepherders had a horse down on its back with its legs sticking straight up in the air. One herder was holding the horse down, while the other was attempting to shoe the horse. All participants seemed to be in distress, and all were sweating. I mentally checked off sheep camp.

The road looked good, but I knew that could change and it could become nothing more than a glorified game trail just around the next bend. Adding to the pucker factor, I was dragging a horse trailer with my horse, Red, who was bouncing back and forth and threatening to throw us off the road.

I was to meet up with my friend Cody for some camping and fishing. Cody was a cowboy; not the boot scootin’ feather in the hat Nashville kind, but the bull strong, hog ugly, snuff dippin’, bulldog a wild horse and never spit kind. Cody belongs to a subculture of fly-fishing that considers the horse a requisite accoutrement to the sport. Cody and his brothers sold horses and took great pride in matching horse to rider. They had experienced horses for inexperienced riders, inexperienced horses for experienced riders, and for people who don’t like to ride, they had horses that didn’t like to be rode. Cody had spent most of the winter convincing me that in order to get into the really good fishing I needed a horse, and that I needed to buy that horse from him.

I found his camp: An old truck, horse trailer, and tent situated in front of a huge fire pit. Although it was noon on a hot day in July, Cody was standing by the fire drinking a beer. I have noticed that no matter how hot it is, if you build a fire, people will stand around it, an oddity that probably dates back to the dawn of time deserving further study. I hobbled Red, setup my tent, and moseyed over to stand by the fire. After some small talk, we decided to saddle up and ride over to the creek and do some fishing.

I followed Cody up a trail that soon lead onto a narrow ledge overlooking a 100-foot drop. I was glad when the trail took a hard right and headed up a steep grade, but just as I was making the turn Cody’s horse shied at something, spooking Red, who took off going backwards as hard as he could for the edge of the cliff. I jumped off and got Red stopped just before he stepped off into the abyss. I walked Red up the slope until we were at what I considered a safe distance from the drop-off before remounting.

When I caught up to Cody, he was sitting in front of a pile of deadfall beyond which was a little meadow that sloped down to a thick stand of willows. I could hear the creek gurgling below.

Cody eased his horse through the deadfall with me right behind. I had almost made it through when Red made four long jumps out into the meadow and started to buck. He bucked a couple of times, then setup into a spin—tossing me out of the saddle. I landed hard but managed to keep ahold of the reins. Cody was sitting there looking rather relaxed considering what had just happened. He was leaning forward on his saddle horn and looking bored. I knew the “cowboy way” demanded that I get right back on and as I put my foot in the stirrup I asked Cody, “How did I look?” To which he replied, “Good for the first couple of jumps.” . . . I climbed back aboard and as quick as my butt hit the saddle Red went into another spin, flinging me off again. As I was about to mount up again, I noticed a dead tree limb stuck under Red’s back cinch. I pulled the limb out and was tightening the cinch when Cody said, “We ain’t going to get much fishin’ in if you and Red don’t quit messin’ around.”

“We’re good now.” I told him, and we headed on into the creek bottom.

We crossed the creek over to an island where we hobbled the horses, strung up our rods, and took off up the creek, taking turns casting to pocket water. We caught five or six trout apiece until we hit an open flat where two creeks came together. After agreeing on a time to meet back at the horses we split up; Cody took the right fork and I took the left.

Fishing alone has its drawbacks. The main one being that should you get into trouble, you’re on your own. Fishing alone in bear country can be a little spooky, something that you have to get your head around. I had decide long ago that I would rather get eaten by a bear than lay around dying of some terrible disease; besides, on this trip if anything got eaten it would be the horses, and after the crap that Red had been pulling, I was down with that.

I had managed to cover a lot of ground when I realized I would have to hustle to get back to the horses by the appointed time. When I got back to the horses, Cody wasn’t there yet, and it was only after I had my gear packed that he showed up. Cody said we needed to reach the main trail before it got dark.

We were mounted and had begun to move off when Red took three giant leaps forward, landing us in the middle of the stream. I looked over at Cody, who was resting on his saddle horn, looking bored, and said, “I think this bastard wants to buck again.” “Just take the hobbles off,” he told me. I dismounted into two-foot of water, which filled my boots, and felt around until I had the hobbles unbuckled. It was now pitch black. We crisscrossed up the slope searching for, but not finding, the trail. At the top of the hill Cody took off with such an air of confidence that I asked him if he had found the trail. He said, “Yeah . . . but not yet.” We reached what looked like a meadow and as we started across Cody told me to watch out for old down fencing and piles of barbed wire that could be laying around.

Cody had just hollered back that he had found the trail when I heard the ping of wire. I pulled Red up, dismounted, and began running my hands over his legs trying to see if we were tangled up in barbed wire. In the darkness, feeling down his back legs, I found that both of Red’s hind legs were standing in a coil of wire. Working blindly in the dark I was able to get us free.

As we made our way back to camp we passed campfires here and there, but Cody said we should give them a wide birth, as the firelight would ruin the horses’ night vision. I didn’t know that horses had night vision, but I was glad to hear it and assumed Red had stepped into the coil of wire for the hell of it.

When we got back to camp, we cared for the horses and Cody sat me down by the fire, handed me a beer, and began giving me some much needed instruction on horsemanship.

© Robert Robinson 2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

SPRING CROSSING


SPRING CROSSING

BY

ROBERT ROBINSON

Word Count: 1,243

I stood looking at the snowfields above me with a bad feeling in my guts. Where the swollen creek cut its way through, the snow was four-foot deep; I’d never get through. I’d just get wet if I tried, and staying dry was a priority now. Technically it was spring, but a guy could still get toe tagged winter kill up here. The slope leading up to the snow-banked ridge above me was gushing from every rat hole. The whole mountain was a sieve. I looked back at the tree line from which I had emerged and started thinking about gathering wood for a fire and spending the night. I could split a power bar with my dog Touch, bank up a fire, and wait until the wee hours when the runoff froze again. We could cross the creek then, when it  would be at its lowest, but we’d still have a five mile hike to get back to the truck—and we’d be wet. . . .  I’d screwed up. Ignoring the deep snow I could see on the ridges above me, I’d entered an area bordered by water on all sides during the spring melt.

The thermometer had read twenty-nine degrees that morning as I drove up the canyon. It was the time of the year when one side of the road was showing the green-up of spring while the other side was a scene from a Christmas card, with snow still hanging in the trees and covering the ground. I had stepped across the little creek that morning.

We had hiked around to the back side of the reservoir, me casting out to the edge of the ice, Touch swimming out to the splashes of my Wooly Bugger. The day turned gorgeous and warm and I started to think that I’d overdressed.

At noon, I hiked up a slope and found a log in a little meadow where I sat and ate my peanut butter sandwich. I gave Touch a dog biscuit and we stretched out in the sun and took a nap.

Long before we got back to the little creek we’d crossed that morning, I heard it. The latte colored creek was now out of its banks and raging. Where I’d stepped across it that morning, it was now twenty-yards wide and chest deep. A rush of adrenalin hit me, and I was ashamed I knew the color of latte. My only chance to get out of there before nightfall was to head up stream and hope I could find a place to cross. It would be a steep climb, and if I couldn’t find a place to cross I’d wind up spending the night. I started to think I’d underdressed.

I had a survival kit on me; a first-aid kit with a couple of power bars; some bullion and instant coffee; and a bag of dryer lint with a couple of ways to get a fire started. I had one of those old army canteens with the metal cup that I could boil water in. As long as I stayed dry I’d be ok. I took my jacket off and tied it around my waist to keep from sweating and started the climb. We headed up the creek looking for a spot to cross until we were above the timberline and found our way blocked by the deep snow.

On the way up I’d spotted a pine tree that had been washed into the creek and had wedged between two high cut-banks. That down pine would be my best chance to get across. I still had two hours of daylight to make something happen. As I headed back to the down tree, I began working out a plan.

I figured I could cross on the upstream side of the tree by bracing against it and inching my way along. I’d use my jacket to make a bundle for the stuff I didn’t want to get wet, and if I got to the middle of the creek, I’d throw the bundle on across so I’d have both hands free to finish the crossing and get up the steep bank. Once I got wet and had thrown my bundle over, I would be committed to the crossing; I wouldn’t survive the night wet without a fire. I had one problem: The banks were too steep there for Touch to climb up. Touch is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and she’d rather swim than walk, so I wasn’t worried about her getting across, I just needed to find a place where she could climb out. It would have to be close to the tree so I could start across quickly or she would try to get back to me. Getting her to cross without me wasn’t a problem. I could throw anything over and she’d go after it.

I took down my rod and tied it into my bundle, praying that if I perished in the crossing, whoever found my high-dollar bamboo fly-rod wouldn’t be a bait fisherman. Leaving the bundle at the down pine, I walked up stream until I found a place to send Touch over. I took my shoulder bag and slung it across and Touch jumped in and started after it. I hot footed it back to the tree, grabbed my bundle, and slid down the bank next to the tree into waist deep water. The force of the water slammed me against the tree and I could feel the gravel washing away under my feet. I started thinking that this wasn’t a good idea. If I lost my footing, I’d be swept under and held down by the tree and drowned. I had to go with it now though. If Touch seen me retreat, she would jump in to get back to me and she would be swept under the tree. We would both drown then, as I would go in after her. That would be an automatic reaction. I mean, it’s not like rescuing a spouse, significant other, or fishing buddy, where you have time to assess the risk and go find a rope—she’s my dog.

The water was chest deep in the middle of the creek and I only stopped for a second to sling my bundle on over. After my hands were free, I made it the rest of the way across and clawed my way up the bank. I was covered in mud and soaked from the chest down.

The temperature would drop as soon as the sun went behind the mountain and I figured that we had about an hour of daylight left. We were still four miles from the truck, but we could make it in good time by jogging and power walking. I poured the water out of my boots, gathered up my gear, and headed down the mountain. About half way back to the truck my feet started to hurt; wet socks and slip on ditch boots suck for hiking. I managed to make it back just after the sun went down. The temperature had already dropped thirty degrees, and when I pulled my boots off, I had several blisters the size of silver dollars on both feet. I started the truck and sat there with my head on the steering wheel waiting for the heater to warm the cab. I looked over at Touch and said, “We got lucky this time girl.”

© Robert Robinson 2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

THE FALL OF MAN


Word count: 1016                                       THE FALL OF MAN

By

ROBERT ROBINSON

There is only one certainty in fly-fishing: you will fall down. I’m not talking about the slips, stumbles, and trips that do little harm except to your ego. I’m talking about the nosedives, headers, sprawls, and plummets, the kinds of falls that break bones, fly rods, reels, and noses.

When explaining ripped waders, torn hands, shattered equipment, and noticeable limps to friends and significant others, proper nomenclature is helpful.

A sprawl is performed by pitching forward, leaving your feet behind, throwing your arms out to the side, and landing on your chest or face before your knees touch the ground.

A nosedive is any fall where the impact of the fall is taken above the upper lip.

A header, similar to the nosedive, involves a head-over-heels roll with the initial impact taken anywhere above the shoulders. When preformed on a steep slope, the header can be done repeatedly, gaining momentum with each roll until forward motion is arrested or deflected by a rock or a tree.

A plummet, my personal favorite because of the opportunity it affords for spectacle, must be initiated from a height of at least four feet—point of impact is optional.

Gravity is of course the root cause of all falls and is best illustrated in a fall I call the topple. You are busting through a stand of willows, get off balance, and just tip over, embracing gravity without a struggle—normally landing in a thorn bush. I recently did that and it had me preforming pocketknife surgery on my hands for a week as the thorns became infected and started to itch.

Gravity, mud, and felt-bottom waders can combine to produce some spectacular falls. I first became aware of this while contemplating my mud caked boots outlined against a clear blue sky as I went over a fifteen-foot embankment. I was able to break my fall by landing on a sixteen-inch diameter post that was sticking two-feet out of the mud. When I was able to breathe again and inspect the damage, I had a two-inch wide gash that ran from just under my left breast to the center of my back. Muddy waders are excellent for doing the moonwalk as well.

Unlike the popular dance move, which propels you backward, this moonwalk propels you forward, while you peddle backward as rapidly as you can. I once watched a friend of mine do the moonwalk for twenty-feet until he was waist deep in the Chattahoochee River. I did a version of the moonwalk on scree once. (Scree: an accumulation of loose stones or rocky debris lying on a slope or at the base of a hill or cliff, which enables stupidity to comes full circle.) My feet eventually shot out from under me and I went sledding and turtling on my back for thirty-feet, over a cut-bank, and into the river on my butt. The moonwalk can also be done standing in place, gradually picking up tempo until you tire and just sit down. (This is very entertaining . . . speaking as a spectator.)

Unless the good fishing is on the other side, or you are in a hurry to get to the bottom of the hill, slopes strewn with scree should be avoided; however, muddy or scree strewn slopes can be tested for stability by graciously allowing your fishing buddy to go first.

While form is important, proper falling etiquette should be observed as well.

All falls should be performed in silence. Unmanly shrieks, screams, and little girl noises only diminish the respect that can be gained from your fishing buddies through the degree of difficulty of the fall; however, an audible “oomph” upon impact lets any onlookers know that you’ve survived the fall, and from the reactions of my friends at least, adds comedic punctuation.

No fall is complete without proper follow through. Always assume that there are spectators and remember that it’s how you fall that matters. Do it with style. Staunch the bleeding—this is real he-man stuff—by packing the wounds with mud, then move off in a composed manner. When you are confident that there are no witnesses, curl up into the fetal position and wait for the pain to subside.

A couple of years ago, I took a fall that had me limping for most of the summer. I had spotted some rising Trout that were holding behind a large rock on the other side of the river. I was almost across and thinking that I had made it when I began watching the Trout and planning my cast. My feet shot out from under me and I came down hard on a sharp rock with my knee. (Knee: the part of the body most useful in locating sharp objects.) White pain shot through my brain; the kind of pain that shoots blinding flashes of light behind your eyes and makes you sick to your stomach; the kind of pain that causes you to wonder if you can make it back to the truck. I stayed on my hands and knees sucking air in short breaths through clinched teeth and waited for the pain to subside. I thought about the climb out of the canyon and wondered how long it would be before my body would be discovered. I thought about my friend who had just underwent a knee replacement and wondered if I would be getting fitted for a new skid. I pulled my good leg under me and stood up, testing the injured leg by slowly putting weight on it until I was satisfied that I could walk. I found my rod laying half in and half out of the water were I had somehow managed to toss it clear of the fall. The fish were still rising in spite of the commotion, so I gave the rod a quick inspection and caught three nice Browns before I decided to make the climb out while my knee was still numb. It was several months before I could walk pain free.

© Robert Robinson 2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

BEAVER SLAPPED


Word count: 697                                       BEAVER SLAPPED

According to Michigan state law, beaver dams cannot be built or maintained except by beavers. I find this fascinating. I have often wondered if by consuming grubs, berries, roots, rodents, and backpackers I could produce bear scat, but there’s probably a law against that, too.

In the past, the Department of Natural Resources would blow up problem beaver dams with Dynamite. I have often found pieces of detonation cord at these old dam sites; however, Lately they have taken to placing large rocks along the tops of the dams in an effort to adjust the flow of water going over them without removing or otherwise damaging the dam. I wonder if this policy of placing rocks on the tops of the dams extends the natural life of the dam and interferes with spawning fish. Beaver dams often get washed out during the spring runoff; for the fish moving into these drainages from lakes and reservoirs to spawn, the damage done to the dams during the runoff is essential.

In places overpopulated with beaver, the ponds can be very small. I often catch deformed fish (fish with large heads and long, snaky bodies) in these places. When Left alone, the beaver will periodically relocate their dams as they exhaust the supply of tender willows that they love, forming ponds throughout the whole drainage, changing the course of the stream, and creating new habitat for their riparian neighbors.

Beaver ponds are tough to fish. The commotion caused by the fly-line hitting the static water of the pond spooks the fish. This can be avoided by using a longer leader and a delicate cast, but I have found fishing a pond from above more productive. I let the fly drift down until the fly-line straightens out and then give it a few twitches. This method works extremely well with nymphs. When the nymph settles on the bottom, I begin to give the fly movement by stripping the line in slowly. I have stood in one spot and picked off five or six trout using this technique.

I often come across beaver slides (places where the beaver inter and exit the stream) that are big enough to resemble the mouth of a small feeder creek. I don’t know if these large slides are made by large beaver, or if they are the result of repeated use by small beaver, but they are big enough to give me the willies, and they get me to thinking about the stories I’ve heard of people being attacked by rabid beavers. I always stop and peer into the shadowy willows, expecting to see a giant beaver sitting there giggling and quivering with disease, waiting to pounce.

I have gotten close to beaver in the twilight of the evening with neither me nor the beaver being aware of the others presence—until the last minute.

Late one afternoon I headed downstream from my camp to fish a long stretch of creek that was located between two large beaver ponds. I found a shallow riffle marked by several rocks about the size of a man’s head sticking halfway out of the water where I was able to cross the creek and approach this particularly productive bend pool from below. The fishing was good and I had caught eight or ten fish when I realized that I had stayed too late and I would have to hustle in order to get back to camp before dark. In the twilight, I could barely make out the rocks that marked my crossing spot. I had made it to the middle of the stream when one of the rocks I had just stepped over slapped the water with its tail and shot upstream between my legs. When I came down, I came down on dry land on the other side of the creek, somehow managing a standing broad jump that would have easily qualified me for Olympic competition. (It’s wise to bring along fresh pants on camping trips . . . for emerge-ncies.) When I got my breath back, I finished marking my trail and headed on back to camp, glad that I wasn’t wearing chest-waders.

© Robert Robinson 2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

SOLITUDE


          

                                                                      SOLITUDE

Henri Nouwin wrote; “Solitude is the furnace in which transformation takes place.” It is only during extended periods of solitude that your demons reveal themselves, become known to you, and you name them–as you would a child. In the furnace the soul is hammered, tempered, and forged. But it is the loneliness of solitude that people fear most, making many tragic mistakes in its avoidance; however, it is through solitude that you learn to enjoy your own company and become comfortable with yourself, in spite of yourself.

For me, solitude is the natural order of things. I live alone except for my dog Touch, and although we have our conversations, they tend to be one-sided. Before I got Touch, I would go for months never speaking a word. I once startled myself with the sound of my own voice. I had been doing dishes and had decided to make myself a sandwich. I was spreading mayo onto a slice of bread when it flipped out of my hand and landed in the dishwater. I said, “Damn”, with great conviction, and it startled me as if somebody else had shouted in my ear. Now I talk to Touch daily, which keeps my vocal-cords from becoming petrified.

 Fishing, especially fly-fishing, is a solitary pursuit. The mechanics of fly-fishing and the distance required between the fishermen preclude conversation. When one of my friends goes fishing with me I thoroughly enjoy the company and good conversation, but most of my fishing buddies are family men, and they go fishing in search of solitude and a break from the hassles of family life. Even when we make                              

 

efforts to fish together, the conversations erode into shouting back and forth across the stream until we tire of trying to communicate and wander off to fish alone.

2

          Antoni Gaudi, the architect of the Basilica Sagrada Familia in Barcelona Catalonia Spain, wanted the interior of the church to have the feel of a forest. He thought that man can feel closest to God in a forest and I think that is true. The facade of the Basilica reminds me of the small groves of pines that form where the pine forest gives way to the Aspens just below the timberline. When I see them, it’s easy to understand how the Druids came to worship trees, or why we think of Heaven as being above.

                Living in the intermountain west, wilderness and the solitude it offers is only a thirty-minute drive in any direction, yet, I have met people who have lived here all their lives having never been to the mountains. My trips into the mountains are not initiated by any desire to be spiritual, but by a desire to go fishing; however, once I’m there, surrounded by the beauty of the mountains, I feel insignificant. I think of the thousands of years it took to form the mountains, the thousands of years they have stood, and the thousands of years they will stand after I am long gone. I begin to think of my mortality and the door of spiritual awareness swings open. I no longer fear going through. I have shook hands with the demons, stared into their ugly faces, and took responsibility for them. I learned that I’m not such a bad guy in spite of them and consider myself a friend. The question is not whether to go through the door, but whether the Trout will take a dry-fly.

               

 

I have fishing buddies who seem to have an investment in my solitary life style—they tell me I’m their hero. They think that my solitary existence is some heroic statement against the establishment and not the end result of some piss-poor choices coupled with a desire to insulate myself from what had become a vicious cycle of pain and rejection. They don’t realize that after twenty years, the benefits of a solitary lifestyle were long ago reaped. So when I told them that an old girlfriend from high school was coming for a visit, they shouted in unison, “You’re screwed!” They walked off slowly shaking their heads—presumably to don sackcloth and sprinkle ashes on freshly shaven heads—and went home to their wives.

                I don’t have the gift of prophesy that my friends apparently have, so I don’t know if my solitary existence is coming to an end. Perhaps my solitude will be snatched in bits and pieces now, but I know where to go to find it.

                There’s a small creek that runs through a narrow valley surrounded by green mountains. Nobody fishes it because the fish are small, but they are the most brilliantly colored Trout I have ever seen, which tells me it’s a special place, a place of healing. It’s a place I would take a friend, a friend who had a broken heart.   

OBSESSION


                                                                                 THE OBSESSION

 

                My mother was the fisherman in the family. Pop wasn’t into it, so fishing trips were few and far between; however, when we did go, mom got excited, and started her preparations the day before the trip by making dough balls. I don’t remember the exact concoction she used, I wish I did, but the dough balls weren’t for the fish, the dough balls were for the crawdads that she used for bait. She would clean the crawdads down to the tail-meat, and using a cane-pole, bobber, and hook she caught a lot of fish.

                The old man sat on the bank and read a book while mom baited and tended the poles. He never got his hands dirty cleaning crawdads, or landing fish. Mom would have three or four poles going at a time, moving up and down the river bank, catching and cleaning crawdads, baiting hooks, and landing catfish; it was her thing. When we were at the river, she was focused, and it was best to stay out of her way, and not do anything that would scare the fish. It must have been her that showed me how to thread a worm onto a hook, because I had that messy operation firmly planted in my head the first time I saw a guy fly-fishing on TV. I asked my dad what they used for bait and he told me they used flies, “How do they get them on the hook?” I wondered. “They tie them on.” He told me. I got this vision of tying a house fly down on a fishhook, which seemed to me like a tedious operation, so I gave fly-fishing no more thought until one foggy Sunday morning fifteen years later.

                I was heading home through the north Georgia Mountains after spending the weekend helping a friend with a historical preservation project. The sun hadn’t been up long enough to burn off the fog and visibility was poor. I was slowly making my way along when I spotted a guy fly-fishing a pond not far off the road. I pulled over to watch. It was a pretty scene. The fog obscured the man from the waist down; the tip of his rod vanished into the fog above him; the fly-line disappearing and reappearing with the rhythm of his cast. After watching him land a couple of fat Bluegills, I decided to walk over and get a better look at what he was doing. He was standing at the end of a dock that projected into the middle of the pond and when I walked out to where he was standing he was adding another nice fish to his stringer. “Those are some nice fish.” I said.

                “Yeah, I think that’s enough for Breakfast.” He replied. We talked about fishing and he showed me the fly he was using—a yellow and black Bee looking thing—and he gave me a quick casting lesson. I was hooked; I was just as hooked as the fish he was taking home for Breakfast. I stopped at a sporting-goods store on the way home and bought a fly-rod, reel, line, and some flies. From that point, if I wasn’t fly-fishing, I was thinking about fly-fishing.

                I bought books on fly-fishing where I learned that I needed more stuff. I needed more and better fly-rods. I needed a fishing vest—one with lots of pockets—and all the stuff to put in it. I needed a tying vise and tying materials. I needed hip-waders and chest-waders. I needed marriage counseling and a good lawyer. I was possessed by obsession, driven by neurosis, and gripped by fixation. I went to all the fly-fishing meccas and began hanging out at fly-shops, where I learned that I needed more stuff. I read everything I could get my hands on about fly-fishing and studied the life cycle of aquatic insects.

                When I tried to get my wife to relocate to better fly-fishing country, she said that she didn’t want to leave her friends. When I found out that it was just the one friend that she didn’t want to leave, I got the paperwork done and relocated. When I found myself a member of a sub-sub-subculture, collecting Bamboo fly-rods and exclusively dry-fly fishing, I realized that I had a problem; I needed to make more money. I took a job that was seasonal, working six months out of the year so my summers could be devoted to fly-fishing. My winters were taken up with repairing rods, tying flies, and pouring over BLM maps looking for ways into places that I had yet to fish.

                I was incapable of holding a conversation for more than five minutes unless I was talking about fishing. I would watch my dinner date’s eyes glaze over when I mentioned my new reel or a new fly I had come up with. I didn’t want to talk about feelings. I wanted to talk about how a Phillipson taper was better in the wind than a Garrison taper. When I would mention that I had just dropped three grand on a fly-rod, they would get a look in their eyes that I have only seen from scared cats. Relationships lasted until I heard, “Do you have to wear that funny looking hat everywhere we go?” I was incompatible. . . . I bought a dog.

                One day, coming down the canyon after one of the best days of fishing I had ever had, with my Chesapeake Bay retriever sitting on the seat beside me, it hit me. I was living the life that I had read about in all those fly-fishing books. It had only cost me one marriage, four relationships, and a lucrative career. I had arrived.