I once took a lady out fishing, one beautiful summer afternoon. A day when all things of importance were remembered and the unnecessary were left behind.
Fishing to me has always been a therapeutic activity, physical by association, but often just to reset my head on my shoulders, bringing my outlook back into focus. After any short period of time spent alone on the water, you’ll find yourself in “the zone”, so totally engaged on placing a lure in the path of a fish, that the normal stream of everyday thoughts disappears. Any remaining neurons spark plans of a stealthy approach while reading the river, selecting bait to match the actual menu of the fish’s diet and synchronizing the body’s muscles to cast a line that carries the bait to the plate of a hungry predator. While all along never realizing that your thoughts have been further channeled by the wisps of wind, the rays of sunlight and the calming gurgles of water over rock.
On a Friday evening, through the front doors of the B&B at which I cooked, walked a couple from the city, carrying two pieces of luggage and a big desire to leave behind the strain of city life. They had stumbled upon our home with no reservations, on their way to the neighboring state for an exclusive fly fishing weekend. An escape to learn how to escape.
After breakfast in the morning, I caught wind of their plans for the weekend, the term ‘fly fishing’ easily heard over the popping of bacon frying and plates clanging about. Unlike a lot of people, I like to talk about things that I Do know something about and it’s difficult to stop the flow of excited words when speaking as a teacher to an eager new sponge who really wants to absorb every tidbit of knowledge that I’m spewing.
Most office cubicles are adorned with pictures of family, cute children and other nick-knacks that provide the worker with a little mental escape to the outside world, with a simple quick glance up from the keyboard and telephone. The kitchen was my office and a six-burner stove was my desk. Leaning alongside the antique pie safe was a fixture unique to most kitchens, a 9″ fly rod, which served as my safety rope back to the real world. For the sake of my sanity or as entertainment for guests, I’d slip out after breakfast and false cast from the back deck, a bird feeder or clump of tiger lilies as an imaginary eddy from which a big trout might rise.
The neat thing about practicing your casting mechanics with a fly rod is that it can be done in any large, unobstructed area and without a hook. A lure is not necessary because it’s the weight of the line that naturally delivers the near-weightless fly, a complete reversal of the physics involved with your traditional bait-casting rod and reel.
Alica and I headed to the backyard after breakfast for improvised Lesson Number One. Which began a string of lessons over the coming months as she and her husband Ned became regular guests of the Inn. Evenings were spent learning the accompanying art of tying the flies to be used while fishing, our conversations as warm and enjoyable as the ever-present red wine and dark chocolates.
During a visit the following Spring, Alica and I headed to the backyard after breakfast for our normal post-meal casting practice. Her technique had improved immensely over the past few months, which she proudly attributed to the hours spent practicing in her own backyard up in the big city. Suddenly the rhythmic ‘whoosh’ of the rod’s movement came to a stop and the line settled to the grass. I turned and looked at her as she let go with a sigh.
“I’ve only cast this rod in two places, my backyard and yours. The line has never even touched actual water”
So a promise was made that day. During their next visit to town, a trip would definitely be made to the river and her new skills would be put to the test.
I took Ned and Alica to my favorite fishing hole. Not a stretch of stream that produces vast numbers of trophy fish, but a place that I’ve fished 100’s of times over the years. To me, it’s the equivalent of putting on blue jeans warm out of the dryer or disappearing into the sofa under a big, comfy blanket. A lot of people would like to leave this Earth doing something or being with someone who they love. I’d like to be found with my rod in my hand, reclined on the prominent large limestone rock on the far side of the river, just downstream from a long stretch of rapids. Over the years, I’ve had conversations with all of the river’s neighbors. Deer nervously drinking water. A farmer’s loose cow. The muskrats and I are particularly close. I know the different species of fish in the water and where in the river each type might be found.
We fished for a while with minimal results, seems the only thing nibbling was an occasional common tree limb. We had each settled into our own private comfort zones, not a word was spoken amongst our trio with the exception of my mumbled curse words directed at another empty hook. Then Alica broke the silence.
“I GOT A FISH !!!”
From the depths of the river’s current, she had landed her first ever fish on a fly. At the end of her line, panicked at the lack of water, was a little smallmouth bass, maybe six-inches in length. The content look of pride and accomplishment on her face was a heartwarming sight to behold.
The fishing action for the remainder of the day wasn’t and couldn’t have been any better. We loaded up the car and began the thirty minute journey back to the Inn. At one point along the way, the car became silent as our thoughts retreated under the surface of the Shenandoah’s swirling currents. Then my eyes turned from the road as Alica broke the silence with one very memorable observation.
“That was one of the best days of my life”
Before those words were spoken, I had felt like a failure as the amateur fishing guide for the day. I had wanted and expected to have tight lines all day long, a fish caught ever minute. I felt a quiet guilt after having set the bar of expectations so high.
But Alica had seen clear water while I had seen mud. It had been a carefree day, standing waist deep in a beautiful river with wonderful new friends.
It doesn’t get much better than that.