“So, I’m going to need you to help me rig this,” I apologized. I unzipped my rod tube and handed Kyle the 6 weight Winston.
“Damn,” he said as he took it from me. “Sure as shit looks like you know what you’re doing, Webster.”
“I stole it from my mom.” My folks have more fly rods than I can count stashed in every corner of our house and I had grabbed one randomly. Usually my pops gets me set up and just points me in the right direction. This would be one of the first times that I’d ventured out without him standing over my shoulder (literally) and I was hoping to avoid looking like an idiot.
“Whatever” He laughed as he pulled the fly line through the guides, explaining each step to me as he went and rigging me up with something involving split shot, a nymph, some huge gaudy bug and 8 feet of leader. It looked complicated as hell, but he swore it would work. “Just promise me one thing - when you hook him, let the reel run. I want to hear this Hardy spin.” He handed me the rod and explained the setup.
I did my best to remember all the details, but mostly what I got out of it was that if didn’t wait on this rig before bringing my cast forward, and if I didn’t bring it straight back, I wouldn’t be dealing with a wind knot so much as a wind basket. A hurricane knot, if you will. He had scared me straight. That rod came up and back, hard, every damn time, and I waited with reptilian patience before I flicked it to the water like a lizard tonguing an unsuspecting cricket.
When our gear was dialed, we wandered the bank of the lake, looking for “cruisers.” I wasn’t sure what we’d find out here - “they’ll be big, if you can catch one,” a guide had said. I’d seen pictures of such fish, mostly river monsters though, high twenties brown trout caught by my father or brother-in-law or boyfriend in far off locations with dramatic backdrops, the photo op capturing the truth of the angler’s excitement and the composed energy of the fish, the result of an artful tailgrab. I’m still too worried about the safety of the fish to do much in the pics besides hold her gently in both hands and make sure she’s okay and upright before sending her back into the water.
Though not particularly optimistic, I was curious. I made a few hesitant casts, getting used to my new 6 weight, finally letting her loose and landing about 15 yards off the bank. I waited a few moments, to let the fly drop below the indicator, then gently stirpped in a foot or so of line. I waited again, and just as I began to strip, felt a tug. I lifted my rod high and back to my right to set the hook. A splash and the biggest rainbow I’ve ever seen shot three feet out of the water, successfully freeing herself in the process, and disappearing beneath the glassy surface of the lake. I stood, struck dumb by her size, trying desperately to hold her image in my mind, but she faded from my memory as quickly as the ripples she left on the surface dissipated into the shore. She was gone.
“Hole-leeeee SHIT! Did you guys see that fucker?!” We danced awkwardly on the shore in our waders.
“They’re in there!”
I spanked the water once with the tip of my rod in send off and climbed into the boat.
Despite the initial promise of the breached ‘bow, It was slow going for most of the day. I used the time to work on my cast and we had some laughs in the boat, landing a few fish and hooting loudly when we did, swearing like hillbillies and getting into each fight like it might be our last. We snapped pics on smartphones as proof of our triumphs; few and far between as they were, we felt we deserved them.
The moments I recall though, they’re not what’s in the pictures. I didn’t take any photos of my indicator floating lazily on the lake, and there is no evidence of the missed sets, of chasing risers with late casts and spooking what were surely leviathans sunning themselves in the shallows, oblivious to our desperation.
What I do remember is the weight on the end of my fly rod when I set it just right. I remember the pull of the fish beneath the surface and the tension on my line as I let her run. I remember feeling her give after the final pull, letting me bring her into the net, and the slime on her belly as I ran my wet fingertips down her side. I can still see her cool chrome camouflage gleaming in the long light of the afternoon, gills flaring as she gasped, held aloft for a self-indulgent picture. I remember reviving her in the net, feeling guilty for the photograph and praying silently that she survive my silliness.
I remember holding my breath as I watched her, slowly growing stronger, swimming cautiously from the net, and turning back to look at me just once before retreating into the murk of the lake. I was grateful for the encounter, but happy to see her go.
For now, fishing is just fishing. It’s not an adventure or a sport worthy of some epic documentation. It’s a discovery, and while I wish I could write about it in the same way I’ve written about yoga or travel or whatever, I’m still so lost in the experience that I don’t always recall the things that might make it as interesting to a reader as it is to me.
I'm working on it.