Of 3-Weights and Brook Trout and Time Lost
Out of the entire lexicon of fly fishing, ďgossamerĒ is probably my favorite word. It conjures images of a placid pool in the falling half-light of dusk, on a late spring day. The hatch is coming off. And thereís a fisherman standing there, tying a speck of a fly onto a wisp of a line. A hairís breadth worth of tenuousness.
Raising the rod, the fisherman false casts once, at an angle to where that trout is rising, and then, turning a few degrees, he gently sends the tight curl that is the line back towards where it needs to be. The leader unfurls with a softness that speaks of women and dainty things. And if he is either lucky or good, the fly falls to the water with an almost preternatural lightness. In doing so it encapsulates the hope of everything.
Iíve been away too long. Donít ask me why. I donít have a good answer. All I know is that Iím back.
First the half-start of a nodding thought one morning a couple weeks ago. The remembrances, coming slowly at first, but then gaining strength. And then the casual click over to the Orvis site.
They were having a sale: Buy a new rod and they would throw in the reel and line and backing for free.
That old 6-weight Limestone of mine was pushing 30 years old. I wondered what had changed while I was away. What might one of those new 5-weight Helios be like?
And then yesterday, the ride over the mountain on the Harley. I hadnít been to Harry Murrayís shop in 25 years. It was good to sit and chat with him again.
And now today, standing in this pool with water up to my knees, a 3-weight in my hands. Iíve never fished with a fly rod this light. And at 6í10Ē, Iíve never fished with one this short. I have brought many questions with me today.
I donít yet know it, but this will be the best pool of the day. I stand at its tail, after having climbed carefully over the rocks which bound its nether end. My stealth wonít matter. Having tied a #18 ant onto a 6x tippet, my first attempts are ugly. Pulling the tan line out the rodís tip, I false cast to gain some length, and then attempt to shoot it the twenty feet upstream to the riffle I have in mind. The line falls short, the leader collapsing back upon itself.
Lifting the rod, I try again. Stripping two more armís lengths worth of line from the reel, I make the distance this time, but the presentation is anything but clean. I shake my head, wondering if itís the years of rust or this tiny, new fly rod.
ďSlow down. Let it load,Ē I remind myself as I try a third time. Thereís only a single, narrow tunnel of space behind me within which to make a back cast Ė one of the reasons for the diminutive rod Ė but this time it all comes together. The line floats back behind me and, like a sail suddenly catching the wind, I can feel the rod filling with energy. When it comes forward the line has that tight curl that is expected of it and the leader unfurls with a graceful beauty.
Having already lined the trout and splayed the water and generally made a mess of things, I already know I wonít catch any fish in this pool. Not today at least. But having found something of the measure of the rod, I decide to stay awhile anyway. I quickly come to enjoy casting the little 3-weight.
Itís funny the little things we forget. Itís supposed to reach over a hundred today. And although itíll be a few degrees cooler here in the shade and elevation of Shenandoah National Park, thereís no doubt that this is a hot, late-July day. Yet despite wearing long pants and hip waders and a fishing vest, sliding slowly into the water brings an instant, almost blessed relief. A little bit later, edging forward in the pool, I feel sudden coldness on the thigh of my left leg. Glancing down, I confirm that my waders have reached the limit of their protection. Iíve always marveled at how a little creek which at first glance seems to be so boringly shallow can hold water of such surprising abundance.
After awhile my back cast fails me, my fly finding a thick clump of vegetation on which to attach. After retreating to the rear of the pool to rectify that, I sit down on one of the rocks. Snipping off the ant, I pull a #16 Adams from my fly box. Even with my reading glasses and a splash of direct sunlight providing illumination, it takes a dozen stabs with the end of my tippet before I find the eye of the hook. That part of things is certainly very different.
Thirty minutes later Iím half a mile up the trail, looking at other pools. Gazing down into one large pool I see a young woman sitting in the middle in water up to her chest. Her back is to me and my initial disappointment at seeing the spooked pool is given pause when I donít see bra straps or a bathing suit top. My first thought is that she is skinny dipping. Ginny Ė who knows me far too well Ė would probably shake her head and wryly observe that I tend to be overly optimistic. A few minutes later the girl swims towards the ledge where I now see a young man standing. Her boyfriend I suppose. No, sheís not naked after all.
I havenít seen another fisherman all morning, but my solitude has slowly given way to an increasing murmur of other human voices and the occasional sight of people walking past the stream. The couple swimming in the creek was the last straw and has finally prompted me to turn around.
Working my way slowly back to the truck, I pause as I pass a slot in the trail. Breaking off the path, I drop down through the woods to where I can hear the water. Thereís a small pool there. Studying the approach, I discard the direct route down, the one marked by the dull path and the flattened vegetation. Skirting to the lower side, the one hidden from the water by the large rocks in the way, I pick my way carefully through the poison ivy. Bent down among the rocks, I intuit the shape of the pool more than actually see it. Stripping ten feet of line out the rod, I flip the Adams in a tight curl to the side of the pool I cannot see.
The brook trout hits without hesitation. And in an instant my rod is alive, holding within it the vibration that is life itself. Bound to me by a gossamer thread.
The thudding joy I feel, the lift in my chest, is all remembrance. The one I had forgotten.
I think I wonít forget again.