I sure did enjoy that spate of warm days we had at the end of December. Except for the vaguely jarring oddness of having a winter day feel like early June, it really was pretty neat.
Besides, it got me thinking about fishing.
I haven’t been fishing a lot these last few months. There’s just been a lot of stuff going on. Life gets knotty sometimes. Fishing buddies and loved ones become ill and suffer, or worse, and pretty soon you find your psyche kind of beat up and hurting. You’re shell-shocked and numb, and you don’t want to do much of anything. Even fishing. Those can be heavy times, and they hurt.
But the spring-like burst of warmth pried me out of my funk, at least a little bit, and put me in a fishing frame of mind. So, I dug out the rod and all and loaded up the truck and off I went. Maybe I’d even bring home a couple for supper.
On the chosen day, it was well into afternoon by the time I got going. But my destination (one of my favorite places to go when time is tight) was only a few miles up the road. A buddy of mine said it had been fishing well, adding that the trout were showing fondness for small, bright orange egg imitations. My fly box held a dozen or so of them, each handcrafted from a hook, a metal bead, and a tuft of vivid orange yarn.
“Just the thing,” I told myself, opening the box and double-checking.
All was as it should be. I set the fly box on the table next to my keys.
It didn’t take long to get to the water. I put on the waders and assembled the rod, threading the line through the guides. Then I headed to the water. I’d tie on the fly at river’s edge.
Then there it was – the spot I’d been thinking about, a spot with some rocks that squeeze and bend the flow into a nice, deep run. That’s where I was going to drift my little orange fly – right through the deepest part, right where the big ones ought to be.
I stepped into the river and stood there about a yard from the shoreline, acclimating. Then I reached into my pocket for the fly box to select the day’s offering.
I recalled checking the flies. I remembered putting the fly box on the table. But what I did not recall was transferring the fly box to my pocket.
An iconic phrase came to mind – “No matter where you are, there you are” – and where I was at that exact moment was on a trout stream with a fly rod but no flies.
For a moment I just stood there. Then, sighing, I turned to walk back to the truck.
That’s when I saw it. Right at the edge of the water, wrapped around a limb of a streamside tree, was the glint of a piece of fishing line. And what should be hanging from the end of that line but tiny spot of something orange?
I moved to check this out. Sure enough, it was an orange egg, lost by some earlier angler.
Fly fishers lose flies all the time. But sometimes they lose them in the right places.
I carefully untangled the little piece of line, tucking the monofilament into one of my pockets before tying that serendipitous fly to the end of my own line.
I wish I could tell you a great story at this point, a miraculous story, a story of how on the fly’s very first drift an enormous trout of Biblical proportions rose from the depths and engulfed it, and then how an epic battle ensued, and then how (thanks to unsurpassed skill and derring-do) I finally prevailed, and then how I admired the leviathan fish in my net as an unseen gallery of fishing buddies past, present and future, cheered me on.
But I can’t tell you that, because that’s not what happened.
Instead, what happened was – nothing.
I fished that fly for more than an hour. I did it right too. But there were no takers. None. I didn’t even get a bite. Not even one. I guess it would be frozen pizza for supper after all.
By then the light was fading. It was time to get off the river, so I made my way slowly back toward shore. The day was done. No fish.
But the odd thing is I didn’t really mind.
Why did I not mind?
That question puzzled me. I started thinking about it, and pretty soon I was thinking about why we do all of this at all. Why do we go fishing? Why do we fool with all the gear and drive all the miles and slip on rocks only to stand waist-deep shivering in ice-cold water?
There are days when we do it to conquer something, to achieve something, to prove something, to catch and keep something that might otherwise get away.
Yeah, sometimes that’s what it’s all about. We do it to bring something home. And that is okay.
But sometimes we do it to leave something behind.