Friday, July 11, 2008

High Water

I can’t say that I am a good flyfisherman. The most I am willing to say is that I sometimes catch fish. My technique tends to the sidearm, and my fly selection leaves lots of room for improvement. I like to think my deficits are the result of flyfishing only four or five times a year, but it might just be that I am not any good.
To be fully honest, I don’t really care all that much if I catch fish or not. Of course I would rather come back to the cabin with a couple of fifteen-inch rainbows in my creel, but if I come back empty-creeled, it’s no big deal to me. I feel about flyfishing the way I did about playing football in high school. I was on the team, but I wasn’t a starter. I liked the practices, I loved the games, and I did my best. But if I dropped a pass or if we lost a game, it didn’t crush me the way it did some of my teammates.
On a good morning here at the cabin I’ll wake up before everyone else, microwave whatever is left in the pot from yesterday, add cream and sugar to make it potable, and then go out to the shed to put on the waders, vest, and net that transform me from a teacher on vacation into a flyfisherman. I’ll chug the coffee as I get dressed and then walk down the road a quarter-mile to the Stafford’s bridge, where I’ll step into the river. The first time each year is always a little awkward—it feels like I am moving too fast with the river—like I should take some time to get to know it again, maybe buy it a drink and chat a little first.
My steps are uncertain and my body is not yet used to the constant push of water feeling gravity’s pull past my thighs on into the Plains. My first few casts are invariably tentative. But pretty soon I get my sea legs and my Kent Tekulve-cast figures itself out and I am on my way.
Before I ever even learned to cast a fly, one of my favorite books was a novel by David James Duncan called The River Why. It is a funny book that contains several passages extolling the pleasure to be had from laying out a well-cast fly in a sublimely beautiful setting. I understand just what Duncan was writing about.
I generally have an excellent sense of time. I can usually tell what time it is to within ten minutes no matter what. The only exception is when I am out on the river. When I am fishing the Stillwater with dry flies, time does all kinds of strange things. It mostly gets caught in an eddy and spins there in place so that when I get out of the river after six hours of tossing a fake bug through the air it feels like I have been in the river for just an hour or two.
Excuse my metephysicality, but my self just goes away for a long stretch of time when I am waist deep in the river, trying to think like a fish and gauge the wind and the current. Losing my self for such a long period of time is better than sleep. It clears my head and leaves me feeling relaxed, both in the world and in my head.
Alas, it is too windy and the river is still too high to go out this morning. Instead I’ll have another cup of coffee and sit out on the back deck to read before anybody else wakes up.

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