I got home about 5:30 after work, and supper was ready. I sat down to eat, then took a short neat whiskey and a good book outside and sat by the river bank to read. I couldn’t concentrate on the book though because the evening was too lovely not to watch. It was one of those few evenings without a breath of air stirring and the river looked like a mirror; a slowly, lazily moving mirror.
Everything is in full leaf now and still has that deep dark green of spring. We are getting the spring rains and the plant life has plenty of water, later in the summer when it dries up the green will lighten up a bit. But for now every tree and every bush and every weed is flush with water, their branches hanging heavy and full.
After sitting there for awhile I noticed that the fish weren’t rising to eat as they usually do in the evenings. The surface was completely unmarred by the ripples of fish taking insects off the surface. That got me to thinking about fishing and I could actually feel the bend of the rod as I thought about catching a nice one. Then I thought, what a fool I am to sit here looking at this when I can be out there in it. Fishing with no trace of wind at all – that is a rare treat for fly fishing around here.
I went in the house and got down the old bamboo fly rod and rigged her up. Put on a pair of river shoes and waded out. It was like wading into cool flowing silk. The current was moving along slow and the water temperature was only a bit cooler than body temperature; no shock on wading in, but cool enough to feel good. The air so thick with humidity that looking down the river you could see the haze of it. Not a leaf stirred anywhere and the only sounds were natural sounds. Tree frogs and squirrels, some small splashing sounds here and there. Water running over the rocks downstream where it is shallower. All of the people who live in the area were indoors and it was quiet. I like it when that happens, another rarity.
Fishing with bamboo is different from fishing with the newer rods. It is heavier and much slower and far more limber. You have to have a lazy languid kind of cast with a bamboo – you pull the line behind you and then you wait and wait and wait until you feel the rod tip start to pull back, then you cast forward in what has to be almost a parody of slow motion – too fast and the line just piles up in front of you. Too slow and, well I don’t really know what happens, I have never had the patience to wait that long to start the forward cast. Bamboo was perfect for last night, with no wind and the mirror like water and the unusual quiet feel of the river.
With the bamboo rod you can just literally float a dry fly in the air out there and when it finally lands, it lands as softly as an angels kiss, and the fly floats on top of the water with surface tension. Then you get that feeling that anything can happen and wait and watch and work your line. Fishing is mostly a matter of relaxed anticipation. Times like these a quiet and relaxed anticipation. Fact is you don’t care much one way or the other if you catch any. Catching isn’t really the point.
The line floats through the air in lazy arcs, back and forth, back and forth until you feel that you have just the right angle and speed and you let it go. It is so quiet you hear the line slicing the air with the slightest of whispering sounds. Then just after the fly lands there is a swirl under it and it disappears and you pull back to set the hook and feel that thrumming resistance that is unmistakably a good fish fighting in a sudden surge of panic. Bamboo is super sensitive and you feel every vibration, every stroke of the fin, and sometimes you swear that you feel the fish’s heart pounding through the rod as you bring him to you. A quick look at him out of the water and take the fly from his lip and turn him loose. He sits there in front of you for a moment, getting his senses back then a flip of the tail and he darts out of sight heading back into the depths.
I got caught up in the hypnotic rhythm of casting, pulling the line back, casting, waiting, casting, watching the line unfurl as it approaches the end of its arc, watching the fly land, waiting, pulling the line back, casting, waiting, watching the fly land, seeing a swirl, setting the hook...this goes on for well over an hour and yet seems like only a moment. I hear coyotes howling behind me and vaguely realize it is getting dark, almost too dark to see what I am doing, but not too dark yet. The soft slow current across my legs, the warm humid air, the trees perfectly still, the haze in the distance, the slowly dying light and the hypnotic rhythm of casting has lulled me into almost a trance state, a state where time doesn’t exist. This is what fishing can be and sometimes is.
I see light glinting off the river and look behind me to see that the full moon has started to crest the trees on the east bank and I realize it is time to go on up to the house, it has gotten too dark to continue and the day is regretfully done.
As I climb the bank I think about how this day started at 4:30 that morning and had been packed full of activity, and how I couldn’t have chosen a better way for it to fade out. Maybe tomorrow will be as good. Maybe.