Fear of Fly-Fishing

Fear #1: I had a personal day off from work to try a little fishing. I hadn’t foreseen an allergy problem, or the wet, humid weather, or the full moon, or the promise of heightened solar flares. I didn’t know it was Friday the 13th, either. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

En route to the headwaters, I realized I’d forgotten my camera. No big deal. Hell, prior to six years ago, I seldom had a camera on the stream, and during my best fly-fishing year ever, 2004, all I had were a few disposables. I survived. Somehow. And now, while I was at it, why not leave the landing net in the van. That way I might be assured of tangling with a big fish on the stream and maybe even catching it. I reasoned that to walk off half-prepared, at best, might lead to something interesting here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the small bridge that divides the stocked trout water from the upstream wild trout territory, I saw big ripples moving through the tranquil river. At first I thought that waterfowl were paddling off upon detecting my arrival. But no, the rippling had come from fish, from sizeable trout, swimming left and right, and chasing emergent insects just below the surface of the stream.

Undaunted by signs, I made a first cast of a large emerger pattern from a high bank above a pool and saw a fish come up. I slid down to the level of the river hole. The trout fought me like a solar flare in the hands of an ancient god. The big rainbow would have filled the net I didn’t bring. It would’ve looked so wonderfully distorted as a picture that it might seem at home in one of those “Me & Joe” fishing blogs or magazine articles.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fear #2: There was no way I could ever take them out to fly-fish. So, at school, I organized a quick Shakespearian skit to introduce “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to a class of kids. One adult male, two adult females, one elementary student. To play Peter Quince, Nick Bottom, Pyramus and Thisbe, Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius, as the whole Athenian wood erupts into comedy and chaos. Here we take 10 minutes and attempt to replicate a kids’ sense of the world. We dive into the realms of lunatic, lover, and poet; we cast our amateur moments into blurred divisions of art and life, of fact and fantasy, not to mention death and the immortal realm… It’s no wonder that Western fly-fishing history got its start just north of Athens.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fear #3: I was up on Lyman Run, well into the woods, when I met Fear of Fly-Fishing, himself. We were the only ones around and, actually, we got along pretty well together. If you’re thinking that maybe he was like that Brautigan character, Trout Fishing in America, well, no he wasn’t.

There, in the lush greenery of Penn’s Woods, Fear of Fly-Fishing had ticks crawling on his angling shirt. His boots were laced with timber rattlesnakes, and thunderstorms popped out from behind his sunglasses every now and then. He wore a sprig of poison ivy on his hat, and liked to talk of stuff like meeting mother bear and cub, and lying broken-legged at the bottom of a cliff. I pretty much ignored him but I also gave him due respect.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Basically I let him have his way on the stream, but one time I had to get rude. His casting was putting down the fish. “Jerk!” I shouted. “If you want to catch more trout, leave the fly alone after it hits the water. Take your time and let it float back. What you’re doing is lifting the line immediately when the fly lands somewhere you don’t want it to. Then those fish are gone!”

The sky was dark and the air was cool. The wild brook and brown trout were awake and hungry for a fly that rides the surface. The fish weren’t large today but they were scrappy. They were not afraid to make my day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fearless!: Driving home, I watched a Baltimore oriole chase a raven above the road. I was listening to a tape of the sadly obscure third album by Television (1992). The song was “No Glamour for Willi,” and I thought, how cool– the perfect song, the antidote, for all the troubles mentioned above… Willi, so fine, so fine, no babe in the woods, or yes? By the time Verlaine’s tremelo guitar burst into wah-wah fire, all the so-called fears of fly-fishing had burnt away, and damn if it didn’t feel like falling in love.





About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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16 Responses to Fear of Fly-Fishing

  1. Bob Stanton says:

    Hey – one of your best yet! I’ll bet ol’ Fear of Fly-Fishing’s breath reeked of wild ramps and rotting hart flesh too, as he cracked his fly line like a muleskinners bullwhip. Scourge of the waters, he is. About as personable as the painters that used to roam those hills. Speaking of Verlaine, I wonder are you a fan of his friend and onetime collaborator Patti Smith. Her album “Horses” is a masterpiece and it fits in nicely with the mid 70’s New York stuff. I used to think that her band was one of the tightest of all time. I’m gonna listen to that album right now, I think.

    • You’ve met that S.O.B., haven’t you, Bob. Scourge, First-Class. I was just talking with L. about the “painters,” esp. “black painters” that lie in wait on forest limbs, according to popular woods’ lore around here. People see ’em all the time but Never get a decent photo, science be damned. When I was a kid I swore that flying saucers from outer space were real. Well, maybe they are. Yeah, I really like Patti Smith, but for some reason, “Horses” hasn’t been a favorite of mine. But the band was really tight, indeed. Meanwhile I’m allowing Big Star’s second to grow on me. Thanks for that, and that…

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    Met him, hell, he seems to an uninvited but frequent fishing partner. Best thing to do is ignore him. Glad you’re diggin’ Big Star.

  3. Alan says:

    A fine tale. This” fear of fly fishing” guy gets around.

  4. I worry that the one day I actually remember to bring all the stuff I need will be the day I’m fishing the other side of the Jordan or the Styx. “Go back to the truck? I’m afraid that won’t be possible, sir.”

    • Wha-Hah! Ain’t that the truth, Jim? Like, whatya mean there’s no bottom to this crik? Can’t somebody carry me over? C’mon, I remembered to bring EVERYTHING this time!!

  5. Junior says:

    I dare say your writing on here is getting really damned good.

  6. Oh, thanks Junior! Nice of you to say because, for me, that’s the bottom line. Good writing means I’ll be able to communicate to the small but special readership, whom I really appreciate.

  7. Mike says:

    Wow, you are on a tear here lately. Love it.

  8. Good read. Hope I get a chance to fish Lyman Run this summer.

  9. Thanks my friend. Lyman should be a good visit this summer. Hope you get there on your visit. The stream usually stays cool through the season, unlike a lot of others.

  10. JZ says:

    Walt, I really enjoyed reading this. The fact is, fear is only a figment of your mind when fishing. Fishing alone in the back-country can be fearful for some. Bears, snakes and those dreaded haunted hills can be cause for scary thoughts. Some of the typical sounds of the forest can invite them thoughts as well. Truthfully, breaking a leg, twisting an ankle, or falling and bumping your head is the real fear when fishing alone. I fish alone a lot and find myself in places that are far from main street. Off the beaten path, is my path and I follow it where it leads. Even while mystical forces and characters behind the forest trees are always hard at play. They have always been there and will for generations to come. They are for the adventurous to find, dispel and cast aside. So I wander where the fish sleep Walt. So do you! I hope your fears don’t ever cause you to stop rambling rivers my friend.

    • I’m with ya, JZ. We go where the gods of wild fish (and birds and mountains and all) beckon. Breaking a body part is all there is to be afraid of when fishing alone. I suppose there are a few exceptions to that, but not enough to keep us away from the enjoyment and satisfaction to be gained outdoors. I’m glad that you enjoyed this little fantasy, my friend. We’ll ramble till the rambling is all done and, with luck, that will be some time far away.

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