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.
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.
From 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.