Oddly enough, I was the only angler in view. Granted, this was a weekday morning in the winter season and I was merely passing through en route to Rochester, but I couldn’t recall ever having fished the stream without at least another angler or two in sight along the short stretch of public water.
Several robins greeted me along the stream’s edge. I hadn’t seen a robin since my previous visit here, about six weeks earlier. Were they feeding on the midge hatch hovering over the tressel pool and settling along the snowy banks? An occasional burst of cardinal and titmouse song, a swing of waterfowl above my head, reminded me that, despite the frozen aspect of the countryside, a new season was making shift.
The ravages of winter lay close at hand. A shard of white plastic shone from the riffles. The torn carcass of a duck rotted in the clear spring water. Several small pools seemed shallower and more silted than on previous visits. And, perhaps most disconcerting, I was not seeing the wild trout that are usually apparent from the stream banks and low bridges.
In fact, with more than two hours of pleasant casting with the “Founders’ Rod”– the split-cane rod belonging to the Slate Run Sportsmen and on loan to me for a year (the term expiring later this month)– I didn’t see a single fish in the clear waters of this creek.
I gave it my best shot while I had the opportunity. Carefully delivering a variety of spring creek imitations on a long, tapered leader (including scuds and tiny midge pupa), I did nothing in the way of a hook-up.
Why? Who knows. The fish were here before the big freeze-up late in January. The stream’s relatively constant year-round temperature prevents freezing in the coldest weather, but it doesn’t prevent variability in other factors.
Hopefully the trout were just hiding from the harsh glare of the sun, if that makes any sense, although I couldn’t even flush one from the usual cover. If the rare sun of early March was a shock to my winter-weary bones, then maybe it was all too much for trout, as well, accustomed to finning away in the clouds for weeks on end.
I was starting to feel uneasy despite the beauty of the fly rod and the chance to be outside again. What if the major freeze on other upstate waters had forced the fish-eaters– the cormorants, the mergansers, etc.– to converge on the stream and… nah, I had to banish the thought for now… I’d check on it with professionals when I could.
Which brings me to the giddy subject of personal prayer.
I am not a praying guy. I don’t respond to Facebook whining about every personal hiccup with a statement like, “Prayers sent!” I don’t belong to any one religion but I’m quick to acknowledge a universal spirituality because I think that all living things, including the Earth itself, are linked by a common essence.
I don’t talk of God with a capital “G” because my only non-human co-pilot is the world of nature. I don’t necessarily equate God and Nature, as do many naturalists. What I mean by “nature” is the world before me here and now, the world-at-large, consisting of our own kind plus millions of other species.
So, en route to see my wife and daughter in Rochester prior to my wife’s surgery to have a tortured nerve along her spine repaired, I was “praying” in the only way that I knew how.
I was casting with a bamboo fly rod, looking for that rhythmic motion of the line that balances thought and feeling, movement of the arm and the sound of flowing water. At the risk of appearing over-indulgent, I compared the casting of a fly line to the waving of prayer flags on the tops of Asian ridges.
Yeah, the use of prayer flags is an ancient idea, as old, perhaps, as prayer itself. Good wishes are transmitted to the local winds and even to global tempests rather than to one god in particular. Traditional prayer flags are often banded together in the colors of blue, white, red, green, and yellow. Looking around me at the stream, I saw some corresponding elements: the sky, the snow, the chirping cardinal, the watercress, and the all-important sun.
To put it all together, I could inhale, back cast, pause, then exhale slowly with the forward cast. With the settling of the fly, I could give my humble best for the land and water and all who depend on them for sustenance.
I thought of my wife and her upcoming surgery (all went very well, by the way; she’ll soon be hiking with me to the streams again!). With all my little banners in the wind, I could even wish the trout good health… then wonder where in the hell they went to spend the late winter days.