Yesterday was scheduled to be the final day of fly fishing for this year’s annual “Trout Sabbatical.” As we age, the “need” to be on the water at the crack of dawn diminishes. However, the desire to do so does not. So, fortified by an unusually good night’s sleep (six and a half hours, rather than the usual six), I awoke at five, wolfed down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, swallowed my daily multi-vitamin, an allergy medication, and assorted other pills, and hurried down to the basement of our rental cabin to put on my waders.
A half hour later, and two minutes in advance of my predetermined goal of 6 AM, I made my first cast into the waters of the West Branch of the Delaware River. There wasn’t a soul in sight—nor were there any fish. But I was alone on one of my favorite stretches of water and it didn’t get any better than that (my fishing buddy, Bob, had elected to “sleep” this one out). The sun was still below the mountains when I began to fish, but there was enough ambient light to change flies by—and I did plenty of that.
An hour (and two dozen fly patterns later), the sun made its initial appearance over the mountains downstream from me. As I gazed upon the pastoral view, I whispered, “Thank you, God, for this glorious day.” It was truly magnificent. A portion of low-lying cloud cover clung stubbornly to the top of a ridge like a tuft of white cotton candy, but soon it would be gone. I need a picture of this. Where’s my camera? Oh yeah, upper pocket, right side of the vest. I tucked my fly rod under my right armpit as I had done thousands of times before, and, using my left hand, extracted the little waterproof Panasonic from the velcro-flapped pocket. I had carefully attached the lanyard to a D ring, so I’d be sure not to drop the camera into the water. “Perfect,” I whispered (perhaps a bit smugly), as I prepared to capture the beauty before me—albeit digitally, rather than on film).
As I was about to press the button, I was distracted by something dropping to the water’s surface. I looked down and gasped. It was a fly rod—and it was mine! (The one remaining reminder of my stroke is a slight numbness and loss of feeling in my upper right arm. Apparently, that was sufficient to permit the rod to drop unnoticed.) Casually, I bent down to grab my rod, but (with apologies to Jimmy Buffett) it “plumb evaded me.” The current was carrying it downstream at a lazy pace that was just swift enough to prevent me from retrieving it. I watched in horror as $750 worth of equipment floated away—along with more memories than I could possibly recount. The reel itself, an Orvis CFO IV, had seen me through 35 seasons of trout fishing. It was not only “the nuts” as far as fly reels go, but represented the generosity in spirit of my wife, who, despite having no interest in the sport, had urged me to buy it when I had used one as a loaner when we were first married.
Tears streamed from my eyes, and I wailed like a woman who has just lost a child. I’ve known since before I had the stroke last October that my fly fishing days were coming to a close, but I continue to try and squeeze the proverbial sponge dry. “Did you have to tell me this way?!” I screamed aloud to the unseen Presence in the sky. Almost in answer, a calm came over me, and as quickly as the anger had come it subsided. I shrugged my shoulders and laughed. After all, I reasoned, I did have other fly rods. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to enjoy the day. It wasn’t the end of the world.
I started working my way downstream, relying upon the wading staff to keep me from taking a header into the icy water. Suddenly, something caught my eye. It was a straight yellow line in the water. That’s odd. I stared in disbelief. Could it be? It not only could be—it actually was! There at my feet were forty feet of fly line, attached to a reel, affixed to my Sage rod. I used the wading staff to draw the fly line closer to me, reached down and grabbed it—hard. Gotcha! As I reeled in the line, tears again wetted my eyes, but these were tears of joy. At the very end of the fly line, attached to the leader and snagged beneath a rock were two flies (I always fish a dropper). They had saved the day. Or had they? I suspected otherwise. I looked to the Heavens. I could feel Him smiling. “Not yet,” He seemed to be whispering, “but soon.” I waded ashore, placed the rod safely on the grass, and quickly snapped a picture.
Later that evening, my friend, Bob, and I fished Cemetery Pool on the Beaverkill. To our surprise there was not another fisherman in the pool—and it remained that way until darkness forced us from the water. At some point, a suicidal brown trout of generous proportions impaled itself on a bead head pheasant tail nymph above a wet fly dropper. It was the best fish of the trip (at least for me). As I carefully guided the colorful hen trout into—and out of—my net, I reflected upon the day’s earlier events and that voice I had heard whispering to me. There was no mistaking its message. In the past, that would have disturbed me. But somehow, now, in light of all the blessings I enjoy, I’m okay with it. I really am.
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