Monday, February 27, 2012

The Homecoming

My life as a fly fisherman began at the tender age of two.  Not yet had I begun to master the art of swinging delicate flies to hungry trout; but it’s safe to say I was on my way.  In the prime of my impressionable life, I accompanied my father to the boulder-strewn gorges in the Blue Ridge foothills, and it was there that my fly fishing education began.  I learned of the serenity and balance that surround trout streams and the nearby woods.  The essence of the art that is fly fishing, I learned, cannot be measured in fish caught, but in memories created and thoughts provoked.  The fly rod is but an earthly tool that gives tangible life to that essence and philosophy; and the trout, a heavenly touch that can only be comprehended through grace.
Mother Nature had ignited a spark that lay on the back burner, flaring up with opportunity.  In the summer of my ninth year, my enlightened father shared with me his knowledge of the fine art of fly tying.  That mass of feathers and furs fueled my fire into a raging flame.  I can distinctly remember the chills I sustained as I eagerly watched him spin a length of grizzly hackle onto the body of a CK Nymph—just as his mentor had shown him.
From that point on, fly tying was my security blanket when absent from the river; and I tied viciously.  Every imitation was embellished as an offering to the universe, in trusted return for a story and a trout.
My efforts paid off one day as the summer heat waned on into autumn.  After a day of tying an improvised Sulfur variation of the Elk Hair Caddis, my father and I loaded up the truck and made the long drive to the Conway River. 
An hour and a half later I was reacquainting myself with the scenery of the mountain.  We walked an old fire road, paved over with cobblestone from a recent flood, little more than a mile downstream—our eyes focused intently, sizing up the pools we would soon fish.  Just a quarter mile into our light-hearted hike along the river, the darting shadow of an ancient Brown brought both our feet and speech to a halt—it was going to be a good day.
My first chance at a fish came in what I considered to be a classic pool.  With fifteen feet of line, I placed a sharp cast to slack water separating two small waterfalls at the head of the pool.  My self-fashioned Sulfur landed sloppily; nevertheless, my fly was in place.  I followed the crème colored fly for a few long seconds with anticipation.  My first reaction was a second slow, but my quarry was forgiving, and I managed to hold on for several brief seconds before breaking the fragile tippet.
I motioned to my father at the tail of the next pool that I needed the fly box.  With a flick of his wrist, he air mailed the small, translucent box to me, which proceeded to hit the rocks and crack open, scattering size 14 dry flies across the rocky bar—initiating a humorous blame game we play to this day.
We fished on in tapering anticipation until we reached the last pool.  My father trudged up the steep, weathered hillside to the truck, leaving the last pool for me.  It was a long pool—shallow too—but the hillside dabbled young roots in the water on the steeper bank; and I knew this was my best bet for a fish in the fading mountain light.  Stripping off a few feet of fly line, my arm swayed, and a twenty foot cast unrolled, falling on plane to rest on what I hoped was a hungry trout’s dinner plate.  The fly was sipped down smoothly, and a short battle ensued.  Hoisting the brilliantly colored, native Brook Trout from the cool water, I hollered to my father, and we admired the five-inch fish for as long as we deemed safe.
As I gazed into the glorious oranges and greens of that young fish, I recognized it as a cornerstone in my life.  That night, I learned fly fishing is about homecomings and renewing old memories; it’s about a first native fish—a trout on a self-tied fly.  To this day, those five inches of fish serve as my foundation as an angler, and mean more to me than any fish ever will.

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