Finding Respite in Fly Fishing
The world is suddenly a new, scary place, but simple pleasures — like fly fishing — remind us that some things don't change
Late Sunday afternoon, with the sun shining and the temperature a balmy-feeling 61 degrees, I made my traditional gesture to indomitable (if not exactly data-based) optimism, bought my annual New Hampshire fishing license online and headed off to a local stream. There was something deeply comforting about rigging my fly rod, standing in the gravel by the side the of the Piscataquog. This small ritual, doubling the line so it wouldn’t slip back through as I fed it through the guides, tying a fly to the tippet, selecting from my gear bag the fly box I’d carry with me on the river, is familiar enough to feel meditative, and the gentle breeze, the warm sun, the song of the river, seemed to connect a hundred, a thousand other such moments in a long chain of existing that lies somewhere outside of time.
Sorry, I don’t know what it is about fishing, but the minute I start thinking about it, I also start writing sentences like that last one. It’s even worse if there’s Scotch involved.
In any case, I headed up the trail and found a spot where I usually have luck. The water was high and cold. I always imagine that despite the challenges of early season fishing, this is going to be the time I crack the code. I’d tied on a bead-head wooly booger, a fly that should sink pretty well, essential in the high water. I cast upstream and mended furiously, hoping to get the fly deep enough to reach sluggish fish that aren’t likely to stir more than a foot to chase prey at those temperatures.
The legs of my waders began to fill with icy water. The patches on the patches hadn’t fared well in the last season of winter storage. This is valuable information. After a while my legs got used to it. People came and went on the trail. Squirrels scolded from just-budding trees.
I wandered upstream and found a larger pool where I could extend my cast, enjoy that delicious moment when the rod is completely loaded on your backcast, the line stretched far out behind you, and you bring it forward at just the right time, relying more physics than force, and the line curls out ahead of you, stretching long and straight across the water to drop the fly, at the end of a perfectly extended tippet, into the water. At least that’s how I imagine it in my head. It’s, ahem, not always that pretty.
My legs were cold, there were no fish to be found. But there’s a meditative peace in casting, stripping the line, and casting again, trying to imagine what’s happening in the invisible currents deep below the steely, frothing plate of the surface.
And in that presence, for a few minutes nothing has changed in the world, and the river is the same river I’ve been standing in since I was kid. And the water rushes past like unstoppable time, and nevertheless, the birds, the trees, the sky, all feel eternal.
If you want to dream a little more about angling before hitting the river yourself this spring, check out this first-person story Sarah Kenney wrote for New Hampshire Magazine on taking a weekend long course on fly fishing a few years ago. There’s a sidebar by yours truly at the end with some fly fishing 101 basics to consider.