A piercing wind cut down the exposed canyon, hitting my neck with an unbridled ferocity that quickly took the romance out of the task at hand. The unwelcomed gust pushed me back, forcing ten toes to clench numbingly to two frozen soles. I pulled the hood over my ears and hat, reminding myself that I used to live in North Dakota, and even though I was hit, I wasn’t soft. I refocused my eyes on the water, just in time to watch the two familiar nymphs skate across its surface. So much for line control I thought, as the faux bugs took flight behind me. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about my backcast.
The next cast, I watched the wind push my line downstream, sending confirmation that my flies weren’t anywhere close to where the fish were feeding in the water column. What else was new? The cold started to set in as I checked my flies for imperfections and the leader for any knot I hadn’t tied. Snipping off the bottom fly, I traded it for something with a tungsten bead and a little more weight. Regardless, with the steady gale, the change was made for nothing more than peace of mind.
Jake and I had made plans to fish a few days earlier at a Trout Unlimited banquet, where he and a few of the other local tiers were showcasing their skills and raising money for the chapter. Jake was tying a few articulated streamers, demonstrating a particular pattern that had been wreaking havoc on the city trout of Fort Collins. While the other tiers, showed off flies that ranged from practical to artistic, but all could be fished if one chose to do so. Although visually, many of these flies have been tied for the fisherman's eye alone, they are touted as the must haves, that is, if you are a respectable fly fisherman. I’m not so sure, as my vise has the tendency to prove, ugly bugs can and will catch fish too. You just need to appreciate them for what they are, tools. How many times have you heard someone say, “Wow…that sure is a pretty looking hammer”?
Two weeks earlier, Jake and I had fished the same stretch of water with a certain degree of success. A day measured in inches rather than numbers. A day that gave my rod a stretch that it hadn’t felt in a long time, almost making me think that I actually knew what I was doing. This day, there would be three of us, Jake, his dad Scott, and myself. I was happy to be included for reasons I hadn’t explored, but have suspicions that it had something to do with the fact that I don’t get to spend enough time with my dad. I miss the days where we would play nine holes of golf after work or school, connecting more as friends, rather than just father and son. Now, there are too many miles between us to make it happen as often as I would like. But that might be a simplified excuse, as I surely took living so close to him for granted, and didn’t spend enough time with him when I had the chance. Either way, you live and learn on your own schedule. You gain perspective when you have the luxury to look back, finding now an appreciation for things that might have seemed insignificant at the time.
The line was blown into a deep bow floating downstream, the result of a poorly timed mend that had started the flies swinging early. I dropped the tip of my rod low to the water, in a weak attempt to keep as much line out of the wind as possible. And as the flies swung perpendicular to where I was standing, a small flash straightened the lines bend. The hook had been set, the drag sang in approval. I took three steps downstream as the fish turned back towards me, and was greeted with the arrival of Jake, his dad, and a net.
We took turns fishing the run for the next hour or so. Scott landed a nice rainbow, Jake was content throwing streamers in vain, while I was happy to get my feet out of the water long enough to recognize the tingling of recovery. It was the same feeling I got as a kid, when we’d play hockey outside. We would skate until we couldn’t feel our fingers and feet, and then retreat to the warming house to appreciate the shelters comfort. Although, we never did quite warm ourselves properly, the windows were too revealing, while the ice was too inviting. Even after dark, if the lights were on, there was a game to be played. And as innocent as we were, we all knew that dinner would be waiting for us when we got home.
I worked the nymphs deep, trying to find the fish that had been rising a few minutes earlier. The wind seemed to be gaining in confidence, making the simple routine frustrating. I blew warm air into my left hand as I felt a merciless chill creep down my neck. My flies were drifting out of control, they had been lost to two currents, both air and water. My day was over.
I climbed onto the bank and took a seat. Wedging my boots between the uneven rock, I anchored myself to the ground. It was a half-hearted attempt to stay out of the wind, but an attempt none-the-less. I wiggled my toes and rubbed my hands together for warmth, trying to coax fingers and feet back to life. But as the day’s light started to fade, I watched Jake come tight to a fish, letting me know that it was my turn on the net. And as the familiar scene revealed itself before me, I stood up.
Dinner could wait. The game was too good to be missed.