Among the many unique aspects of fly-fishing is its ability to provide vivid firsts.
Now, to get this out of the way – first, if you will – we humans remember our firsts vividly, but let us move that river of thought to things more salmonid than salacious…I am talking about the “firsts” that fly-fishing provides.
Being of Irish lineage and hoping this is not stereotypical, it often takes me five to 20 minutes to tell a 30-second story, but I digress. American author Thomas Wolfe came into my life in my early 20s, and I think it right that all Americans should read ALL of his novels, preferably in their late teens or early 20s.
Well, he was not a fly fisherman (as far as I know) and has nothing to do with the sport, but he will enlighten you in ways most other humans, and particularly AMERICAN humans, cannot – a most lyrical way.
Simply for me, he made clear, in such minute detail, the awesome and often troubled journey we are on in this world. So, what does this have to do with fly-fishing? The journey, and the stories.
If you ask someone who is passionate about fly-fishing, “Where was the first place you caught a fish on a fly?” you will receive an enthusiastic recounting. Here’s mine…
I am a born and bred Pennsylvania boy, and much of American fly-fishing lore was born in the beautiful trout rivers across that commonwealth. And this is where I tie (pun intended) Thomas Wolfe to my own fly-fishing first – the dry fly.
The purple hue of a timeless summer evening began to envelope me as I stood in Fishing Creek near Benton, Pa., casting with hope that I would experience what I came for – the catching of a trout. I must tell you, I did not know what I was doing. This was 1984, and I sensed a belief that I could accomplish something (catch a trout on a fly) that I had never experienced.
What I do vividly remember is paying 80 or 90 cents for an “Iron Blue Dun” dry fly (a lot of money then for a freshly minted college grad). I believe it was a size 12, and the guy in the hardware store assured me it would “work.” Yes, a hardware store.
Back to Thomas Wolfe.
I stood in the trout stream casting and casting, to no avail. No trout. Nothing rising except my own frustration as the sun began to set over rolling hills that surrounded my own unfolding drama, but then…Across from me – it seemed far too distant, too far for my meager casting abilities at that time – was the beginning of a memory.
A small circle started to take shape underneath the water. We’ve all seen this prefiguring of success in some form, whether you fly-fish or not, but at that time I was fly-fishing, and this was what I had waited for. I cautiously waded deeper in the water until I could safely go no farther. I positioned myself as best I could to cast to what I hoped and believed was a trout. It took much time, patience and resolve, but on one cast out of many, and I mean many, the brown trout rose, sipped in my artificial fly – and I was transformed.
You see, I hooked that trout, but it really hooked me. Why else would I be talking about a singular moment from a humid, soft and cool summer evening so many years ago?
What we pack with us, and what we remember.
We’ll talk again …