I know there are fish in the pillow water guarded by upstream slab limestone or veiled in the muted recesses of the undercut bank, though they do not yet know I have arrived.
|There's never a fish peeping out when you jam the camera under a cut bank.|
It will take time and effort to get to them. It will take experience and knowledge converging to form a plan much like the seams of current and foam. Decisions need to be made and actions need to be taken to wrangle these fish to hand. Flailing and stomping about like I've upset a beehive simply won't do. I must approach quietly, my casts and mends must be true. Done well, it requires clarity and focus, and can be downright beautiful. At least when other people do it.
This pause before the action may be the singular defining moment of fly fishing for me. The fish are exquisite, of course. I chase smallmouth bass predominately, and when I finally fight a muscled olive tank from coursing water, his burning red eye leaving no doubt that he would continue to fight me above water had he feet or fists, I am dancing as the feet of my Lord, as they say. But that's all adrenaline and smiles, fist pumping and hooting like a fool. The pictures are being composed and the backs are being slapped, and it all vanishes so quickly.
The quiet, treasured secret comes in the time before all hell breaks loose, before you're trying to run down the bank to avoid a snag or just holding on and praying. It's the clarity of purpose. More precisely, the clarity through purpose. You're there to catch a fish, all your practice and experience has brought about a confidence and a purity of thought that lets you make a thousand little decisions, and execute them in nearly the blink of an eye. Autopilot in the best sense of the term, it's a state that comes about precious few other times in life.
While we've set the apex of angling on the catching of that one perfect fish (it is that one thought that keeps most of us going back, after all), there are no real ramifications associated with not doing so. The goal is there in all its lauded enchantment, but nobody is going to starve, the universe will not cease to expand, if we fail to achieve. So even with all the pressure and anxiety we place upon ourselves, it's just a damn fish. There's a joy of freedom in that too. Take a breath, set your feet, and let 'er rip.
It has taken years and many fish, but I more often look forward to the intensity of the hunt and the purity that it brings now. The foreplay. That moment when it all comes together and you somehow know, you can be certain, that a fish will soon come. You cover water, you cast and wade, until, all at once, through some magic of proprioception and memory, you just know it's going to come together. The cast unfurls before you, and you can almost see it before it happens. The fish will be there.
Whether it is simply a trick of the mind that we forget all the times it doesn't happen, or we can actually acquire enough touch, enough clarity, to actually see a memory nanoseconds before it happens, I do not know.
I was a musician in a former life, a horn player with a group that continues to perform on a national stage in front of tens of thousands of fans every year. It was there, playing with those guys, that I first experienced this pure clarity and righteous confidence that comes with tiny moments of flirting with perfection. As long as we loved what we were doing, as long as we trusted each other implicitly, that moment would come when the tunnel vision set in, when everything else disappeared and the autopilot kicked in, and there was but one goal to strive for in life. Deep in the groove.
That moment comes for me in fishing streams and small rivers now. The relationship between angler and fish has replaced that of the one between musicians and fans. When it all comes together, when that moment comes and you can feel the fish rising out of the darkness, there is little more pure.