It took a day for me to get into the swing of things. Literally. Feeling the rhythm of the cast, dropping the fly into the water where I intended, the sun blinding me each time I might look up from the water. It has been at least forty years since I fished, and that with a spinning reel in the Atlantic Ocean. Until two weeks ago, I’d never cast a fly rod for trout, not even once. Yet, the rhythm of the cast somehow reminded me of my childhood fishing. Cell memory.
As boys, my brother and I fished on our own. We didn’t have a fishing guide to take us to the best fishing holes, nobody to instruct us to pull the rod first to the one o’clock position above the shoulder, and second, to wait a flash before pulling the rod forward and down. Cell memory yes, but fly fishing required amendment of life.
Don’t rush the line or it will tangle. Don’t rush the trout or they won’t bite. Be nonetheless vigilant, or you will miss the fish’s first nibble and fail to set the hook.
Not only am I new to fly fishing, I am right-handed. Hence, the guide sat me in the front of the boat so I wouldn’t accidentally hook him as he steered us down Montana’s Bighorn River. The guide placed my more-experienced companions (a different person each day) in the back of the boat. I never did snag the guide, although I almost snagged myself once. The indicator (think bobber, here) danced at a fish’s nibble, but I jerked too hard. The entire line with hook and fly flew vindictively back at me. I ducked just in time.
Eventually, I settled into long, still hours of fishing, borrowing centering techniques as I stared at the indicator. That bobber became an icon that I watched and prayed, noting only peripherally the eagles and hawks and osprey floating on air currents above me, the deer peering at me from between reeds along the shoreline. The eternal sky was so deeply cerulean that I thought I could see stars peeking through the daylight shroud. The broad straw hat I wore somehow diminished me while moderating the sun’s vigor, and the waders and boots kept me dry and warm.
Focus, the bobber, but it seemed the fish nibbled only when I turned away. Pull!, the guide would grunt as expletive, sensing my distraction. Pull, and somehow despite my distraction, I managed to catch a rainbow here and a brown there. The scales of both fish would shimmer in a sunlight that was foreign to them, but only for a minute. The guide would gently slip the barbless hook out of the fish’s mouth, offer a gesture of kinship to this, another of God’s creatures, and kindly return the fish to the river.
Try as I might to treat my fishing as prayer, to maintain centered focus, I think it was not I but God who was praying. True, enough – there has not been a day in my life spent outdoors that did not feel like a day spent in prayer. To paraphrase the apostle, I find it impossible to peek into the heavens without experiencing the Divine. God was with me, I’m sure of it, but not so much in the bobber of my concentration as above me. In the eagle. In the hawk and osprey. Along the shore, in the deer. Watching me curiously.
God was watching me, and this seemed good. God watching me and I felt full. God watching me, equally external as internal. God watching me, content.