I was determined to make the most of the day. Even after striking out in the morning, I was on new water. I was shaking off the cobwebs, I was determined to chase shadows and catch rainbows.
Virginia has been a learning experience. I thought I knew what I was doing when I was slamming fish in Massachusetts. What I had actually been doing was getting used to my home waters. Over five-ish years I figured out a couple of streams really well, and a couple of others all right. I knew the system and I knew people that knew it better than me.
So I felt comfortable, had a good time, but I was also not being complacent. It was more like I had horse blinders on and was becoming increasingly specialized in my fishing skills. My overall skills increased as well from sheer time on those home waters, preventing me from seeing the focused nature of my nascent skill-set.
What a correlation to my own professional experience as a scientist. Slowly becoming increasingly better at synthesizing information in general, I was also becoming highly specialized on specific ecological topics. It took me moving into a new job and being surrounded by new scientists and new specialties that reminded me how little I actually knew. Virginia streams seemed to want to teach me the same lesson.
The mountain laurel looked similar, the stream bed seemed familiar, and the fish were the same (species at least). But what should have been little pockets full of brookies, seemed to be vicious tempests of eddies wanting to drag my fly into unseemly presentations. Maybe it was my nearly eight months off the water that was the problem, but my casts seemed good and the gear was the same and the flies were reliable.
Eventually I did land a beautiful (to me at least) little trout. Halfway through the afternoon, a slowly-swung leech patten in a deep pocket relieved some of the stress. Not all of my learning had been for naught. The fear, anxiety, and frustration of a wasted afternoon with no fish was suddenly alleviated.
With a touch of shame, I thought about how I was worried that my day out was a waste without catching a fish. I took a second thought though and realized it was, in fact, fine to have that objective. Screw the rules. I wanted to catch fish and was going to be ticked off if hadn’t caught anything the first time I could be back on the water in ages.
A few more hours later and I found my way to my last-chance hole found on a desperate jaunt down the stream, a race against the time I said I would be heading home by. And oh: the beautiful wild brookie that connected to my Woolly Bugger swinging in the deepest spot I could get it to. I could not believe the pace of the fish during a five-minute race in a 10-foot-wide stream.
I managed to get several clear looks at the thing and almost netted it. But on its last run, fortune favored the toothy critter and my leader snapped on what appeared to be a 12-inch brookie. A giant for that time and place and average stream flow. The adrenaline settled and I couldn’t have been more pleased for that fish to send me packing.
I have to admit, I have gone radio silent recently(ish). But that’s what happens when priorities shift, and you are living in survival/lack of sleep and time mode with a newborn; and as all signs indicate, this shall continue into the not-so-newborn category.
My fishing skills have rusted. So have my writing and story-telling skills. But the tumultuous eddies will even out, and the drag will lessen. The fly will be there in my box and the fish will be there in the stream, trying to find there way into my net. I will eventually land the right words, too. Can’t wait to get back out again. And soon.