I started this project because originally I wanted to get back to me. I wanted to find fulfillment in something I had once loved to do, that had gotten away from me.
Throughout this first month, I was surprised in how this project affected my wellbeing. I have been able to meet and work with some pretty neat people. All these people are living their own lives and are on their own journey to pursuing happiness and finding meaning in what they are doing.
There were days when I wanted to go fishing and days when I wanted to stay at home. Regardless of how the day started, I found that I never regretted getting out on the water. It brought this “alive-ness” back that was exciting and fun. I liken it to the feeling you get when you have anticipation for an exciting trip or meeting with a friend or going to a concert or road trip.
You never know what the water will bring you that day. The casting may be difficult due to brush or the bank behind you or the wind, but then you get that perfect cast laid out on the water and you see a ripple as a fish swims by under the surface. Or you catch a fin break the surface out of the corner of your eye. The feeling of “what if” or “just one more cast”…I just come alive.
That is one piece that I love so much about fly fishing. It brings me to life. I don’t have to anticipate a big trip or something overly exciting…because the feeling I get when I very hopefully send my line out onto the water and anticipate the tug and the shake and the fight, well it is the same feeling all in a place that is fully accessible to me at any time. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant event to bring me to life – it is any river or stream or pond in this beautiful place I live.
One weekend, my son Lane and I went to a river that we drive by all the time. Driving in and seeing a couple other trucks parked there I was thinking, this isn’t going to work. There are other people here. There are always people here. It is right off the road, we have been here before. It isn’t anything extraordinary. It was heavy, I was already expecting disappointment. But as soon as we started to pick our way down the trail and saw all the things you tend to discover when you’re in nature, everything else just melted away.
I received that place differently than I ever had before. It was beautiful, the sun was warm, we shed our coats. We laughed as my dog Berty drug a rotting deer leg out of the trees. I didn’t even mind when she raced in circles around us and ran right through the hole I was wanting to fish. We simply enjoyed that moment. We soaked up the sun. We listened to the water. We watched the geese. We followed animal tracks. It was the ordinary and we felt alive.
We didn’t catch any fish that day. But we were filled with joy from our time together and the potential to catch fish. It was the same old place we had been to before, we had driven by and explored several times. But this time I saw it differently because I felt like I was growing and moving forward. Maybe that is why I love being near this moving water so much. It’s rushing reminds me of movement and growth and alive-ness.
Lane was patient and encouraging. And as soon as we got back to the truck, he suggested we stop at the gas station for ice cream sandwiches. He remembers me telling him that when I was a kid, every time I went hunting with my dad or we went and worked cows, we stopped for ice cream sandwiches on the way home. Even in the middle of nowhere. Even in the middle of winter. So we did! And with the heat on full blast we ate our ice cream sandwiches.
So you might be wondering if I caught my January fish! Well, there was one day I went out mid January. It was 28 degrees. No wind. I picked up my friend from Casper and we headed to a popular fishing spot west of town. We caught up on life during the drive and solved the world’s problems…as many people do on their way to go fishing.
I had just gotten off a phone call that had left me emotional and upset. I was disappointed that I had started out anticipating having such a great day…and it spiraled quickly down the drain. It was a situation that I wasn’t able to control and left me feeling hurt and deceived. I had been betrayed by someone I trusted. I was so irritated that my day had been ruined, all I wanted to do was to just stop at the local dive bar, have a couple beers, and head home.
But we decided we would regret wasting a non-windy day, so we found a spot on the river and stepped out of the truck. The second my boots crunched in the snow, I knew it was the right decision. The air was the kind of crisp that makes the snow squeak and echo with every step. I took a deep breath simply so I could feel the coldness fill my chest. I heard the rushing water and was reminded of growth. I was alive. I could feel the coldness bite my cheeks. I watched as, what used to be cold air, was released as warm puffs of breath floating in front of me.
I began to assemble my fly rod. With every section that was connected and lined up, I began to feel this release. Yes, my emotions were raw, but here they were flowing from me as I put my rod together piece by piece. They no longer consumed me and I began to feel a sense of peace as I finished attaching my reel. The incident that morning didn’t take away from who I am, didn’t make me less of a person. Didn’t take away from the growth I have experienced. Didn’t reflect my worth. It’s the beauty of just letting go.
By the time I had tied on my fly, and it took a few tries due to my cold stiff fingers, I had refocused for the day and was ready to catch my first fish of 2022. I stepped toward the river, determined to do what I came to do.
Now, it wasn’t an easy time down by the river. Although the sun was warm, it did nothing to hold back the cold. Casting, in the beginning, was difficult. I couldn’t find my rhythm. The balance between the end of my rod and the weight on my line didn’t feel right. I was getting caught up in the reeds. My guides were freezing up and the line just wouldn’t cast smoothly. I cleared my guides, and then I focused on the feel. I tried to find my rhythm. I relaxed and enjoyed the moment and let it come naturally. I eventually found the balance between my rod and the weight on my line. And it felt good. I found the sweet spot on my mend and watched the indicator float smoothly in the current.
And the fish hit…little fish sticks. Yearlings just hatched out last summer, it seems as if I had found the nursery. Feisty and aggressive. They were swimming in the shallow water to avoid the bigger fish in the deep runs. I couldn’t get my line out far enough to get to the bigger fish without getting snagged on my back cast. I considered getting my waders out and moving about 10 feet off shore, but I just didn’t want to stop! And thats okay because my cast felt good and the mending felt good. I started with a rockworm and caught my first trout of 2022. As I held him up for a quick photo, I laughed at the size of this little guy. I switched it out with a mayhem midge and caught four more. By then our fingers were frozen and we were ready to get some lunch. We hiked back to the truck and broke down our rods. We went to the nearest bar and ordered rocky mountain oysters, beer, and cheeseburgers. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.
I learned that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I have an entire row of midges and rock worms in my fly box. But I always choose one of the dozens of others I have, thinking – ooo this looks good! This one’s pretty! Tony said that they’d be hungry for whatever they find under the water year round…and he was right. I also learned a little about weights, which I rarely used before. I paid attention to when the fish hit my fly and it was usually right near the end of my drift. I got to where I almost anticipated that tug right as my indicator was nearing the end and it helped me get used to what it felt like.
Like I said before, I am doing this to find myself again…get back to me. Rediscover fulfillment in something I used to love. And literally wallow in the beauty of letting go. Well, I find it appropriate that I was given an opportunity that morning to put it into practice…on the same day I caught my first fish of the year. And the first fish I released in 2022, helped me learn again about the beauty of letting go.