Anything Fly Fishing

BEGINNINGS

5 Mins read

Following in Dad’s footsteps on a western North Carolina trout stream.

Hallowed waters follow us. Special places embedded in the core of our existence which have unlocked untold adventures, friendships, and memories. As varied as the individuals they have inspired, every angling life, no matter the locale or preferred method, sprouted in these places. The waters where we learned to fish, and those who first shared them with us, are the introduction to every great fishing tale ever told. Mine, like the river that inspired it, is told in two parts.

The Titicus River is split into two sections that are demarcated by a reservoir, respectively dubbed the Inlet and the Outlet by my dad and me. To be frank, both are mediocre trout streams, rightly overshadowed by more productive waters nearby. But that does not negate either’s importance to me.

The Inlet collects itself among maple swamps across the border in Connecticut before meandering into my hometown of North Salem, New York. Before the advent of modern refrigeration technology and advanced automobiles, this part of the world just north of New York City was dairy country. The cows are long gone, excepting the occasional Texas Longhorn or Scottish Highland kept mainly as lawn ornaments, and most of the neighboring communities have been swallowed up by high density housing and strip malls. But thanks to restrictive zoning laws and the foresight of local land trusts, North Salem largely curtailed the rampant development that overtook our surrounding towns. Horse farms, woodlots, and the occasional colonial home line the Inlet’s banks. The bucolic beaty that enriches this landscape was largely lost on me in my youth, but like many things in life, absence is the mother of appreciation.

Growing up, Dad was a member of an outdoor club that leased fishing rights on a stretch of the Inlet. Before trout season could commence, the stocking truck had to arrive to replenish the club waters. Nothing was more exciting than stocking day; it was our official start to spring. To my young eyes the stocking truck was a repurposed firetruck, trout temporarily held in water tanks that could be used to douse any unexpected fires if necessary. We would line up with five-gallon buckets to receive our serving of trout, which would be netted from the tanks by a trout-wielding firefighter turned hatchery worker.

Holding my bucket with both hands, I would follow in Dad’s footsteps through the hayfield that led to the river, each of us careful not to crush emerging daffodils and violets, and me not to topple over from the weight of my lively burden. I felt a special bond with the trout that I released, planting each fish individually in a small pocket or eddy in hopes that it would be overlooked by the other anglers. Whenever I caught one from a secret spot later in the season, I liked to think that he was repaying me for the favor of his initial release.

Stocked rainbows are standard fare on the Outlet.

The ritual of stocking and attempted recapture seeded deep within me a love of trout and flowing waters, but it was a love that needed time to grow. I was not yet a fly fisherman; any attempts made by Dad to teach me resulted in a half-assed flailing on my part that quickly yielded to boredom. I could not fathom why anyone would choose to fish by such an ineffective method, especially when my skill in picking apart the Inlet’s runs and pools with my ultralight spinning rod was growing. Dad fished with a spinning rod as well, maybe to humor my fly-fishing indignation, but I think more so for its sense of nostalgia. He grew up a worm dunker too.

Nearly a decade would pass between the idyllic days on the Inlet and the most cathartic event of my angling life, my epiphanic conception of fly fishing. One day in my early teens Dad and I were returning home after a successful morning fishing a stocked trout pond. While I enjoyed it, at this time I viewed trout fishing as just the appetizer to the main fishing season, something done for a weekend or two in early spring before the winter fog lifted from the ponds and lakes that were home to my preferred quarry–bass. We passed over a bridge on the Outlet on our drive home, and remarking that we were in no rush, Dad pulled the car into a turnoff at a baseball field abutting the Outlet’s left bank.

The Outlet is defined by its brevity. Welling beneath the reservoir, this small tailwater is no larger than a typical mountain blueline creek. And like a blueline creek, it flows through a deep hemlock-studded gorge before gliding into a series of deep runs and pools in the ballfield section. It then dissipates into another reservoir, its total length only about a half mile long. Unlike at the Inlet, the state unloads its coffers of stocked trout on the Outlet, which later proved to be ready subjects for a budding fly fisherman.

Instead of pulling out the spinning rods that we used that morning, Dad reached for the long-latent fly rod stowed deep in the trunk. Perhaps in his fatherly wisdom he knew I was ready, and while I cannot remember why, I decided to watch him fly fish rather than fish myself.

Usually eager to take a well-enough drifted nymph, the Outlet’s rainbows proved to be ready subjects for a novice fly fisherman.

We walked over to the run flowing beneath the bridge, and I took a seat on the bank in mild curiosity. Several trout flitted through the water, darting from the cover of an overhanging wild rose bush on the far bank, occasionally breaking the surface in splashy rises. Dad opened a fly box and thumbed through the patterns of dry flies before settling on one to tie to his fresh leader. A dab of flotant and the chosen fly was sent hurtling through the air, back cast snaking between surrounding trees before finally unfurling at the head of the run. I intently watched this process of casting, mending, and drifting, stuck dumb by its graceful athleticism. I was filled with appreciation for Dad, who had stepped away from this sport for so long to help me achieve my Bassmaster aspirations, despite his clear passion for it. The seed planted long ago on the Inlet blossomed with profound clarity in that moment. I knew I was going to be a trout fisherman, a fly fisherman, for life.

Dad worked the run for a while, never catching a trout. He turned to me and explained the principles of matching the hatch, how in the past he would change flies at the snub of a refusal, experimenting with different patterns until the mystery was sometimes solved, and a trout was brought to hand.

We have since spent innumerable hours attempting to solve that great mystery together. For this, I will be ever grateful for the Titicus.

A May afternoon on the Inlet

© Shane Behler

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