Anything Fly Fishing


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SOMETIMES I GO to the river to pray.

But sometimes the prayers simply grow of their own accord, spawned by care and question and need that the fishing and the river calm and soothe and then set free, allowing them to rise up from the dark depths of worry and the world in which I spend the more exhaustive parts of my life.

These prayers are born in an instant, flowing unconstrained both outward and inward into an unfathomable stillness of peace and receptivity, where they are gathered by Him to whom they are sent to be caressed and considered and then returned with an infinite peace to their source to soothe and clarify the soul that first gave them wing.

There are other ways I could go, but I prefer to go by the river.

AS I DROVE ALONG beside it this morning on my way in to the studio, the river had over spilled its banks, and last night’s fog was still out playing among the trees and fields as it indulged itself in a world it visits only occasionally.

My hand hung loosely out the window of the car feathering the cool morning mist, its water molecules flowing freely through my open fingers as perhaps they had flowed along the sides of that old brown trout I’d released three miles upstream late last evening.

He was seventeen, maybe eighteen, inches long.

He had hit a tiny #20 Beadhead Stripper Midge dropper trailing three feet beneath a floating #16 Pale Morning Dun on a nearly invisible strand of fresh 6X fluorocarbon tippet material. But he had only grazed the fly as he struck, and it had torn the side of his face and eventually anchored itself in the edge of his lower right eye. The resulting gash was an ugly thing to see, and I was seriously concerned about his ability to recover—especially since I couldn’t determine whether or not the eye itself had been affected, and if so, just how severely.

Still, he had fought with great spirit and dignity, and now he stared at me angrily as I held him there just below the water’s surface and tried as delicately as possible to back the hook out with my hemostats without doing him any further damage.

For a moment I considered simply clipping the tippet from the little fly and leaving the barbless hook to eventually work its way out on its own, but quickly rejected the notion. And so I grasped the upper shank of the hook as firmly but gently as I could with my ’stats and carefully rotated the fly backward and out until the old fish was free.

For a full minute or more I held him nose-first in the chilled edge of the current, hoping he’d show the same temper with which he had earlier fought for his life. But he now seemed somewhat lethargic, and I finally slipped him alone into my big flow-through creel and hung him from my wading belt in the water, oriented upstream to comfort him and keep him cool.

To my immense relief, he was still very much alive and complaining seven or eight minutes later. And so I tentatively lifted him from the creel and set him back into the flow, facing upriver.

If his face was torn, his color and demeanor were strong and good, and I held him there for another full minute or more until he began to express his anger and strength and I nudged him forward and sent him on his way, along with a fervent prayer that he would be okay.

IT MAY SEEM STRANGE, praying for a trout—particularly one for whose injury you are personally responsible; to humbly ask the Lord to take some time from His eternally busy itinerary to attend to this single fish’s welfare.

But many times in my life I had knelt to THANK Him for the blessing of a deer or an elk or a bear; a quail, a grouse or a woodcock that I had killed of my own intention. And many times I had prayed for the well-being of a bass or bluegill or trout or salmon I had fought and released, and who I figured could use some ongoing assistance. And this trout clearly needed some continuing attention.

It was, after all, God who had created this fish, just like He’d created you and me, and I figured He could spare the time. In fact, it was He who had created Time itself, and I assumed he could now do with it as He pleased.

For a trout is no less a miracle of creation than are you or I—except we have the gift of being able to communicate directly with God, one-on-one, as He does with us, so long as we are willing to participate in the conversation.

And now as I drove along beside this cool flowing river on this cool flowing morning, I wondered if the mist that now comforted me had somehow comforted that old brown trout during the night while it was still water.

THERE IS ALWAYS comfort in the water.

It is a separate reality not associated with the world through which I must inevitably pass in order to occasionally become a part of its domain. When I step through the river’s surface and find myself surrounded by her in every direction, I temporarily become a tiny component in the entire ecosystem of which she is already a part, along with the trout and ducks and geese, the otter and beaver and muskrat.

I’ve watched them all since late last winter—that first pair of Canada geese prospecting their nest site at the head of the island; the wood ducks whistling through the air as I etched the wind with my fly line; the otter rising backlit like an apparition from the twilight face of the river to try and figure me out.

There was the lone hen mallard with the seven mottled chicks, that the following week were five, and are now only three—but three nearly full-grown Susie’s that, come spring, will hopefully find responsible mates and have broods of their own.

By contrast, there was the mated pair of wild mallards that when I first encountered them had eight chicks, and when last I saw them still had all eight—firmly attesting to the importance of active fatherhood.

The best I can tell there have been seven, and maybe even eight, families of Canada geese along the stretch of river that contains the Otter Pool, and I have watched them all since that first prospecting pair I spotted last winter at the head of the island. There is nothing finer than seeing a father goose cautiously and proudly leading his family on an early-summer morning as they glide through the rising mist, the goslings following in his wake with their mother acting as rear guard, then watching them grow as they and the seasons mature.

Yesterday morning I watched as all seven or eight families came flying upriver through the air around me, and I found it impossible to tell the parents from their young. They had neither fear nor regard for me as I stopped casting and lowered my fly rod as they approached, nearly at eye level.

They flowed around me barely four feet off the water, and for a few mystical moments I found I was actually in the midst of their formation.

I could sense the vortices emanating from their wing tips less than half a rod length on either side of me, and if I could have risen from the river to join them I would have flown in these threads of lesser resistance and become a part of their order.

I haven’t seen the otter in months. But yesterday evening a young beaver entered the water from behind me as I stood still as a stake watching a trout working a run just downstream, and he was partway across the river before I noticed his wake from the corner of my eye.

He swam all the way across the current and then eased out of the water to climb a grassy ramp on the far side, where he disappeared into a tangle of wood that until then I had thought was only random and had not recognized as his lodge.

There were Kingfishers.

But apart from that one big brown trout that I hooked in the face, the fish more or less left me alone—as though they sensed there were more important things for me to do than catch them.

And so I tucked my fly into its keeper loop at the base of the rod and eased back downstream, through the Otter Pool, past the island, then across the river and up the trail, leaving my prayers floating Heavenward with the cool evening mist rising gently from the water to embrace the night. _____________________________________________________________

Michael Altizer’s books, NINETEEN YEARS TO SUNRISE, THE LAST BEST DAY, and RAMBLINGS—TALES FROM THREE HEMISPHERES, can be ordered online at—click on “BOOKS.” Or call 1-800-849-1004.

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