The 4th of July is a difficult time to have some serenity on a trout river, being summers’ most popular holiday. The air temperature was a delightful 57 degrees driving across the mountains towards Brevard NC. I had no business driving to the mountains to fish this weekend. I knew from the beginning that I would have to share the river with flocks of folks with inner tubes and sandals but I went anyway.
Several years ago around this same time of year, I was easing down the river and noticed an entire family of five, somewhat sparsely clothed in waist deep, cold mountain water, soaping up, shampooing and bathing themselves. I had been on a diet for about two weeks, just long enough that all I could think of was food and fishing, and almost asked them if I could go back to their campsite to fetch them towels if they promised to scramble me eggs and hashbrowns for breakfast. Willpower ruled out that day.
I really had no business being up here and wanting to fly fish this weekend. Instead of fishing I could have been home doing yard work, landscaping or painting the deck. I succumbed to my hobby.
The best time for serenity would be early dawn. I rose early and drove across the mountains with headlights and watched the sun awaken the world. I was surprised at the amount of traffic on the roadway at this time of day, but it was a holiday after all. Most of the human population in the U.S. is on vacation this week.
I arrived at my destination. I readied my rod and flies. I was traveling light today with only a couple fly boxes and had decided to do some wet wading, noting that July was the month to leave the waders at home. As I began to walk down the path to the river I noticed a bag of trash lying below the automobile pull off. I was reminded that not everyone has a deep passion for the outdoors like some of us. I picked up the plastic bag and put it in the back of my pickup truck. Easing down the path to the river, it was my intention to only fish a specific 200 yards of river. If I fished slowly and methodically, a few native rainbows might bend my 3 wt Sage rod and then I could drive back home satisfied, knowing the day was good. Mountain thunder storms had been in short supply as of late which caused the river to be lower than usual and clear as the drinking water at home.
I walked up the dirt path and decided to fish dry, on top of the surface, and also fish downstream to test my stealth. All fish eyes would be looking forward upstream and I hoped the audience would be pointing up towards the surface. Careful not to spook any fish I would maneuver and stay somewhat hidden in the tick infested bushes and roll cast down and across. This outing was already a success. No one was fishing in front of or behind me. These 200 yards of water were temporarily all mine. I fooled myself into thinking it was my very own stretch of private river. The ripples seemed to dance with the sunbeams and sparkle in the rising sun.
I crawled up on a log beside the river bank to sit, looking downstream for a few minutes trying to inhale the moment. This piece of fallen hemlock must have contained a hollow core. When I finally positioned myself on it to enjoy the view, a nice black snake must have thought an earthquake was taking place above and decided to slip out quickly and find a more stable abode. It was time to bring out the emergency flask for a rather large sip of Frigate Reserve Rum to settle my nerves. I may be traveling light in regards to gear and flies but there are some items deemed necessary. I was good as long as this creature didn’t sound like baby rattles or look like a new copper penny.
A Great Blue Heron flew into my pool. I wasn’t really fond of sharing this morning, but I really had no choice. I was hoping that he was only lost and stopped to rest on his journey back to the lake. He was a much better fisher than I. This was supposed to be my stretch of river, if for only a few moments. I would release my fish while he was looking for breakfast. But as his stalk began, I watched and then I began mine also. It would be mano versus heron and I already had eaten breakfast.
The last time I fished this section of the river was probably 5-6 years ago. History does indeed repeat itself. Some folks describe it as local knowledge but I define it as age and experience. I will use the same “secret fly,” today and the same size “secret fly” from years past. I know this because it worked before, and it is the only size of this particular fly in my box, and I have not tried anything similar for the past 5-6 years. Which goes to show that a person should never clean out a fly box, no matter how rusty the hooks.
The Heron walked the water’s edge with a precise purpose. Its’ neck strained for flashes of movement below the surface. The flask and its contents helped to settle my nerves from the snake encounter and it was time to fish. The heron had the better side of the river with the foam line in front of him. Foam lines mean food to fish. Follow the foam and you will find fish and he knew that. Those long pencil legs of his went toe first throughout the water’s edge and he never made a wake. I watched him hunt intently. Now it was my turn. He seemed to ignore my presence.
I eased off the log gently and released any bark that I may have pinched in my cheeks during my sitting encounter with Mr. Snake. I should take some lessons and try to wade like a heron. We can all learn from nature if we just observe. Those big clunky, felt sole wading boots I was wearing were quiet but not like the gift the heron had.
Rings dissipated in the pool where the ripples flattened out. A trout fed there. I saw his lips when his head poked through the surface. Hope he didn’t notice me and my five year old, rusted hook fly, standing in the bushes right above him. Was the knot good and would 3 feet of 6x tippet be sufficient to allow for a drag free float? One can only hope. I noticed my neighbor across the river had poked at several fish on the other side but with no luck. I eased out far enough from the bushes and cast downstream. The fly landed several feet above the last sign of feeding rings. There was ample slack in the fly line to allow for a short float over the target area and then the fly would drag like a water skier behind a wake boat. Totally unnatural.
Fish lips appeared and my line went taught. I gently raised my rod and slowly brought in a beautiful, wild rainbow. I admired the red striped line and coloration of this wild masterpiece. I released the fish gently back into the water. As I released it I began to tell the fish that I have waded these waters for over 45 years and his ancestors were also as kind to me as he was. The day was a success already and the fish just made it better. I cut the fly off and placed it back into my flybox. Maybe I won’t wait another five years to use it.
The heron watched with intense jealousy. He saw the entire play enacted. For 30 minutes after daylight I proved to be the heron of that pool. They say that one can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but occasionally the old dog has a few tricks of his own!