Blue Ridge Blue Lines

Thunder echoes in the distance like some great invisible engine while the rain comes down thick and steady overhead. The dense tree canopy intercepts the drops, combining them before sending them on to the forest floor to continue the journey towards the river. For weeks, the storms have moved through the mountain. Loose dirt and debris has been washed away and now the river flows full and fast, but the water is clear. In the deep pools and slow back eddies, wild brook trout keep free from the aggressive current. But above the surface, there is much activity, a flurry of new life, a hatch. The trout cannot resist the action for long.

The rain is my cover. Heavy drops silence my steps and disrupt the water surface, obscuring the trouts wary vision. The environment is working in my favor, but my own excitement betrays me. There is so much water to cover, new water that I have never seen before. Fly fishing rewards patient and thoughtful movement, but punishes quick careless motion. My mind is occupied with the mystery of what lies beyond the bend and it is reflected in my movements. Bumbled casts and slippery feet, I am fishing too fast, and it is painfully confirmed with single a missed step. Eyes locked on a seam, I shuffle my feet forward while adding line to my false cast when the left side of my body collapses into the water. It is as if someone pulled the riverbed from under my feet. In a split second moment, I know that I’m going into the knee deep water, I accept it, but I refuse to let my Winston rod suffer from my mistake. My right arm shoots towards the sky as far from the impact zone as my reach allows. My body can handle cuts and bruises, but the thought of crunching the emerald green rod, turning my four piece into a five piece, makes me sick to my stomach. The rod survives without a scratch and I with only a few bruises. My clothes are completely soaked but the river only finishes what the rain had started. I am fishing too fast, so I stop.

For a long time I stand still, letting the river flow through my legs. The rain continues to fall, adding weight to my body and saturating what is left of my dry clothes until the water drips back into the river. I become a silent feature of the landscape, a passive piece in an existing system. Around me things begin to move, no longer hesitant of the clumsy presence trudging upstream. A mayfly lands on my arm and a trout rises. I make a cast. The fly twirls between the raindrops, bobbing and spinning like a drunken dancer for only a moment before it plunges beneath the water fastened to the mouth of a wild trout. I set the hook and the trout clears half the pool in one terrific leap, landing in the swift current. For a moment the trout works the current pulling line, threatening to drop down a small waterfall into another pool, but gentle pressure from the tip of the rod guides the fish back to hand.

The rain breaks in the afternoon. The clouds part and timid beams of light stretch down to the river where steam rises from the wet stones. The rain has stopped but there is a steady drip off the wet leaves, a soft rhythmic sound. Now the real hatch begins. It is not overwhelmingly dense or even consistent, but utterly diverse. From the shallow river rises mayflies, caddis, midges, stones in all sizes and colors. Bright yellow mayflies lazily glide through the air and jet black caddis zig and zag above the water, golden stoneflies and gray stoneflies crawl on the rocks, ants and beetles adorn the banks. The menu has been set and it is a balanced meal. The trout gorge themselves. They launch attack after attack on my beetle pattern until the fly is shredded and soaked and no longer floats. To my left, a beam of sunlight illuminates a flat moss covered boulder like a spotlight does a stage. I sit down to replace my fly with another pattern that is durable and will float high and well, a Royal Trude. Before I return to my feet, I breathe in the setting and watch the rising fish at the head of the pool. I wonder what lies beyond the next bend. Maybe I will find out today and maybe not. There is no hurry and I won’t rush.