On Sunday September 13, I welcomed my daughter into the world. In that moment everything completely changed forever in my life. I was always told by my mother that you never really know what love is until you see your child for the first time. She liked to tell me this from time to time, usually it was during my teenage years when I was prone to bouts of reckless and slightly self destructive behavior (sorry mom!). The typical response then was to roll my eyes, and let out a sigh with the obligatory "I know mom." But now, for the first time in my life, I get it. In an instant my life has been transformed and when I look at my little girl all I feel is love and this profoundly deep sense of wonder and gratitude.
I guess when you have your first child it gets you thinking about miracles, wonder, and joy and what that means if anything. And being one of those guys, the ones that can't help but mix spiritualism and fly fishing (this is a fishing blog after-all!) forgive me if I talk about "woowoo" a bit or make my best
Fishing has always been and will always continue to be an integral part of my life. It is one of the few things that creates clarity, peace, focus and shakes the dust off of everyday life. When I was a kid fly fishing seemed like some kind of crazy voodoo-magic-sorcery. Talk about technique and gear and all that junk all you want, I still think there's a little magic tucked away in this sport of ours somewhere. Has to be right? As Norman Maclean put it, we fishermen experience "spots of time," moments that stick with us, forever frozen like snapshots in our minds. Like when I caught my first steelhead on a dry fly. Or when that monster cutthroat materialized from under a cuttbank to sip a green drake a this spring. Or the time a 23 inch rainbow that sipped my trico spinner on a few years ago in less than a foot of water. Those moments that stick, the magic ones, the ones you never forget. it's a good part of what keeps me coming back to the water, again and again and again.
Fly Fishing offers us limitless opportunities of hope, to believe in the "unseen" if you will. That is what faith is after-all right? Fishing offers us a chance to connect with a world incredibly foreign, yet inexplicably and infinitely connected to our own. Every cast, every drift is in some way a small act, and test of faith. A belief in what may happen, a belief in the unseen. It is that feeling at the start of everyday of fishing. That "this could be the day" kind of feeling. Faith that the long drive, grueling hike, dive down the bank, or thorn-filled bushwhack will be worth it. Faith is what keeps us casting, changing flies, stepping down the run, lacing our boots up and taking another pull on the oars. It's the faith that at some point we will find our-self connected with something, wild and beautiful. Faith that a fish will eat our fly, eventually.
Holding a wild and beautiful trout still holds the same wonder for me today as when I was five years old. It's hard to explain in words but every-time after I release a buttery brown in spawning colors, a brilliant technicolor cutthroat, or a startlingly colorful brook trout, I feel that sense of wonder, like what just happened has to be to good to be true. And it's not only the fish mind you. It could be the mountains, clouds, a blizzard hatch of caddis, the sight of a male Western Tanager, the calls from a Sandhill Crane, a herd of elk crossing the river, an entire hillside exploding with the color of the spring Balsamroot bloom. Whatever it is, fishing offers me more opportunities and occasions to experience wonder than anything else I have ever done. Moments when you stop thinking, analyzing, judging, worrying, criticizing and just think "wow!" That's wonder.
Gratitude for I'm not sure what, to the river, the mountains, the world in general, or to something bigger perhaps, something beyond our perception. Call it god if you will. All I know is that most of the time when I'm fishing I have this feeling of gratitude. It can come after landing a big fish, but more often than not I find myself stopping in my tracks, looking at the mountains, perhaps covered up high with a fresh dusting of early fall snow, the cottonwoods and larch trees just starting to turn, the light breaking through a mid afternoon squall and not a soul in sight. It hits me, alone in this moment, knee deep in the Bitterroot river, this feeling of gratitude, of being apart of this spectacular moment in the universe. Here I am a speck, a tiny grain of sand, separate, distinct, but somehow connected and a part of all that surrounds me. If I but stop and allow myself to be present in the moment, to be thankful, to be gratitude. During the hustle of my daily life I rarely afford myself the time to be grateful, fishing allows me these moments of gratitude and I'm thankful for it.
If all you are out there for is to put "meat on a hook" then in my humble opinion you're out there for the wrong darn reason. If I ever get to a point where I lose my sense of wonder, gratitude, and love for it all. If I stop experiencing those great moments as small miracles, then that will be the day I quit fishing for good. I pray that never happens, in 22 years of fly fishing, it hasn't yet.
So where am I going with all this? I believe most fly fishermen somewhere in some small part believe in this stuff. Thousands of hours standing in wild trout streams has a way of changing you that way. Think about every time a trout takes your dry fly, this is no small miracle, and act of grace if you will. I mean, why in gods name would a fish eat something so ridiculous as feathers, hair, and something that equates to that of dryer lint tied to a metal hook? The easy answer is that trout are dumb. Yes, maybe they are just dumb.
But I'd rather believe in miracles. The greatest of which (in my life) happens to be 6 lbs. 10.5 oz. and is named Eliza, she has her mothers good looks and a healthy dose of attitude. I pray that she grows up strong and happy and whole. That she experiences wonder and joy. That she knows she is loved. I hope she comes to enjoy the sport that I love so much but I'll forgive her if she doesn't, and even if she fishes with bait....
Thank you, and goodbye.