Young or old, rich or poor, anyone who has felt a fish at the end of his or her line understands that the tug is the drug, an expression presently trending among fly fishers. But for me, it is the anticipation of what may come as I cast my fly upon the water, watching it float upon the stream’s surface as naturally as a bit of faerie dust. It is that moment when the water parts and a streak of crimson and gold rises to inhale my offering. I approach the beginning of a new fishing season in much the same manner.
There are my rods to collect. Memories of fish caught and those lost coming to mind, as I pull these old friends from their felt sleeves. Running a soft cloth over their length, I inspect each one for nicks and dings, check the ferrules for damage. There is the little six-foot, three-inch bamboo rod built by George Maeur I purchased second hand and cast on smaller water like the little brook that flows not far from our home. The slightly longer rod that I prefer to cast in the larger streams is constructed of graphite. Nothing fancy, I purchased the rod while still a young man. The eight-foot Leonard was also purchased used. It sees duty on bigger water. Never mind that the cork grip is pockmarked from use and stained with wear, impregnated with varnish, the rod’s golden cane continues to glisten in the summer sunshine.
Each rod is matched with a line and a reel to hold each line. I let the reels soak in soapy water while placing the rods back in their aluminum tubes. After they have dried, I’ll oil the gears and polish their metal finish. While waiting, I squeeze a bit of cleaner onto a cloth and run the cloth over the fly lines while remembering the branch of a swamp maple that grabbed my fly when I was not looking and the splash of a rainbow trout that rose on a well-placed roll cast.
After lunch, I inventory my leaders. These connections between fly line and fly are constructed to either float or sink and come in varying lengths. The shorter ones are seven-and-a-half feet long, used in high or discolored water, with the longer ones, some as long as fourteen feet, used to entice the shyest of trout out of their hidey holes. I make a list of those that will be needed before calling in my order to the same company that has supplied me with leaders for the last fifteen or so years.
The following morning, I search the four corners of our home for my net. Hanging behind a closet door are my chest waders. My hip boots lay beside a bag containing my rain gear and a fleece pullover. I discover a few crumpled neckerchiefs and a pair of wool socks that definitely need to be washed. On a shelf are my baseball cap and the wide-brimmed hat that I also favor.
I drag a wooden box that my father-in-law helped me construct from the back of the closet. It is painted forest green and has a hinged top and a removable shelf. The shelf contains compartments deep enough to hold enough coins to purchase a soft drink and maybe a sandwich as well as tools that will come in handy during the fishing season — tiny screw driver, pliers, a hook sharpener, different size forceps, and at least three clippers. Approximately twenty-six inches long by ten inches wide by twelve inches deep, there is plenty of room under the shelf to hold the many boxes of flies that I’ve accumulated over the last forty years.
Perhaps the most time-consuming task is going through each of these boxes. Over the next few days, I’ll replace flies too damaged to be of further use with those I’ve tied this winter. Others will be purchased from expert fly tiers I’ve come to know. I pluck a fly devoid of its fur and feathers from a box while recalling the afternoon it continued to fool fish after fish until all that remained upon its steel shank was a dangle of gold tinsel. Another fly, the point of its hook broken off, brings to mind a rainy morning in late fall when, with a twist of its massive head, a brown trout refused to be tamed.
It seems that with each passing season, I come up with a “new and improved” system for holding this lifetime of flies. This year, I organize all of my early season patterns into one box. In another, are those meant to imitate the various hatches of mayflies that appear on the water during the last weeks of April and are referred to as Quills.
There is a box for imitations of those mayflies that hatch in May. Easily identified by their varying shades of yellow, they are lumped together under the name sulphurs. In between these prolonged hatches are other mayflies of lesser consequence. Patterns for these are crammed into a single box to be cast if the need arises to “match the hatch.”
As summer approaches, trout will look to the surface for those terrestrial insects unlucky enough to fall from the stream bank. This requires a box of flies tied to look like ants, beetles, caterpillars and grasshoppers.
Mayflies known collectively as Blue-winged Olives hatch throughout the fishing season and therefore warrant their own box, as do very small flies that appear from time to time. I dedicate a box labeled “mini-mini” to these tiniest of flies that are tied in different colors and shapes.
There are also at least two boxes containing imitations of caddis and stoneflies—aquatic insects whose wings are folded along their bodies rather than upright like those of mayflies and another for patterns meant to imitate nymphs, that stage of their life when all three aquatic insects crawl along the stream bottom.
With my reels oiled, lines cleaned and rods readied to cast, my flies sorted in their boxes, socks cleaned and hats ready to be worn, I find it hard to remain beside the woodstove. As with each cast, my anticipation rises as I look forward to another season on the water.