The first trout of the season is the most
important fish I'll catch. There is something
about taking a trout on a fly rod with a little
fluff of fur as bait that seems so unlikely, so
magical, that, until I am holding the fish in my
hand, I am not convinced that it is even possible.
I recall catching trout last season, but that seems
an age ago. I haven't cast a fly over a long winter
and I am filled with self-doubt. Have I lost my
touch, my instinct, my verve? I feel as if I've
never done this before.
It was with these trepidations in tow that I arrive
at the river on a Saturday morning in April. The
water is running high and fast, not the best conditions,
but my obligations are few and it's important that I
accomplish this. I begin with the almost sacred
ritual of stringing up the rod-carefully extracting
the feather-weight graphite rod from the aluminum
tube, matching the ferrules and nudging them together,
positioning the reel on the seat, doubling the line
and passing it through the guides, straightening the
leader. Then it's on to that crucial multiple-choice
test that is fly selection. Will a heavily weighted
soft-hackled nymph tick the bottom in this current?
I am hoping it will. And though I've done this more
times than I can count, my fingers still shake with
anticipatory nerves as I thread the fine tippet
through the hook eye of the bead-headed nymph.
In the middle of these ruminations a truck pulls up.
This isn't good-it's 5:30 a.m. and it can only be
someone disposing a dead body or, worse, another
fisherman. Though I'm not greedy about water,
believing there is plenty for everyone, it is part
of the ritual that I do this alone. Hurrying off
before the intruder leaves his truck, I scamper
upstream to a pool by the dam that's always
produced for me in the past.
I wade thigh deep and begin to cast, tentative at
first, then more fluidly. I prefer to fish from
the middle of this river, casting to the banks;
it's like being on the playing field as opposed
to calling in plays from the sidelines, but with
this current it would be foolhardy. I can feel
the cold water through the 5mm neoprene waders,
and the river grabs each cast so I have to make
quick and frequent mends, but this fast action
is a great way to get the rust off. After an
entire winter of reading about fishing, fussing
with gear, and tying flies, it is invigorating
to be on the water.
And even more invigorating to be in the water.
I foolishly shuffle backward without first looking
and I stumble over a submerged log. It happens in
slow motion, and as I'm falling I'm thinking, "not
over the waders! Please not over the
waders!" but I land on my behind and, though I spring
to my feet as if on a trampoline, the icy water pours
over the top, pauses for a moment at the wading belt,
then follows the path of least resistance (which
happens to be the most uncomfortable route).
"There is no taking trout with dry breeches," wrote
Cervantes, but there is also no taking trout with
frostbitten buttocks. I cast a few more times but
my heart isn't in it and I'm thinking more about
the numbness in my legs than catching trout.
Ignoring another fisherman is bad karma and I got
what I deserved. The basement wood stove replaces
trout as the sole object of my desire and I head
The following week the river is down and a bit
slower. I head back to my favorite pool and find
it unoccupied. It is drizzling slightly and the
fly selection is easy-a weighted wooly bugger
that, stripped quickly, will make the usually
cautious trout reckless. On the third cast I
make three strips when I feel that tap, tap,
GRAB that sends a quiver through the line
to the rod to my arm to my heart. I'm fast onto
a trout which I realize, when it jumps, is a rainbow.
He puts up an admirable fight, but he is small and
I land him quickly.
Keeping him in the water, I turn him upside down
and he ceases to struggle. I take the barbless
hook from his mouth, turn him right side up, and
admire him for a moment. He is about ten inches
long and vividly colored. I think, "now here is
a beautiful fish," but I'm prone to think that
about every fish that the gods are so kind as to
put in the path of my fly-brown trout, striped
bass, even carp.
The current coursing through his gills revives him
as he's revived me. He darts from my hand taking
with him all of those doubts garnered over long
fishless months about my fly-fishing prowess.
At least until next winter. ~ Dave
Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an
avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor.
He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet
newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats)
and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.