Essay, Flyfishing, memoir, Nature, Writing

Existing on the River

I snipped the tag end of the 6x tippet by grinding my teeth back and forth on it until it finally broke. My gaze was locked onto the knot to make sure everything looked okay. In the background of my sight, the current of the river was blurry because the depth of field of my peripheral vision didn’t allow it to be clear, similar to a camera set with a wider aperture. The sound of the current and the haziness of my vision washed my mind clean of the thoughts that I had before I entered the river. I let the fly slip out of my fingers and drop into the water. Letting it sit there for a minute, I took a deep breath, and prepared to roll cast to the riffle above. There was a tall rocky embankment on the other side of the river, which made a nice deep pocket for the trout to hold in. The chocolate colored water sliced through the earth, creating this vast canyon that I was standing in. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was standing on the surface of Mars. The rocks were big and dark in color, with holes all over them. Sheer red brown cliffs dropped hundreds of feet to the water. With the exception of a few sparse green trees, the land seemed to be completely brown, but the bank of the river was filled with subdued green and yellow vegetation. Being here made me feel like such a small belonging of such a huge universe. But the more I stood there, the more I started to realize that I was meant to be here, that I was place here, not by coincidence, but for a purpose. This big enormous world became smaller and smaller the longer I stood there, until the only thing that existed in my mind were the things in between the walls of the canyon. My focus was fixed on the present moment.

I started to notice the things that mattered, like the life around me. In one day, I was able to watch a complete life cycle of a fragile insect. In the morning, the delicate mayflies began their life underneath the rocks of the river. And of course, as an angler, I was trying to imitate these beautiful insects to the best of my ability. Their life cycle forced me to change my fly throughout the day, making a direct connection between our minuscule beings in this vast universe, but in such a subtle way. As the sun peaked over the desert canyon and started to warm the earth, I tied on a size #22 pheasant tail nymph, hoping to catch one of the gorgeous brown trout that lurked in the water below. I roll casted the line just upstream, and watched as the little orange indicator passed by. I did this in repetition, looking for even the slightest movement of the indicator. Just upriver I saw the perfect spot to cast, there was a foam line flowing against the rock wall, which I knew held the highest concentration of bugs, and most likely trout as well. I made a cast and the fly landed in just the right spot. I gave the line a quick mend to get the perfect drift, then quietly stood and watched the indicator flow with the current of the river. The indicator did a quick pause, I lifted my rod tip and felt weight, then movement— I knew it was it a fish. The trout rushed downstream, peeling line off of my reel. My heart was pounding, and as I brought the fish into calm water, I could nearly feel his heart pounding through the vibrations of my 4-weight fly rod. Finally, I was able to get the fish into the net and realize the beauty of the native specie. He was big, an adult male, probably 22 inches long— A good-sized fish. I held him above the water for a moment to appreciate my accomplishment. I could have taken a picture, but what for? All it would have given me is bragging rights, and I didn’t feel that was necessary with this fish. My goal was to capture the moment with my eyes this time, not a camera. It was never the goal to harm the fish, but to simply test their knowledge in their own environment. I moved him back and forth in the current, running the water across his gills, until he gained the strength to swim off on his own. I felt his slimy tail slip through my hand, and then watch him swim off to the depths of the water. Watching the trout swim back to his place in this universe is a better feeling than catching the trout in the first place.

The sun had made its way to a spot right above me, and the mayflies were starting to emerge toward the surface of the water. In order to feed on the mayflies, the fish had moved up in the river column and occasionally I could see them feeding through my polarized glasses. The pea-sized brains of the fish were wearing me out, so I found a place to sit on a rock in the middle of the river. I wanted to be still for a moment and observe the calmness of the natural surroundings. Huge flocks of birds danced and chirped in the sky above me. Sometimes I could hear the sound of a chucker above me in the steep canyon. The wind spoke through the brush on the side of the river, it was always windy in the canyon. I focused my attention back toward the river and watched the trout feed on the mayflies. I found it simply amazing how each and every creature was directly connected to each other. Everything was existing together under the same sky and canyon, and doing so in perfect harmony with each other, including myself. It was a collage of living things created by God, who intended everything to react with each other, not against each other.

Soon the mayflies were breaking the surface of the water and becoming adults that were able to fly. This is the most spectacular moment in fly-fishing because I am able to see the trout feeding on the surface of the water. Their noses break the surface as they gulp down the adult mayflies, and sometimes if everything aligns right, they will swallow my imitation of a mayfly that’s on the end of my line. During this time, I would search for feeding trout and cast to the ones that consistently broke the surface. I would change the size of my fly, the color of my fly, and the type of fly to imitate the naturals that were on the water. If that didn’t work, I changed the size of my tippet. It is like playing a game of chess with nature— It forces me to become one with everything that exists around me.

As the day came to an end and the sun started to set, the mayflies were completing their last stage of life. They swarmed into the air and started to mate, and then dropped their eggs down to the water. Once they do this, they fall to surface and die. When this takes place it looks like sparkling confetti levitating above the water with a beautiful mural of a desert horizon painted in the background. This is the moment I realize why I go fishing. After all it’s not the fish that I’m after, but something more meaningful. It gives me a moment to get away civilization, away from the mental influences, and allows me to retouch on my existence in this world.