I went fishing in Eastern Washington near Cle Ellum – the Teanaway. The most beautiful possible summer day – warm, not hot – astoundingly blue sky. I live in Western Washington. The halves of the state differ by rain fall – it all tends to fall on the west – stopped by the Cascades – so that on east side the small river runs, as it would on the west side, cold, fast and clean, but it surrounded by banks of large needled pines and dry grass. There is an open understory unlike the crowded cedars, firs and drooping hemlocks to the west.
I did not get to fish last year but three times – my summer was taken up by other tasks. Not only that but the first time I did my car was broken into. Even this summer I have been occupied with getting my house ready to try and sell in the most depressed housing market of the century. I might not sell it after all…
So here I was at last, the tail end of July 2011, in welcoming waters – second cast and a willing cut-throat was on my attractor fly. So small I don’t even use my reel, just lay the rod down and pull the five inch fish in by hand – wetting them now that he is within reach to not disturb the ‘slime’ I pull the hook out with the forceps as quickly as possible. It’s been a very long time – but it’s all here in my motor memory – reading the water, walking in the river, reading the water again, casting, watching the float, looking for what might be a strike and setting the hook. I don’t even have to think. My mind goes blissfully blank as I walk, cast to likely places and catch and release beautiful fish. They are mine for a moment – we meet and separate. I am the Zen master of my thoughts while fly-fishing.
But when I’m back to my day to day routine I often begin to feel that life is so dismal and I wonder if I want to live at all. I’ve found the transition very difficult from the sublime times of doing anything so engrossing like fishing or working on my art, riding my new bicycle or going to my dance class. I enter that state where the self disappears – the state of flow –where the activity is greater than the self and I am at peace because there is no me. But again, coming out, then there seems to be only me and that great sense of pointlessness and that leads to depression and even suicidal thoughts.
My therapist suggests that I try to remember on the river how the me actually feels – kind of ease the transition back to my awareness from the state of flow – go into the wonder of fishing, but not leave my troubles too far behind else the pain of picking them up again will feel too great.
I got to a deep pool – not very big – but deep. It was at the bottom of a small fall. I had only about ten feet of distance for the float before the fly would come to a log that I didn’t want to hook – the presentation had to be just right in the fast water – I might get three or four chances but that would be all.
I didn’t really have to think too much about it – I just knew how to stalk this unseen fish, to position myself in the river to approach the sweet spot where he would be feeding in the seam of the current – I worked my way down the opposite riffle so I could fish upstream a little – that would create the least drag – and just cast. It was all perfect, the hook set and the rod bent.
I reasoned it must be the speed of the water that was causing the pull as I got this fish on the reel and played him right and left pulling him in towards me and walking towards him where the line was in the water so I could get him out quickly and return him safely.
As I got closer I realized the pull was not the current – it was a fairly large fish! I played him into the slower water so as to not hurt him and get a good look. Most of these trout fit easily into my small hands but this one was fat. I laid him out in my hand from finger-tip down past my wrist. Then I let him go.
Now a nine inch fish might seem unimpressive, indeed, I’ve caught a seventy pound tarpon on a nine-weight fly rod, but that was in the Everglades and this cut-throat was a very large trout for this river and felt like a prize. Like something precious had been given to me. But I considered it was not effortless – how long have I spent on these small rivers? I’ve been fly-fishing now twenty-four years – and sixteen of them on shallow sweet small rivers, rivers that an unassuming and short woman can wade safely. I had the skills. I own them, they are part of me.
So I was glad for the fish too numerous to keep count of that day. But I did as it was suggested and took time to remember – to take into account the things that were making me feel sad so that these disparate realities could be true at the same time. And it was a good thing. The wonder of my fish and the automatic way in which I found him had no less glory. Nor did the pain of my everyday life away from the river grow any less woeful – but the gap between them began to close.