If Paul Simon is right and there are 50 ways to leave your lover, than there are probably at least that many ways to lose a steelhead. Each one carries a lesson with it. Some are small, and some are large.
Today I lost the only fish I hooked and the experience reminded me why I fish.
After a long meeting out at Holden Arboretum, this afternoon I decided to visit the Grand River -- Ohio's largest steelhead river. Rarely does the Grand fish well in the fall, but the unseasonably warm and unusually dry fall has made the Grand pretty much the only river worth fishing of late. The flow was about 200cfs and the water clarity was gin. Visibility was pretty much unlimited in the slow pools. I tried swinging minnow flies for a bit through a deeper, slow run and came up empty.
I then switched to a nymph and peach sucker spawn and tried a narrow stretch of fast moving water that looked about three to four feet deep. I added a large split shot to get the fly to the bottom of the run. I could feel the split bounce along the bottom. I extended the cast to get it to drift along the far edge of the run. About mid-way through the drift the line stopped. I set the hook, expecting bottom, but was pleasantly surprised to feel a firm head shake and sudden acceleration as a steelhead rushed upstream. The adrenalin rush ended with a quick pop. I had been trying to feel the drift by keeping the fly line between my fingers and as my mind wandered I had allowed the line to wrap between my fingers. Of course when the fish felt the hook and shot upstream the line tightened around my fingers instead of exiting from the reel and the tippet snapped in an instant.
The experience of losing that powerful fish is why I enjoy fly fishing so much. Fly fishing demands concentration. One cannot succeed at fly fishing while thinking about the previous meeting, or while mapping out the next meeting. The river and the fish demand our full attention. If we don't give them the attention they deserve, then we learn a new way to lose a fish. When we give the river and the fish the attention they deserve, the thoughts and worries that plague us are washed downstream, carried away to a distant place. A place where -- if we were truly honest with ourselves -- they belong. Most of the worries and anxieties that we carry with us each day are insignificant. Yet they invade our minds and set up permanent residence. They distract us from the things that really matter. Fishing, when done right, washes away those distractions and frees the mind to reflect on God's bounty, the friends that we share that bounty with, and our responsibilities to pass it along to the next generation. I fly fish because it helps me remember what matters -- even if it takes a mistake to deliver the reminder. And that is why, as I walked from the river, I said a little prayer that the next time I am on the water that I will have the wisdom to let the river carry my worries away. And that I will fish right.