Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

It began not at all according to plan. My alarm didn’t go off, and that was a big deal because it meant I’d likely not be the first one on the stream and not get my favorite bend, my favorite riffle. Shivering through a cold shower without giving the water in the pipes time to transition from solid to liquid, I sought to make up for lost minutes. Then the truck wouldn’t start either because I’d left the dome light on all night, and I had to jump it, which wasted more time. Fog and an unbelievably slow double-semi on the narrow approach road pretty much iced it: I was late. Then finally arriving to find that most of my fly boxes and tippet spools were still snoozing at home left no doubt…the Fly Fishing god–or The Great Trout, if you envision imaginary deities that way–had it in for me this morning.

Setting up, dropping the line backward through the guides four times in my haste, and hunting fruitlessly for my jacket which didn’t appear to be on hand either, I wondered what I’d done to deserve this. Had I been bragging? Oh, yeah, I had…I’d boasted repeatedly at work about how I’d finally “figured this stream out.” I’d set my plans around some master theory that I was certain would make for a big morning. Maybe that hadn’t been such a good idea…pride goeth before the dunking, after all. Quickly I reset my attitude from “sure to catch big ones left and right” to “sure to catch just a couple of big ones.” That oughta do it, right? That oughta be enough.

Where was that right boot? I’d have to ruin one of my tennis shoes. I pried the neoprene wader foot into it and limped up the trail, one boot, one doomed sneaker, klomp, scuff. A lady walking an Aussie Shepherd scurried off the trail when she saw me, the dog barking madly at the lurching nitwit with two different shoes.

Sure enough, my preferred water had some young goof standing in it, probably flailing his sure-to-be-a-department-store rod back and forth, probably getting his polyester made-to-catch-fishermen fly into the water behind him more often than in front. I scoffed audibly at how gracelessly other people fish and assured myself I had never looked like that. Choosing a spot a little above his position but still in sight, hoping he’d tire of his useless antics so I could move in, and still muttering at how clumsy some people are, I slipped and fell on entry into the water, just barely managing to keep the rod in the air. Getting up, I instantly felt my left toes go cold and squishy. A leak in the waders, dang it–must have been those briars I fell through. I reset my expectations on the comfort factor and moved into deeper flow.

My first cast came back with an empty tippet…hadn’t that been a proper clinch knot? I was sure I’d done it right the night before when I’d pre-tied it to the leader. The special feathered thing I’d tied on, one of a dozen the rest of which were sitting on the kitchen table at home, had been one reason I’d been expecting to do so well today. Voicing disdain for dainty little bug thingies, I’d come up with a super-streamer of my own design that represented “a serious hunk of meat” and just knew it’d work wonders…my self-proclaimed masterful instincts were, after all, masterful…but now the only one I had on hand seemed to have fallen off the tippet, courtesy of a knot gone awry. A genius of a fly…I’d been dying to try it…and now here I stood with nothing on my line and nothing in my pockets but the wrong box, full of huge hairy saltwater beasts. Groping every pocket in hopes I might have something mountain-stream-sized, I managed to send my entire collection of polymer-coated lead-substitute size-calibrated British-made split shot to the bottom. Why, Oh Great Trout, are you doing this to me???

I heard a whoop from downstream and realized the idiot in my spot was into a nice fish. To my eyes he was playing it all wrong, but he still failed to lose it. Now shivering uncontrollably, I tried to put a Size 9/0 Lefty’s Deceiver on my leader–ended up using five granny knots because I just couldn’t get my fingers working, what with no jacket and the morning chill. My left wader leg was full to above the knee.

The sun was well up…another whoop from downstream. The nerve of that kid…I didn’t even look to see how bent his rod was this time. I cast and somehow caught a tall thistle behind me–this huge fly was all wrong for my light line, I told myself aloud. Not my fault! I waded back and disentangled, and then tried again, more of a heave this time, across and down, paying out line to get the distance I couldn’t get with my horrible casts. Worked it all the way back…let me feel a strike, one little tug, oh please…nothing. But no surprise, I guess–Ol’ Lefty never said this huge chartreuse and royal blue thing would tempt anything smaller than a Mahi Mahi. It was probably as big as the trout in this stream. I tried again and again, as the sun rose.

“Whooooeeee!” yet again, from below. Shut up, I growled. Why wasn’t he leaving? I realized the answer to that one was obvious–the moron was somehow doing well. I switched from hoping he’d get discouraged to hoping his arms would get tired from fighting big fish.

Something felt different on my back, and it came to me that my net wasn’t hanging there–not that I needed it anyway. I guessed I’d left it home with the other stuff. A sudden light wind kicked up and my Deceiver blew back on me during a cast…that is, a heave. Wow, I never knew ears had such tender nerve endings…I used the forceps to yank the hook out, and just let it bleed in disgust. In the pain of the quick pull I sent the forceps to join the erstwhile split shot at the bottom.

And at that point, I almost…almost, mind you…made the next logical colossal mistake of the morning and of my entire fly fishing career–I *almost* blamed this morning on The Great Trout.

But I caught myself in time. Deep down I knew the truth–I’d been bragging for weeks at work, boasting and strutting and predicting with impunity. Tempting fate. I was Mister Fly Fishing in my colleagues’ eyes, and dang, but I’d milked it! I’d been expecting to do so well this morning, staring at the calendar page for more than a month, imagining how masterfully I’d ply these waters, reveling in how brilliantly I’d tied my special new pattern. I’d said aloud that I wouldn’t–couldn’t–fail. Had my leaving half my gear at home been innocent bad luck? Or was I being taught a lesson? If that was the case, I had about an hour to turn things around, and…okay, dang it…I intended to do just that. “Oh Great Trout,” I whispered audibly into the air, “I know I’ve been an egotist and a lout. I’ve shown you disrespect, and my insolent ego has insulted your world and everything in it…and I’m sorry. By all accounts I’m just another clumsy idiot; I have a lot to learn…I’ll ALWAYS have a lot to learn.” I took a gulp of air and continued. “If you could see it within your Great Stream Ecosystem, your Great Design, to show me a little pity today, and to take me once again as your lowliest student, I promise to be loyal and respectful for the rest of my days.” I thought for awhile, listening to the sweet gurgle of the water and the rustle of the grass on the near bank, all of it mulling over what it had heard me say, all of it trying to decide just how sincere I really was. I’d have lit a lump of incense if I’d had one on me, and I tried to recall some Latin, that I might repeat my pledge in more official lingo, but found I couldn’t conjugate verbs anymore and so just went back to speaking from the heart. “Won’t you please,” I summarized, wiping a tear, “please, if you would, believe me? Amen.”

Silence; water gurgling.

“…And would you please let me know in some way that you’ve heard my confession, and my plea? Won’t you speak to me in some profound, supernatural way of your choice?”

“Whoooooooooeeeeeeeee!” from downstream.

I sagged, and water went over my wader tops–it wasn’t quite the apparition I’d hoped for. But I knew a Sign when it hit me in the gut. Was the Great Trout really going to exact this ultimate price of me? Okay…so be it…I swallowed my pride, sloshed my legful of water up the bank, and took the walk of shame. “Uh…excuse me, sir….” I said when I arrived, realizing it might have been the first time I’d ever addressed someone younger than my son’s son as “sir”…and I waited until the teenager had released another very nice fish…and then I humbled myself to asking what he was using.

“Don’t know the name, but it looks like this,” he offered graciously, showing me a dainty little olive Baetis emerger thing. “Here, try one,” he said with a smile, dribbling three of them into my shaking palm. They were home-tied, and pretty nicely done. “I’m swingin’ ’em below in this riffle,” he said. “They seem to hit just at the bottom of the swing.”

I nodded my thanks.

“They’re weighted, so you won’t need any split shot,” he advised with a smile, and I almost coughed up the previous night’s dinner. “And…uh…oh!” he added as an afterthought. “This yours? Good thing they make ’em out of wood.” He handed me my net and gave a wink.

I thanked him, retired Deceptive Lefty The Mahi-Killer to my vest’s wool patch on the upstream walk, and tied on one of the tiny olive nymphs. I re-entered the current and this time kept my footing. A hint of a rise appeared off to my right. I laid out a cast, and let it glide down to the tail end of a little riffle, and kept my finger on the line. The water’s sweet gurgle sounded just a little sweeter.

2 Comments

  1. Michael, thank you for your article. I just returned from a solo two weeks of camping and fishing in AZ., UT, and CA, and made so many missteps, that I was beginning to believe that I had, what surely could only be described as dementia, and that it would be obvious to anyone who watched me for more that a minute or two. As I read through your piece, I began laughing a little harder with each paragraph that my family wanted to know what was so funny. I shared my experience in a comparison with yours, and they too thought that you were funny and that I had dementia.

  2. Thanks Larry, for the reply; I just now came across it. But I think you have it backwards–your experiences were no doubt humorous, whereas I have dementia. What sport are we talking about again? 🙂

    – Mike

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