Ah, how many times have I asked this? When, all along, it has been right here, on a wild trout stream.
Any that you know, any that you might name. Go on, name one, one that you wasn’t. Come with me on this, because, if the water is clean, and cold, it can happen.
This one is in the Lakes National Park - about as protected as it gets now in England, about as close to the dream as it gets. But it can be any one of these streams; the only place I can be now, unless I’m on my bike, embracing the climbs. Where it is real for me. And, right here, in this moment, I have my rod, my line. Really - mine. Tom. Sunray. He gave it to me. Made it for me. I waited all my fly fishing life for this; the ultimate refinement in the sport that has defined my life, defined me. All this, and the plume tip.
So, I’m here, in an English spring, not really yearning for the same in France, on my lovely chalk streams there, or even the San. Not at this moment. Not yet.
I walk upstream, watching for risers. There isn’t much. But I’m walking up, slowly, watching, wanting to see them, as in the old days. Neil is downstream, Lawrence on the other bank. I see him walking down to the bank from the woods and I wonder, will he stop there, right where I want to be, need to be. He sees me, and walks back into the woods and upstream. Maybe he knows, and is being kind. He can be. I have my place. Heaven’s door. I have fished here before, of course, last spring, where the post-spate waters were tumbling in from below the island, while little trout snatched at what I thought were reed smuts or somesuch. They are not now. It seems there is nothing other than a few small olives, probably spinners from the morning hatch, or more likely last night… I have set up a duo. When will I learn? Here? Really? A few speculative casts while I detach from the motions, and soak in the nature of the place. This special place. As it really is.
You might know better. If your mind is, too, in this place.
You see it. A rise, flickering, rapid, and you know, almost everyone would miss it. You see it because you know where to look. After all these years. You put in a few casts with the duo, but you keep them short, off the rise line, because, really, you want to waste this? Oh please. Another rise, and another. Out there, hard in against the bank. Impossible position, Perfect position, right where the black gnats are caught momentarily, before being whisked away into the river’s spill, if not intercepted by this trout. It seems small. There is hardly a mark as it snatches away the fly. Black gnats, you guess. It usually is when you can’t see them, or midges. They were black gnats last year too, not reed smuts. And the season before. So, it’s not really a plume tip, not anyway with heron herl, nor upright. Rather, a flat-over-the-back with the CDC over a coarse black wool. A black gnat, on a 20. Another nothing of a fly, but exactly the squat, trapped in the flow, echo of the gnats drifting there. So long as you can stop the drag, just as soon as it hits the water.
Wade in close; as close as you dare. Slow. Become part of the river. Cast a bit, offline. Testing. Engaging. The Volition, and your high stop point, sends the line out like a tenkara and nothing marks the surface. Savour this. It is rare beyond belief.
Again the fish rises. It is confident having me infringe its space. Snatches at the invisible. Except, these old eyes can at last distinguish some of the gnats caught there in the flow.
Finally, casts onto the lane, amongst the trapped gnats. The trout rises again, upstream, hard against the reeds. So, you put a cast even further up, perhaps bouncing the fly off those reeds, taking the risk. It drops and seems poised there, before any current can grip the tippet. It begins to drift and in a single heartbeat a trout’s head goes over it, downstream. With the next beat the hook is set, and you and the fish are connected. It might have been a little trout, but it isn’t. You knew, anyway, that it was not small, but you didn’t think it would be like this, like it is, as it bucks and whirls, with the shock. The Volition leans, yet there is not that much force. The fish is calmer within seconds, probing the current, perhaps ready to bolt for cover. The soft, soft rod reduces the alarm, the shock. And it gives you a chance on zero point nothing tippet.
The fish spills its energy headed into the flow, and you make sure you stay downstream. Anxious moments. After all, if it turns, and runs down there, you will almost certainly lose it. Hold the odds in your favour until the instant surely comes when the immediate energy is spent, before the lactate stage, when the fish’s chance of surviving reduces alarmingly. The trick is in keeping everything calm. You learn this after, well, too many fish. Too much damage to this beautiful world.
Maybe there’s an alternative. Maybe. You could hit and hold such a big fish on thick tippet and a five weight. And maybe absorb the explosive thrash of energy. Yes, but I wonder if you could get the take in the first place. On a fish like this, in such a place: I doubt that I could. 20 years ago I would have tried it like that, sure, and probably failed.
When it is done, as the great fish, still pointing upstream into the flow, kites in towards your bank, and you have that control, that certainty. Even old eyes see it in hyperfine detail, any fuz smoothed by memory. The trout still has energy, but it is calm now, gulping for oxygen in the stream, and you can steer it in to the bank, even taking some photos if you like, all without touching the fish. You have time now, if you don’t panic. Just savour it, and work out a way of slipping the hook without detaching the fish from the trance. The gift.
How soon it is over. Turning the fish back towards the flow, feeling the flesh slide across fingertips and palm. A silken brush. How quickly it is gone, dematerialised, with the moment. You realise, now, if not before, that this has defined your season. No matter what happens next, or any time in the coming months, it is almost immaterial.
I really, really don’t care. This moment. This connection, with my Volition and that nothing of a fly line, and nothing of a fly, on a wild, English trout stream, while I am drunk on the alliums, the sizzle of spring waters and the cadence of birdsong; watching as an immense trout finds shelter from the storm.
Losing the moment, or letting it go, but you mind is still there. My mind.
Tomorrow, a big climb on my bike.