Life had finally caught up to me last week when I had to put my cat, Booger, to his final sleep. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. He had many ailments and at 13 years old, there was nothing more I could do that would guarantee he wouldn’t be in pain anymore. While I knew in my head it was the right thing to do, my heart screamed in protest. I rode wave after wave of depression through the week afterwards. No matter what I did I could not pull myself out of it.
That’s when things changed for me on Friday. As Ben and I were sitting at home after work, we were talking and preparing for a weekend of fishing and kayaking, when we heard from our good friends, Todd and Cheryl Brown. They own The Blackfork Inn up in Loudenville, Ohio that we are in love with. After some catching up and talking, we decided, at 10pm Friday night, that we were going to scratch our previous plans and head on up to see them and spend some time wading in one of our most favorite places to fish.
So Saturday morning we arrived at the Inn about 9:30 in the morning and met up with Todd who insisted on making us one of his wonderful breakfasts, and who were we to argue? After some French toast, cinnamon apples, and farm fresh sausage, we unloaded the car and got ready for a relaxing weekend.
Ben sat at the table and tied up some flies for us to fish as I unpacked and went around taking pictures of the house while we waited for the fog to burn off in the gorge. Around noon we geared up and took off for the water. The scenery alone captivates you when driving into the forest, the sounds of the wildlife and river running along chases away anything that you could possibly be holding onto from a long hard week.
Ben barely had the car in park before we both were out and scrambling into our waders and boots. Neither of us could wait to get out on the water. Now I’m still sort of new to the fly fishing world, I’ve been a huge fan of Joan Wulff who was the first woman to take fly fishing by storm and was a champion since the early 1940’s. To this day she still out casts any man and does it with a smile and grace that leaves one speechless. She’s even fished in an evening gown!!
So between learning what I can from her books and videos and watching Ben, I’ve picked up the rod and tried, and tried, and tried. I’ve caught a lot of trees, lost a lot of flies, and never seemed to get it quite right. I’d get frustrated because I would sit there and watch others out on the water and they all made it look so easy.
I took my three weight that Ben gave me and set out determined to catch a trout, or at least a fish to prove I can catch a fish on something other than my spinner rod. The good news was I didn’t catch any trees this time, I didn’t even lose a fly, but my casting was all over the place. Ben must have heard me mumble in frustration and stopped his own casting to help me out.
I’m not the easiest student, but we have something that is a very important thing, good communication. He sat to watch and coach as I tried to figure out what I was doing right in all of my errors. Between his, “you’re laying out your arm,” and, “slow down,” I started getting some of it right.
At this point I started remembering something I learned years ago in racing. Even if you are doing a cool down lap, drive your line. So I sort of took this lesson and put my own twist on it. Even if it was a bad cast, I was going to do my best to make the most of it and not just pull it right back in and do it over. That’s when I felt a tug on the end of my line and I tried to do what I thought was right all while shouting, “Ben! Fish!” He coached me how to bring a fish in on a fly rod, and I kept the tip up and stripped the line carefully as he waded over to me. How I didn’t fall over or lose the fish is beyond me, but I successfully fought hard and brought in a whopping a six inch blue gill.
Okay so it wasn’t a trout, and it wasn’t a monster fish, but I was happy I had caught a fish on a fly rod finally. After getting the above traditional picture of me holding the fish and then letting him go, we both went back to it. Shortly after I caught another bluegill, this one was bigger, and then I caught a river sucker (better known as ‘not a trout’). I even had a fish on and was stripping the line and he threw the hook before I could get a good look at him.
I took a break and tried to calm my excitement. I felt bad because Ben hadn’t caught anything yet and despite all our playful banter, I really don’t like showing him up on the water. It’s more fun when we both catch. As I sat there taking pictures I kept remembering what I had read from Joan. Fly fishing is a graceful dance. I’m hardly graceful on land, let alone in the water. I thought it couldn’t hurt to try some of her techniques and see if I might not make it look like I just had dumb luck.
Back into the water I went, with a new goal set. I tried changing everything all at one time. Ben suggested I work on just one thing, not letting my hand move more than six inches. I about fell down in the water when just that little bit made such an improvement. I could actually see my line loop over my head! Something Joan had said was to rock back and forth on your feet with your cast to get a little more distance.
Suddenly I couldn’t hear the other people that were camping or fishing. It was just the water, my rod, nature, and myself. Eight out of ten times I was casting beautifully and it felt incredible. Nothing else mattered, my worries and frustrations washed away in the current. The water cradled me as I cast again and again hitting my target.
As our stomachs started rumbling louder than the water we decided to pack it in for the day. Ben still hadn’t caught anything, but he had noticed my improvement in my casting. To avoid me getting too full of myself he told me that I needed to do it again the next day. Though I swear he said it with pride in me. After a filling dinner at The Mohican Tavern, we went back to The Blackfork Inn and spent the evening catching up with Todd and Cheryl.
The next morning, Todd got up early and had breakfast waiting on us, he knew we would be all too ready to hit the water again and he made sure we went out with full bellies. When we got to the spot, we decided to head out to a different area, one that we had heard about, but never done because it is a mile and a half trek through the forest. It’s not an easy path either, with the ups and downs over roots and rocks, around trees, and off small ledges. It was worth it though as nature enveloped us in her arms and shared a beauty that most never see.
We went right out into a spot we liked and started fishing. My casting started off shaky again, I fought the water around me and struggled getting my line to lay out straight. Ben had me take a break and come over to see a sight that was really neat. An entire school of red horse sucker fish. They weren’t interested in any of our flies, but they didn’t just scare off either. We watched, fished, and interacted with them for a couple of hours. My casting even got better again.
We hiked back to the car and said we’d fish for another hour right there. I took a deep breath and sat down to focus myself. I would have my perfect cast back. Wading out, I tried a side cast to get under some trees (I had watched Ben doing that earlier). That was a fail right off, so I just backed up and decided to try that another time. After that it didn’t take long for me to find my rhythm again and get lost in the feeling of dancing in the water.
At the end of the trip, I had not caught anything else, nor had Ben. We didn’t feel as bad as we have in the past for getting blanked; we both knew we just didn’t present the right fly. However we did get to enjoy a beautiful weekend at our favorite place and those dark shadows that had chased me the week before were long forgotten. As we left the water behind to head back for home he looked at me and said, “Joan would be proud of you.” That feeling and those words will stay with me for a very long time.