The Perfect Cast

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.

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The Soldier

He lays down on the ground, hard and melted with the heat of the day.  He closes his eyes and sees her, his beautiful wife.  She’s getting out of the shower, towel wrapped around her and another in her hair.  Her skin still glistens with droplets of water as she walks towards the bed.  She squeezes out some lotion from a bottle; the scent of jasmine fills the air, her favorite scent.  Enthralled with every movement he watches as she rubs those delicate hands together, so soft, nails trim short, no polish.  The ring he bought for her was all he could afford, just a small stone in a sliver band, but she treated it as if it were a million dollar piece and never took it off.  Sitting there on the edge of the bed, she draws one leg up and spreads the lotion on her still damp calf, spreading it around and rubbing it in.  Oh, those calves he knew so well, so soft and shapely.  She had her tall heels out, and he knew that only would accent what was already this beautiful creation.  She looked at him with those blue eyes and smiled bashfully as she moved to the other leg.  “If you don’t get moving, we are going to be late,” she said playfully as the towel slipped from her hair, and the long wet strands fell down over her shoulder and around her face.  It was his undoing as he pulled her into his arms and kissed her lips of surprise and pleasure at his reaction.  She giggled and her lips parted as the kiss deepened, turning the giggle into a moan.  He rolled her over onto her back and pushed himself up on his knees above her.  The towel had fallen away, leaving her nude, and his breath caught in his throat.  God he was so incredibly lucky to have such a beautiful wife, as he gazed down at her and almost broke then, but he met her eyes and the smoldering desire there as she traced her fingertips down his chest, his belly, and further to capture his hardness in her hand.  A shiver ran through his body with excitement and passion.  She pulled herself up to meet him and kissed his mouth, as he felt the rain patter down on his face.  

Rain?  He opened his eyes and was not in his bed with his beautiful wife, but at the edge of the clearing getting ready to lead his team forward.  His team, his second family, there were 15 of them in all.  Those that were getting to rest were waking with the rain; it was a hot rain that promised a humid and sticky night ahead.  His scout, Jena, had returned and those on watch were gathering their things and rousting the others.  Sadly he let go of the pleasant dream and got up, it was time to move forward.  His men and women were very good, all alert and awake and ready to go.  They didn’t need much order from him, they were chosen because they were the best.  With a nod they started moving forward, this part was a dangerous one as there was no cover, all they had was their silence in movement.  At least the rain was good for helping disguise the small noises, but at the same time, it also helped the enemy hide better as well.  When they were about halfway across the clearing Jena, ever alert, froze.  Flattening ourselves to the ground in one fluid silent motion and waited for her okay.  Everyone was within touching range because of the darkness.  He felt her hand reach out to his arm and signaled three people directly west of them.  Hackles rising on his neck, he looked to the east as if he would see anything, knowing Jena was already doing the same.  He heard a soft thump and her hand gripped his arm tightly, but she said nothing.  She was hit!  His people were trained to take pain and die quietly, so as to not give away their location.  But whoever this was already knew their location, and knew who to hit first.  She made a thumb motion on his arm, letting him know she was okay.  She would lie and say that even if she wasn’t because she was tough like that.  Motions all around as everyone moved as a unit.  Rising up enough to move as fast and as low as possible, almost a scuttle.  The team surrounded him and Jena as they moved quickly back to where they were.  Sometimes it is better to retreat a little and live to fight again.  Thunk.  THUNK.  THUNK!  Much louder this time, the sniper was good, it was close, and he didn’t know if any others were hit just yet, but they were diving back into the cover.  Men splitting off to surround them and keep watch as Ted, the medic, assessed the wounds.  Jena was hit in the shoulder, but was not life threatening.  He squeezed her hand, letting her know he was proud of her for keeping silent not only when hit, but while the medic patched her shoulder.  He saw her smile in the faint glow of the light.  Ducking out from under the cover he gave his eyes a moment to adjust.  The rain came harder now, loud as it pounded down around them.  The team was still silent; they did not waste words.  It was relayed back to him that there were at least twelve others out there now that they could find.  Then the message came that there were at least nineteen enemies deeper in the woods behind them.  Looking up and out and in the trees, he saw more movement.  “Dig in!” He ordered his team.  Every eye snapped to him and then immediately went to their task.  They were surrounded; he knew this from just the past few moments.  His stomach tight he took a deep breath, he knew they were out numbered, but a true solider never gives in.

 SNAP!  The sound brought everyone around to watch as Jena, the look of surprise on her face frozen forever, the bullet clean through her neck.  Time stood still for a moment as the team watched her body fall to the ground, her body shuddered, and she was gone.  Silence meant nothing now, in one fluid movement they all turned around and open fired back out at their enemies.  Time caught back up with them and everything was back in real time.  The sounds of gunshot blended with the thunder as the heart of the storm arrived.  Some men screamed their rage, some so focused on making each bullet count.  The men were dug in as deep as they could get into the ground, but still the return fire found them.  Gary on his right took 3 bullets before he collapsed face first into the mud.  He glanced over his shoulder and Mika was missing part of her head.  Dean and Gabe were still fighting but he saw the red of their blood run down their bodies with the rain.  Looking back out he saw that they were taking some of the enemies down too, but their numbers still were too large.  Andy on his left was shouting something to him, but he couldn’t hear over the storm and the gunfire.  Time slowed again as he turned to look at him, he saw the men on the other side were dead or dying.  There was a burning in his shoulder, like a fire spreading out and down his left arm, he looked down and saw the flesh torn through and bone shattered there.  He didn’t remember being hit, that must have been what Andy was shouting.  He looked up and Andy was hit in the face and blown backwards with the impact.  Oh Andy, he had a wife and 2 young ones at home, this is not how he wanted to send him back to them.  Now there was a burning in his right hand.  Looking down he saw a stump where his hand should have been.  He held it up in front of his face and cocked his head as he watched the blood spurt and glob down around what was left.  He thought funny, if there is no hand, I should not feel pain.  A searing pain hit his back and he collapsed, unable to feel anything in his lower half now.  He looked around at his team, so suddenly destroyed; lay in broken and bloody pieces around him.  He knew this was the end; he had failed his team and his country.  Closing his eyes, he saw his wife’s smiling face, so incredibly precious to him, she held her arms out to him and he ran into her arms.  The smell of jasmine filled the air, he heard her voice so soft in his ear, “I love you baby.”

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