I remember the way the swell of cork nestled perfectly into my left hand. I remember giving the rod that was going to become My Rod a pointless, ceremonial wiggle to see how it would cast. And I’m sure I squirrelled up my face so the salesman would recognize me as a savvy angler. Later I would learn how utterly perfect it felt when the line loaded that thing just right; it was my first brush with magic.
By the time I return to the cabin I am dead tired. It’s all I can do to get my boots and waders off, gulp down some food, and then collapse into the bed, a mess of sweat, mosquito bites, and sunscreen. I caught fish despite myself, and a full day’s worth of jumping brookies fills my head, individual fish blurring into a long montage of strikes and releases.
You’d found an unconvincing, fifteen-year-old report that there were golden trout in the lake, so after dinner, you hike down to the shoreline where you see intermittent rises blinking like radar pings.
“Just wait,” another angler called without looking away from their indicator. “In another two hours there’ll be forty-five, maybe fifty people standing here.” And so it goes on Joe Wright Reservoir, where the inlet is off-limits until July 1st, and the grayling spawn draws crowds of anglers eager to stand shoulder-to-shoulder while a veritable herd of fish stampedes upstream, deep in the throes of piscine lust.
It’s the kind of place where, if you start early enough—bringing well-bagged peanut butter sandwiches and full water bottles—you won’t have to leave the water until it’s almost too dark to find the cabin again. On days like this, a small group of anglers can catch so many trout between them that good-natured competition quickly gives way to gleeful confusion.
Streamlined and minimalist, my Blue-Winged Olives are impressionistic, a sketchy rendering of the barest outlines of an insect: hackle, body, and tail with no fisherman-pleasing upright wing to complicate the pattern.
I like to imagine that Captain Nemo would have been a fly fisherman. That he would have stood on the deck of the Nautilus swinging streamers for kraken on windless, starlit nights. After dinner, in his stateroom, he would have tied intricate deer hair flies by candlelight, carving sculpted diver-style heads with a straight razor, and whispering madly to the flies about the monstrous jaws they would eventually meet.
I’ve just fallen into the river. Perched one-footed on top of a slick rock and trying to cast into the deep part of the pool was too much for my boot’s aging tread. I’ve just splashed, magnificently, inelegantly, completely, into neck deep water. A quick, gasping lunge towards the bank and I toss my rod into the willows, rip open my chest pack, and throw my phone onto the grass.
The pile of fleece on the floor stirs as Baxter begins to unfold himself from his blanket fort. I say, “My, what big teeth you have.” But he shakes himself awake in a manner that indicates he is a dog, and doesn’t know what the fuck I’m talking about.
The spillway of the Lake Estes dam is choked with chunks of blue-white ice. Up the valley and over the roofs of Estes Park proper, the Continental Divide is knife-sharp against the cloudless Colorado sky: stark, jagged, and cloaked in snow.
It's hot this week, with temperatures into the 90s and a 600-acre forest fire burning above Nederland. With the heat comes nights of poor sleep, of waking up and feeling the prickle in your skin that says the night never really cooled off