Air Shows

It’s Spring Break around here and frankly it’s about damn time. My first official morning off started pretty well: I slept in until 6, Kathryn and I walked together to her job, and then I returned to the apartment to pay some bills, clean the place up a little, and maybe even enjoy the luxury of seeing a Sportscenter episode in its entirety. Then, around 9:30, I realized something.


I could go fishing.


Oh, yes. I could go fishing. Sure, there’s still snow on the ground and it’s awfully cold for April 2nd, but… I could go fishing.


I geared up quickly, suddenly feeling that jolt of adrenaline that comes when you realize someone might beat you to a really good idea. The waders went on directly over silk long underwear and waterproof socks, and then I shoved my feet into mocs. With the extra thickness of the socks and wader footsies I felt toenails dig into neighboring toes, painful enough to notice but not enough to prevent me from fishing. Besides, I only needed the mocs for the drive into the canyon – 15 minutes at the outside – and then I’d be in the roomy wading boots. When one wants to go fishing badly enough, one’s pain threshold adjusts.


Curtains of precipitation hung over the mountains and canyon entrance. The spot itself was at a state park near the canyon entrance, complete with picnic shelter and that blight of all local fishermen: a damned fee area with that damned fee area sign.


I refuse to pay for parking anywhere in Wyoming outside of Laramie. I sure as hell was not going to pay at a fee area 15 miles from my front door. Across the highway was a pulloff normally used by climbers, who are drawn to Sinks Canyon to do remarkably odd things like dangle from cliffs.


The Popo Agie was running clear but the banks and most rocks had several inches of snow. I had a weird little green midge already on the line and cast that several times. No joy; I moved up the river 20 yards. As I crossed to the far side, a total distance of 4 yards, a gray dart zipped upstream. I knew there were fish in this river. I just couldn’t prove it yet.


I climbed out and gained some height to look for fish. Sure enough, at least three blue-gray squiggles, ten inches long, slid back and forth in front of a large rock. Right where they should be.


I cast the green midge into their line of sight. I cast that thing over and over again, so that it dead-drifted right by their fishy noses. No joy. Okay, tie on a different fly. A beadhead, perhaps. A nice emerger. Sure, it’s early in the year, but why not try an emerger? Or should I go with a . . .


One of the fish thrashed the surface of a foam line.



Um. What?


Surely the fish weren’t taking terrestrial bugs. Surely there weren’t bugs for the taking. Terrestrial bugs meant dry flies. Dry flies meant fly fishing in its purest, most ethereal form.


Surely I wasn’t going to spend my first real day of fishing throwing dry flies. Stranger things have happened, I suppose – the rise of reality television, the Missoula Floods, the Cardinals winning the Series on my dad’s birthday – but surely I haven’t amassed enough credit with the Metaphysical Bank of Karma to deserve catching fish on dry flies on April 2nd.


I tied on a dry fly and peeled off a good cast, right into the foam line. Nothing. Again. Nothing again. I cast and cast and cast, landing the fly exactly where I wanted it, well upstream of the fish and smack dab in the middle of the foam line from which they appeared to be feeding. No joy.


My feet were cold. I’d been in the water well over an hour at this point, and it was snowing lightly. I threw the dry one more time. Nothing. Somewhere, I heard a little fishy giggle.


Then I remembered that right before I woke up this morning I’d been dreaming about fishing. My friends Dan and Nate and I were much further up in the canyon, at my favorite spot, and we were doing a gear check before heading off for separate sections of the river. Dan wanted to check one more thing before we split up. He picked up a rock and looked at the aquatic bugs underneath it. He told Nate and I to pick flies that looked like those bugs.


Now, for the uninitiated out there, Dan’s trick isn’t really a trick; it’s a basic part of fishing. Some people (like me) just get in the water and start throwing bugs. Other fishermen look under rocks first and select flies that way. A voice told me to try it.


I picked up a rock and found small, elongated black bugs. A quick check of my fly box revealed a smallish beadhead, no bigger than 18, that looked kind of similar. Why not?


I tied on the fly – I’ve been practicing my knot tying in the warm and dry confines of the apartment, and the practice paid off – and cast into the foam line.


You’ll hear people speak of lines feeling “electric” when fish strike, and I think that’s a very apt description. When a fish takes your fly the rod sends happy shockwaves into your wrist and thence your soul.


The rainbow was not pleased about getting hooked: it put on a little fishy airshow, jumping completely out of the water at least five times as it tried to wriggle the hook out of its mouth. I’ve seen some fish put up fights before, but this particular fish was full-on nuts. Or perhaps I’d just hooked into the Jackie Chan of the fish world. Regardless, it shot downstream and leapt one more time and spit out the hook and went its way.


In a way I was okay with that.


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