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December 08, 2016
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Why we fish

The most captivating way I know to embrace nature and immerse yourself in another reality is to slip into a river or to jump in a boat and go fishin’. Just going fishing is its own reward.

Now some of us get the fishing bug more seriously than others. For some, the occasional toss of a bobber or chucking a plug a couple of times is quite enough fun. (An occasional fish or two doesn’t hurt either.) At the other extreme, are those whose life is focused and centered on fishing, when a day without fishing is downright painful, when, if you can’t get on the water, you reread “Land of Little Rivers” or “Old Man and the Sea” for the umpteenth time. Anyone so afflicted looks forward to one event every so often that will forever remain etched in memory. It could be getting your first salmon, or your first big trout. Who would ever forget a fine trout taken on bamboo on a beautiful spring day on the Beaverkill? Sometimes it’s the first fish for a child or grandchild of yours, or maybe a fishing expedition somewhere that works out just as hoped and planned.

This season I had a wonderful memory moment while fishing the Lackawaxen River nearby my home across the Roebling Aqueduct at the Delaware River. I fly fish this river often. It offers many named holes and runs to choose from.

Naturally, I have a favorite spot, and of course, in keeping with fishing custom and tradition, I am not going to name it here. We never want to talk about our secret spot as it may quickly become invaded by a horde of one or two other fishermen. I have fished my favorite spot a dozen or more times every year for the past 20 years. I seek the river after the travails of the day. Sometimes in June, I don’t get to the river until late, but I always stay at least a half hour after dark.

Dark is the time of big brown trout. The old timers say “When you’re stoppin’ fishing is when you should just be startin”. So I do quite a bit of fishing in the dark, casting to faint movements and sounds with a White Wulff. As I shuffle around the pool in the dark, I have come to know the underwater terrain about as well as I know my own garden. Or at least, so I thought.

Recently, my son Josh and granddaughter Emma came up from Florida for a short visit. I had been away on the Salmon River, messin’ with King Salmon. When I got home, Josh had already honed in on the Lackawaxen and had taken some nice browns and rainbows. Off we go to my favorite hole, and eagle-eye Josh spots a riser and then another in a small braid of water on the other side, vastly out of range of all but a Joan Wulff or Steve Rajeff.

Josh very slowly and deliberately wades in and picks his way along the slippery bottom. He goes far beyond where I or anyone else ventures and comes upon a submerged rock cluster, which he very carefully clambered atop. In all those years, I never knew such a perch existed. From my vantage on the near shore, I could see the two trout rising regularly but certainly out of range. Josh stripped out more than half of his fly line, made a few calculations and false casts and settled his dry fly about two feet above the riser. When the fly drifted down in the bubble line, the trout sipped it in. It was a brookie, usually a rarity on the Lackawaxen. After releasing the trout, he again focused on the other riser even further upstream.

I watched his beautiful tight loops extend further and further up the center of the river, and then he directed his final cast at the left slipstream off a rock 70 feet away. The fly settled like a piece of down and the trout took. It was a lovely 17-inch brookie. I had just witnessed a sublime form of perfection, and my season was made. The student exceeded the mentor, and I was filled with joy. Normally, I would have scanned the lower pool for risers. Instead, I stood awhile, washed in the moment, and just smiled.

[Editor’s note: This is one of several guest columns, while TRR’s Clem Fullerton takes a hiatus from his column.]