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Our story this month comes from Rob Cooley, NGTO member, flyfishing enthusiast, and student of Anthropology.

Hey Aaron- First of all, you are doing a great job with NGTO. I have learned so, so much about the sport from this site and have really appreciated that. It's great to have access to such a wealth of info as a beginner. Perhaps the end result is the story I wrote last fall about trout fishing on teh Hooch that I wanted to ask you about. Are there either magazines that might take a submision of a short story about trout fishing on the Hooch last fall, or would the website be a good place for it? I could send it to you if you want to check it out.

Later! Tight lines...

"Stealth and Grace"

He told himself it would be better, be different today. He promised himself that he would go slowly, prepare methodically, and move deliberately. No more haste in fishing. No more clumsiness. Today would be more pure, more clean.

He pondered these things as he sat on the stone below the level of the gravel road but above the river. Slowly his trembling fingers slid the two halves of the delicate rod together. He checked the alignment. The guides were straight, and would allow the line would slide through well. He carefully snugged the rod together so the tip would not fly off and ruin a cast.

His thoughts turned to work he had left undone at home. Just as suddenly as his mind began to wander, it returned when the drag ticked as he pulled the orange line through the guides, stretching to reach the last one at the tip. It was a new line, and he did not know it well yet. Sometimes it would drop too fast and slap the water. He knew that if he were patient and attentive he would learn to control the line.

The orange and brown leaves were past their prime. Most were crumpled at his feet, stirred sometimes by the light breeze. It was getting towards winter, past the peak of the fall, but he did not care. The only thing that mattered this day was that he must keep to his promise and fish the river slowly. He did not know it, but he had finally learned his first lesson- the river should provide lessons, not bragging rights. He felt good, listening to the river. He tried to avoid thinking about storytelling with the guys at the tavern, as they seemed to elicit an inexplicably unsettled response from deep inside.

He squinted and observed a few off-white insects fluttering from the surface of the dark overhung pool upstream. The fast water rushed past on the right, casting off silver-gray whorls into the deep hole, flinging an occasional drowned leaf back into the faster current. He reached into the khaki vest and pulled out his green flybox. Unhooking its catch, he exposed the delicate rainbow of thread, feather, and tinsel that lay inside, arranged meticulously by pattern, size, and color. He chose a small white elk hair caddis, thinking it was the closest imitation he had for the few flying insects he had seen. He liked how it floated on top of the dark water. It was fun to let the water animate this piece of fur and steel.

He began to tie three feet of tippet to the tapered leader he had attached to the line the night before. But he grew tense as he tried to finish the knot. Trembling fingers betrayed him and created a clotted mess of line. He clipped it off, tucked the waste into his vest pocket, and deeply breathed the earthy mountain air knowing he had almost violated his promise. The songbirds flitting from branch to branch overhead made him smile. The rushing of the river brought him back to the matter of the knot and he tried again. This time, breathing slowly, he joined the lines in a neat, compact blood knot. A trout rose in the pool and broke the surface slightly- his heart raced and he struggled to resist the urge to run to the pool and cast immediately at the fish. He had to do this properly.

The pool was still too far away for him to cast to it, and he needed to get the right spot to cast from. He crossed the river, scrambled up the steep bank, and watched from behind a tree. These trout were wild- smart and wary. Almost too smart for a clumsy human, he chuckled to himself. He wished he had dyed his bright khaki vest green. Maybe it was too bright, he wondered. He saw the right route- he would crawl up from downstream. That way he knew that the trout would be facing upstream waiting for food to float by. He glanced at the pool and saw two trout illuminated by a splash of sun, lazily twitching occasionally to maintain their position. He saw one rise and sip a light colored insect. This made him happy.

The sun sprinkled down the hillside in the west as he crept towards the base of the pool. Every step, every movement was deliberate. He moved more for the trout than for himself. As he crawled on all fours to avoid being seen by the fish, he said to himself "Stealth and grace. Be patient and go slow. The fish will be there when you are ready for it. If you rush this, you will spoil it and the fish will not cooperate." He evaluated each motion before he moved; he did not want to stumble and make a crash that would spook the fish. That would be disgraceful.

He was prone, twenty feet from the deep hole, on a gravel bar deposited where the faster water eddied back into the pool. He could cast into the faster water and let it follow the eddy current into the pool. There wouldn't be much drag, so he thought the fly would look natural. He unhooked the fly from the keeper near the cork handle. The handle was just beginning to darken with use. He waited once more, hoping the trout would reveal themselves, but all remained quiet.

He carefully fed the line past the rod tip so his first cast would more easily become airborne. He could not afford to botch the first cast after all this. Looking around, he noticed that the leaves swung rhythmically on their loose moorings in the cool November breeze. Occasionally one would separate from the branch and spiral down slowly. Sometimes they would land in the water, and tumble downstream. Thinking it was a trout, his heart jumped when the silvery underside of a leaf flashed as it rolled around a submerged branch close by.

It was time. His right arm flipped the line back into the air, pausing, then accelerating it forward over the water. Another pause, then back, wait, then forward, and so on, his left hand feeding line into the lengthening loop with each cycle. He matched his breathing with the cast, focusing all his energy on the rhythm. The anticipation and excitement mounted beneath his orchestrated calm. He knew enough line was out over the water. He knew the tippet was strong. He knew the leader was without kinks or curls. He knew he had chosen the right fly. His arm responded to this and stopped abruptly at the end of the forward stroke. His left hand jerked the line quickly, forming loose curves in it as it settled lightly to the water.

The white fur set the fly high on the surface of the pool. The leader curved up and away from it, touching the surface only a few inches away. He wondered if the trout would be suspicious of that. The fly delicately swiveled around, a little current grabbing at it, but not too much, he hoped. It floated downstream, through the faster edge water, then curving in like he had hoped, crossing the line from the fast to the smooth dark water. It approached a dead tree submerged at the pool's edge.

In a flash of silver and water droplets and adrenaline the fly was gone. He lost all order, operating on reflexes now, and held his rod tip high, overwhelmed by the rush of happiness and wonder. The wild trout was small, so it was not difficult to land, but it fought valiantly, flashing silver sides as it was drawn out from the pool to the bank. He wet his hands in the cold water so he wouldn't hurt the fish if he touched it. He ran his left hand down the line and grasped the fly shank, looked at the marvelous brown trout, and released it back into the water with a quick flip of his wrist.

He watched it dart back into the dark void of the pool and paused to savor the memory. He knelt by the river for a long time, staring into its ripples. The breeze stirred past his face, other trout made occasional sipping rises, the clear water dripped crystalline from his fingers. He savored the image of that trout's brilliant spots, stripes and shapes. They thrilled him deep inside. Retreating from the river, he hooked the fly in the rod keeper, set the rod gently on the bank where it would not be accidentally broken, and sat back against a rock, feeling happy and complete.

He had kept his promise. The river had rewarded his patience and sensitivity with the trout. He would never forget that fish. He sat there for a very long time before giving thought to fishing some more that afternoon.

© 1999 Rob Cooley

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