An artful cast delivers a fly accurately and delicately. For beginning anglers, casting is a challenge of timing and coordination that often results in more frustration than graceful movements, especially for those of us who are not natural athletes. As you gain muscle memory with repetition and experience, casts improve, and you begin to learn to control distance and location with each cast. There is also a satisfying feeling and a sense of touch that develops, like a free throw shot in basketball or a solid stroke of a golf ball, where you know instantly you’ve connected to your task in a perfectly rhythmic dance.  

The leader unfurls and the fly extends to the exact intended location, hovering momentarily over the water before softly landing on the target. I feel the warmth in my heart. I love that feeling. A great cast doesn’t always lead to a great drift, but when it does, it’s a thing of beauty. For writing, it’s like composing a perfect paragraph and always picking the perfect word.   

Often, I’ll count, hoping that the fish feels compelled to complete the circle and respond at a count of three or ten, knowing they can’t possibly comprehend anything floating in my mind. Other times I hold my breath in anticipation of a fish exploding on my fly. When the cast and drift are exactly as I imagined, I feel I should be rewarded. But that’s not how it works. 

Terrestrial season is tailing off over the next few weeks in Maryland. Late summer, when grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles are plentiful and a food source for trout, I love to fish a dry-dropper rig. The imitations of the terrestrials are larger and often tied with foam, allowing the dry flies to suspend longer tippets with larger dropper flies. To eat a meal as large as a grasshopper is a high protein, high calorie T-bone steak for trout. The aggression for larger It makes for spectacular takes, where a fish rises aggressively and its propulsion to intercept the fly causes it to launch out of the water. 

My last two times on the river, I committed to fishing dry dropper, with hopper and beetle flies as the dry. Just the opportunity to have one or two fish take a terrestrial was enough for me. I went to a reach of stream where I often have success catching fish on dry flies and set up my rig. The water was higher than usual and slightly off color due to recent storms. Fish may not be looking up in the water column under these conditions, but I was committed. 

Within my first few minutes on the river, I had gotten into a rhythm. Two seams of flow merged over a series of submerged boulders. It was as fishy as a run that exists on the stream. I carefully moved into a position to make a cast without having to cross several currents. The line laid out like a runner on a table. The dropper nymph slid through the water column just before the hopper fly softly landed in the same seam. This time I held my breath.  

The fly floated slightly slower than bubbles on the surface of the water. There appeared to be very little drag if any on the drift. I smiled and took a deep breath, preparing myself for the next cast. Just before I lifted my line off the water, a burst of color appeared under my fly. A brown trout rose to the hopper, opening its mouth as it neared the surface. Turbidity in the water column lessened near the surface, allowing me to clearly see each red and brown haloed spot along the brown and golden body of the fish. As quickly as it rose, it descended back into the cloudy water. The instant was etched into my mind. 

The fish chose not to take my fly but everything else about the moment is exactly why I fly fish. Reading the water to get into position to make a presentation compels the problem-solving aspect of my mind. Making the cast as I envisioned satisfied my desire to keep improving and developing my coordination and muscle memory. Managing the line and placing the flies to create a drag free drift in complicated currents is a skill I continually practice. And finally observing an amazing wild fish, in an idyllic setting, rise to a fly is tremendously exciting. Sometimes there is such a thing as a beautiful refusal. 

Keep Mending…       

One Reply to “A Beautiful Refusal”

  1. Your journey is a treasure! You honor the environment and the catch! I love the description of the fish! Much more than an obscure creature! A precious living thing crossing your path!
    I am glad you are enjoying the journey even when the result does not match your intended goal! Such a lesson in life!

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