Gravel sliding under each footstep grinds and crunches. A smile stretches across my cold face, warming my cheeks. The sound and feeling are familiar but still exciting, as it is the soundtrack for the last bit of the journey to each stream. I look forward to this sensation on every fishing trip. It is more than a reminder of past trips and the accompaniment to a march along a gravel trail. Until this week, I haven’t been able to connect to the deeper consciousness of these moments.
Walking along the trail this weekend, I closed my eyes briefly to take in the winter air and move my mindset to appreciation of being outdoors. It may have been the rumble of a passing truck or a gust of wind pushing a cold rain against my face, but I was transported back to a memory as a 8-10 year old boy.
Suddenly I was lacing up my cleats and walking across a gravel parking lot to a baseball diamond. Baseball was a keystone activity of my youth. A bad hop at St. Martin’s field broke my nose and ended any dream of long-term success in baseball. Even with a bit of fear generated from the blow, time on the field pounding my fist into a conditioned leather glove with the smells of cut grass, chalked lines, and dry infield soil filled each spring. It all started with the cleats and that crunchy trip across the parking lot.
Baseball and fly fishing both have storied histories, superstitious rituals, quirky gear, goofy nicknames, hand eye coordination, and a splash of romantic sentiment. Ted Williams, baseball Hall of Famer, was an avid fly angler. His sweet swing translated to fly casting, allowing him to be an impressive angler of tarpon and bonefish in the Florida Keys. Similarities also exist between baseball and fly fishing historians, who speak of the sports (or arts) with an almost ridiculous level of reverence.
My steps into the stream lead to positioning my feet for a cast. I check my rig to make sure flies are tied tightly and the hooks are sharp. The steps and checks are like digging into the batter’s box and adjusting my batting gloves. False casts feel like warm up swings to lock in my timing and ignite my muscle memory. Losing a fish feels like striking out. After landing a big fish, I’d love to take a celebratory lap around the bases and hear the cheering fans.
My first fishing trip on January 1st, resulted in a skunk. Nothing like starting the season with a shutout. This weekend, I was able to get on the board with a few small fish. My first fish of the year was a seven-inch brown trout. A seeing-eye single, but it showed me a fun connection between one of my first hobbies and my current obsessive pursuit.
Keep mending…and swing for the fences…