Narrowing my eyes, trying to send all my senses to my hearing, I focused on trying to echolocate the source of the small splash I heard when approaching the stream. Each subtle sound caused me to rapidly turn and scan the water, looking for the signature concentric circles that give away the location of any surface disturbance. Feeling like a mischievous friend was tapping my opposite shoulder, my turns produced no signs of the joker.  

A pair of delicate insects hovered above the stream. The slightly larger was cream colored throughout both its wings and body. The smaller of the two insects was a translucent orange color. May and June on the Gunpowder River is sulphur season. “See any sulphurs?” is the second thing out of any local fly anglers’ mouth after a hurried greeting. If the answer is yes, be prepared for “What time they’d start?” and “What section were you at?” to quickly follow. These patterns of speech are nearly Pavlovian. 

Out of my peripheral vision, a disturbance caught my attention. At the intersection of a fallen log and a fast-flowing riffle, a large cooler sized depression had formed, and appeared to be the most likely location of whatever grabbed my eye. I took a deep breath to turn up my concentration. A smaller ghostly orange mayfly wafted across the water with a surefire trajectory across this depression. Suddenly a dark shape moved in the water. My eyes widened as the fish, with a dark back and brightly spotted sides, launched from the water to engulf the insect then contorted to slide back into the water.  

Rising Fish Were Everywhere!

I exhaled, in shock, after the acrobatic display. A spectacular exhibition of ferocious biological design, the athletic, artistic carnivorous act will be forever etched in my mind. At that moment, awestruck, I realized how fortunate I am. Fortunate to be on the water and fortunate in life. The beauty of nature can reach through my stress and mental frivolity instantly. Pulling the line from the reel and shaking the rod to direct the line through the guides, I prepared to cast. Today was going to be a good day. 

Each Seam Held Fish

I moved slowly, targeting the rising fish. My cast landed to the left of my target. The slow drift tested my patience as I fought my instinct to immediately lift the fly and recast. I let the fly continue along its path until it was five feet past my target. The second cast landed softly in the lane I wanted, a few feet upstream of the soft water. I held my breath as the fly passed the log. With a bolt, the stalking fish attacked the fly. I set the hook to find only air against the fly. A splashy refusal or missed hookset I will never know, but no connection was made.  

Within the next few minutes, the fish had not risen. My flailed hook set likely put it down for the foreseeable future. I recognized I missed my chance and continued to investigate additional feeding fish. The next target was a larger fish, lifting its head and dorsal fin above the water to take an emerging insect. I lined up and made another cast and received another refusal.  

This sequence of observation, identification, casting, and missed hook set played out several more times before I hooked and landed a fish. Each movement upstream revealed a new set of fish, with unique rise forms and remarkable beauty.  

Frustration never entered my mind. In fact, it may have been the first time I wished I had a camera instead of a fly rod. With spectacular splashy rises all around me, it felt like a highlight reel of fishing. Even missing a fish bumped up my heart rate and left a smile on my face. Each rise of a trout lifted my spirit and inspired amazement within me.

Keep Mending…  

3 Replies to “Camera or Fly Rod? – Artistry on the River”

  1. Sounds like the perfect time to fish!
    I understand your desire to have a physical photo of the fish getting his lunch!
    What a wonderful experience! So much to enjoy!

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