Continued from The Senex – Part 1
With the ease of decades of practice, he stripped three or four arm lengths of line from the reel, letting the current pull the slack form the line. With the quickness of a man half his age, the old man let loose a perfect roll cast, placing his bushy dry fly in the calm water behind a small, mossy rock protruding from the surface of the clear water. Within a second, the current grabbed the line and pulled the fly violently from the pocket of water. Another quick roll cast saw the fly land exactly where the previous cast had put it, clinging to the slack water momentarily before being pulled once more from its rest by the relentless current.
Taking a few sure but steady steps upstream, the old man took a moment to more thoroughly examine his surroundings. He stood in a shallow run at the tail of a small pool. While only a few yards long, the pool was deep, perhaps deep enough that only the crown of a man’s hat would peek through the surface should he decide to wade into its depths. Maybe it had been a swimming hole back in the days when people still lived in these woods, isolated from the hustle and convenience of the blossoming town downriver. At the head of the pool was a small waterfall, maybe three or four feet high, that would have provided the ideal platform from which the smiling, squealing children of the woods would splash into the icy water below.
I was brought back from my daydream by the glint of morning sunlight against the glossy bamboo of the old man’s rod. He had begun a cast, letting the line unfold gracefully behind him before moving his arm forward in a motion apparently executed thousands of time before. The cast was perfect, the loop as tight as I’ve ever seen, and the fly dropped so naturally just inches from the froth created by the falling water. I saw the old man bend slightly forward, anticipating the rise which he seemed sure would come, only this time it didn’t. He straightened his back, looking perplexed but not overly concerned, and began to unfurl another graceful cast as elegant as the last.
The soft light of the morning sun lit fire to the small droplets of water flung from the line before they found themselves extinguished once again in the current, brought back from a singular moment of brilliance to the anonymity of the unified motion of the current. I could hear the silk line cutting through the thick morning air. The line unfurled exactly as before, leaving the fly to drop softly onto the water at the base of the tumbling falls.
In an instant, I saw the bronze flash, the violent attack of an enormous brown trout unleashed upon the inanimate fly mistaken for an insect, surely disappointing the beast. The old man lifted his arm, and I saw the smooth, beautiful bend in the bamboo rod, probably grown accustomed to the tug of fish large and small. As soon as the rod had bent, it straightened back out. The fly was pulled from the depths of the pool, flying over the old man’s shoulder and left to drag in the current downstream.
It was at this moment that the old man turned his face toward me, smiling a large smile that told me he had been aware of my presence all along. He turned his eyes back to the pool with a look of serenity and satisfaction before making his way deliberately toward me. I stood as he stepped from the water, pulling my hat from my head and extending my sun-browned arm. He grasped my hand firmly, his paper-thin skin indicating an age even higher than I had previously thought.
“Tough luck there,” I said. “Looked like a nice one.” He smiled, revealing a white set of artificial teeth.
“Yes, he certainly was a nice one. One of the larger fish I’ve come across on this creek,” he replied, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
“Been fishing here for a while?” I asked in a thinly veiled attempt at obtaining his age. His expression was one of longing, his eyes looking through me and into the dense forest behind.
“Son, I’ve been fishing this creek since before your folks were born. I was born in a small cabin not too far upstream of this very spot. The cabin is gone now, but the chimney is still standing. I visited once not too long ago, but my blood ran cold at the sight of what once was a small, struggling community.” I immediately felt sorry for asking the question, but a smile returned to his face as he placed the battered hat back upon his head. I asked the old man what fly he had been fishing, and he paused for a moment before pulling a slightly rusted and severely dented aluminum fly box from his vest. His gnarled fingers shook with the strain of age as he pulled a bushy dry fly from the box and deposited it into my waiting palm.
“You might not land as many fish as you are accustomed to, but you’ll surely fool a great many of them,” he said, returning the fly box to his vest pocket. I looked down to examine the fly he had given to me. I was an exercise in simplicity and grace, but something was wrong. The body was covered generously in grey dubbing, the tail a small bunch of what appeared to be squirrel hair. Long brown hackle nearly consumed the thin white wings below.
After my brief examination, the cause of my earlier confusion immediately became apparent, the most notable feature of the fly having gone unnoticed at first glance. The hook point was nowhere to be seen. The fly had been tied on nothing but a straight shank of metal, leaving no possibility of actually hooking and landing a fish. I was confused, and I looked up to question the man who now seemed slightly crazy to me. He was no longer standing in front of me; rather, he was walking slowly up the trail, and I caught just a glimpse of his hunched figure before he disappeared into the trees.
It was at this moment that the true meaning of the encounter hit me. The old man had no interest in hooking a fish and watching it struggle in fear as it was pulled from the water and into the waiting hand of a violent intruder. He had no desire to conquer nature, but only to become a part of it. The satisfaction was in the act of fooling the trout into taking the fly. I laughed silently to myself, thinking that perhaps both he and the fish gained from the encounter instead of the zero-sum game so often practiced by those of us who intrude into the wilderness with visions of the pioneers in our heads, exercising our strength and sublimating the forest to out desires. I laughed once more, this time audibly, before clipping off my Stimulator and tying on the old man’s fly as I slid into the current, moving slowly and peacefully toward the pool.