Embrace the Pace

fishing, caddis

Embrace the Pace

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by Mike England

The caddis come out of nowhere, streaming up the bank in thick, buff-colored waves. One moment, it’s calm, nary a bug in sight; the next, a burst of fluttering wings. As the wind drives them past, one drifts into my ear, a dozen catch my sleeve, two fight for sanctuary in my left nostril. A quick snort and they’re airborne, assimilated once again as the swarm drifts northward.

“Wow!” comes an exuberant voice from behind. An amorphous mass of logos waddles toward us. “That’s some hatch!” Rifling through pockets and fly boxes, the eager angler jumps down the bank and plows into the stream, false-casting like a one-armed conductor leading a Metallica concert. 

I look at my friend. His expression matches my own, and I can read his thoughts.

Slow down, partner. Take it easy. You’re fishing in Montana.

You see, Montana streams detest hurriedness. It’s against their nature. Between one year’s runoff and the next, it’s all about harmony, tranquility, and repose. The pristine water, flowing steadily, patiently, from high up in the mountains and deep within the earth; the delicate balance of fish and fly; the way the light dapples the water at dusk—these are the elements not of urgency and purpose but of contented, timeless meandering. If William Wordsworth were alive and writing poetry, he’d come here for inspiration.

Fishermen are poets of a sort, too. We compose as we work the water, each cast a single line, each fish a separate stanza. At the end of the day, as darkness blurs the page, we finish the poem, read it over, then rewrite it the next day.

Today’s rewrite is set on a long, meandering side-channel of the Madison, as idyllic a spot as you’ll find anywhere. The river swells with poetic images: vast fields of sun-bleached grass, the rugged Madison Range rising to the east, mallards lifting off the water in the morning. And the fish are beautiful. Their lives are balanced. In this fertile, timeless environment, life is abundant and diverse. Like everything else, the trout are healthy, alert, and deliberate. They find a place in the stream, a shaded seam or subtle eddy, and they settle in. Drifting in and out of the current, they eat carefully, patiently. To catch them, you have to act like them. Random, hurried casts, hasty fly selections, and indelicate presentations won’t work. You have to let yourself go, let your rod be guided by wind and water, sight and sound, fish and fly. You have to look. You have to listen. And you have to take it easy. 

We sit down on the bank, lazily sifting through our pockets for caddis imitations. Our friend in the water, still conducting away, looks over his shoulder nervously. He can’t understand why we’re not moving. “These caddis are blowing in from the main channel,” I offer. “It'll take a few minutes before the trout in here turn on to them. Why don’t you come on over and sit down for a bit.”

He grunts a reluctant assent, wades ashore, and plops down next to us. We find out that Roger’s his name, and he’s from Texas. He pulls out a smoke, and as he lights it his eye catches the sun shimmering on the water. Looking around, he takes in the mountains for a minute, and sighs. His shoulders relax, his forehead softens, and he says, almost in a whisper, “Damn this place is beautiful.”

With a sidelong glance I catch my friend’s eye.

That’s it, Roger. Now you’re getting it.

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