Go Easy

Photo by Ken Takata

Go Easy

England, Mike
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Letting the fish come to you.

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 southward. 

“Wow!” comes an exuberant voice from behind. An amorphous mass of Orvis logos waddles toward us. “That’s some hatch!” Rifling through pockets and fly boxes, he jumps down the bank and splashes into the river, false casting like a one-armed conductor leading a Metallica concert. My friend Jim pulls two cigars from his vest, and as the smoke swirls about our heads, he mutters, “That fella needs to go easy.”

Here’s the thing: a trout stream demands patience. From origin to outlet, it exudes harmony, equanimity, and resoluteness. The cool water, tumbling ceaselessly out of the high country; the delicate balance of fish and fly; the way the light dapples the water at dusk: these are the elements of a world far removed from our own, a place not of urgency and purpose but of contented, timeless meandering. If Wordsworth were still alive and writing poetry, he’d come to a Montana river 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 the upper Madison, a place that swells with poetic images: vast fields of sun-bleached grass, the rugged Taylor-Hilgards rising to the east, mallards lifting off the water in the morning. And the fish are beautiful. Their lives are balanced. In this tailwater environment, life is abundant and diverse. The trout find a safe place in the water, a shaded seam or boulder pocket, and they settle in. Drifting in and out of the current, they eat patiently, carefully. To catch them, you must 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 go 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. “It’ll take a few minutes before the trout really turn on,” Jim offers. “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. Jim hands him a stogie. We find out that Roger’s his name, and he’s from Texas. Looking around, his eye catches the sun shimmering on the water. 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.” And then, his voice as smooth and steady as the current: “Got a light?”

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