My nine-foot fly pole breaks down into four sections, snuggled cozily in its original cloth bag and squeezed into the three-foot long piece of scrap pipe about as big around as my wrist. Capped with rubber ends and some duct tape for good measure, the metal pipe has served as a makeshift carrying case since the rod became mine, graduating from old PVC when my dad got a new pole of his own.

When I went fishing this week, for the first time in much too long, I really didn’t plan to catch anything. I turned my morning alarm off quickly, trying not to wake my housemates with me, before the sun. I tucked my flybook, reel, and baseball cap in my backpack while I made coffee and wrapped half a loaf of homemade bread and a pear in BeesWrap, my sleepy reflection watching me in the still-dark kitchen windows.

I had decided to go to a place recommended by a friend of a friend, about a half-hour away. I was glad to beat morning traffic, and mine was the only car in the lot when I slipped on my waders and tromped through the trees. I buttoned my old wool shirt, half against the uncharacteristically-cool morning, half against the mosquitos that snuck in through the rips and tears left by old adventures.

I pieced together my rod and tied on a nymph, then I scrabbled down the bank and into the river. As I waded towards a downed tree, a sure spot for a few trout, I realized that the question I would get when I returned would inevitably be, “Did you catch anything?”

Well, no. I didn’t catch anything. I got a few good strikes, but my already-not-spectacular fishing skills are rusty. And catching a fish isn’t really the point of fishing, if you ask me. Just a nice perk that gives you an excuse to go out again.

I stood in the middle of the stream, my line whizzing back and forth, back and forth as I tried to remind my arm how to lay the line down gently. My feet rested on the sandy bottom, much different from the rocky rivers I grew up with; when I stepped, the water became cloudy with sand and I could feel my calves squeezed by the pressure of the stream on my waders. The air was clean and wet-smelling, the spot was secluded, and though the fish occasionally bumped my fly, that’s not really why I was there.

I was there to rest. To be quiet. To practice my cast and untangle my line, to leave my phone on the bank where I couldn’t answer it if I wanted to, to remember all the other fishing trips I’ve been on, and get my fingers a little bloody from being inadvertently stabbed with fish hooks. To feel at home.

The first time I used this particular fly pole was with my dad, as were most of my fishing excursions. I was in eighth grade, maybe, and we were at a tiny tributary of the McKenzie River in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. He left his pole at home, but wanted to show me how to catch the little cutthroat, with their silvery bodies and bright pink gills.

This time, I didn’t have my dad to coach me, and I didn’t catch anything. But I smiled to myself as I remembered getting up early on days off from school, my brother and I in the back of the pickup heading to a new fishing spot. I thought of catching bass with a rusty hook and an unwilling grasshopper at the swimming hole with my friends, of deep-sea fishing for halibut in SouthEast Alaska, and building a pole from a Cabela’s kit.

Once, when my dad and I were touring our favorite fishing spots on the Crooked River, hopping in and out of the car as we investigated about ten spots on a two-mile stretch of river, I closed my fly rod in the car door. It snapped clean in half, and I thought that would be the end of it. But we glued in a little piece of fiberglass and wrapped it the way you wrap guides. It’s a little stiff there, but you wouldn’t notice it unless you were looking for it. Good as new.

After a few hours, I started to feel the water seeping into my waders. They don’t leak enough to make puddles around my socks, but I knew the wetness at the back of my calves was right along the seam, and I decided to call it a day. As I wrestled my pole back into its little aluminum home, I noticed the place where we snuck in the fiberglass.

I strolled back to the car, feeling quieted and refreshed in ways that are hard to come by these days. The lot was full when I emerged from the woods, but I hadn’t seen a single soul all morning. Just the way I liked my solo fishing trips.

When I got home, the first question my housemate asked me was, indeed, “Did you catch anything?”

No. But that wasn’t the point.

2 Comments

  1. Ansley Kelly

    This is so lovely Lillie–you make me want to take up fishing again. It reminds me of how I felt hunting rabbits and pheasants with my dad as a kid. I also just realized that we are both in WNY–we should grab lunch!

    Reply
    • Lillie

      Thanks for your comment! I didn’t realize we were so close, we should totally meet up!

      Reply

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