When I was in my late 20s and early 30s, much of my life revolved around fly-fishing for trout. Even though I worked a part-time job in addition to my regular job, I still managed to fish four or five times a week during the prime weeks of May and early June.
I also spent many hours at my fly-tying vise, tying flies by the dozen to ensure I always had the "right" pattern for any situation, and plenty of them. And on those occasions when I wasn't actually fly-fishing or tying flies, I was probably thinking about fly-fishing or tying flies.
To say I took fly-fishing quite seriously back then would be a decided understatement. I approached fly-fishing for trout almost as a religion. Not in the spiritual sense, of course, but rather as something practiced with much dedicated ritual and deep devotion.
Part of my zeal for fly-fishing during this period could be attributed to youthful enthusiasm and part to my having attained a fair measure of skill at fishing nymphs and other subsurface flies.
Nymph fishing easily produced more and bigger trout more consistently than any other method, and like most younger anglers, catching fish was mainly why I fished, so "how many" and "how big" played an important role in my overall fishing strategy. Even during a hatch, when trout were rising everywhere, I found I could hook many more fish on nymphs, so I was rarely tempted to fish a dry fly.
One thing that always baffled me back then were the "old guys" who would show up on the stream in early evening and simply sit on the stream bank while waiting for trout to start rising later on.
I understood that these anglers were, in fact, holding their preferred fishing spot in the pool, but I couldn't imagine being on the stream and not fishing, regardless if any fish were rising or not. Nevertheless, I honored angling protocol and wouldn't bother the water another fisherman had staked out for the evening.
Sometime during the decades that followed, I must have made the transition to "old guy" status, because one evening last week, I found myself sitting on a stream bank with my friend Shawn Bernecky, waiting for some trout to begin rising.
We had arrived at the stream around 6 p.m. and leisurely donned our waders and rigged our gear. The day had been brutally hot, so we surmised any insect activity that might provoke some surface feeding trout would probably occur very near dark.
Heading to the water, we were pleasantly surprised to see a few random rises at the tail of a long pool. Shawn and I separated and began casting dry flies in the hope of tempting a fish or two, but after nearly a half hour of fishing, neither of us had hooked a fish.
I had worked my way to the head of the pool and decided to fish the deep riffle there with a nymph. That change in strategy produced no better for me, so when I broke off my fly, I decided to join Shawn who was already relaxing on the stream bank.
By this time, we both were convinced any action we were likely to see would be in those last few minutes before dark, if at all. So we sat there, talking and enjoying the evening, until a few fish started feeding with just 10 or 15 minutes of daylight left.
When a nearby trout rose for the third time, Shawn stood up and said, "I'm going to catch that fish." And he did just that two or three casts later.
I quickly tied on a dry fly and moved downstream a few yards where I set up on several fish that were rising regularly. But somehow I managed to botch my first cast to them and badly tangle my leader in the process.
I knew there wasn't time to untangle the leader in the gathering darkness, so I clipped off the mess and retied my fly to what I had left. My confidence wasn't too high at that point, but I was pleasantly surprised to hook a trout on the second cast with that makeshift leader.
While Shawn and I continued to fish until darkness completely enveloped the river and the trout finally abandoned their feeding activity, each of us ended the evening with only a single fish for our efforts. But as we make our way back to the vehicle, I thought more about all the nights I have left a trout stream well after dark than how many fish this particular night produced.
I suppose that is one of the perks of becoming an old guy.