Once again fly fishing is there when I need it.
Over the years, when I have been at my worst, my fly rod has been there like an old and dear friend. It’s kept me company when I was alone, it’s focused my mind when I was in despair, and it has comforted me when I was in pain. Fly fishing has been my refuge when everything else has failed. I never expected to lose it when I needed it most.
I guess I’m making a habit of sharing something personal on Thanksgiving. If you read what I wrote last year, you know that the past 16 months have been the hardest of my life. I don’t say that lightly, and there has been some competition, but since the loss of my godson I have been to places in my heart I never imagined were there. A year ago I said I didn’t know if this was a thing I could fix with a fly rod. I know now, that it can’t be fixed at all. It must be accepted, absorbed even, made part of the whole, but there has still been some question whether the fly rod would come to my aid this time.
Life is, at best, one half risk and one half reward. That equation weighs into all things, but nothing more than love. If you can give your heart and keep that ratio one to one, you are way ahead of the game and that isn’t exclusive to loving people. There is risk in giving your heart to anything and fishing, at least for me, has not been an exception.
My heart, it seems, is prone to dehydration. It runs dry from time to time and water is the only thing which restores it. The solitude of standing in a river, or on a flat, grounds me. It washes away the bitterness and drowns the discourse. The purity of a fish’s soul calms me. The act of participating in that lovely creature’s struggle, and the act of releasing it, seeing it swim back into a deep pool reminds me that there is peace waiting for all of us. I know it isn’t something everyone understands, but it has comforted me.
I have to remind myself that it is only a coincidence that our world became such an angry and divided place at the very time I needed a little extra understanding. It has been very hard not to take it personally. I didn’t know what I was putting at risk when I decided to make fly fishing a job. I had no idea that I was hanging a target around my neck when I spoke publicly of my love of fishing. That sounds silly, but I’ll wager you’d be shocked to read some of the emails I get. Would you guess that I’ve had my life threatened for writing about catch-and-release fishing? I have, and I’ve been chastised for taking photos of fish. By taking on the task of sharing a love of fishing with those hungry for it, I created a cosmic lint brush, which has gathered some pretty rotten folks.
I don’t mean to complain. There are unsavory things about any job, and this is just the crappy part of mine, but with the angry division in our recent culture, the volume has been turned way up. I’ve had some pretty negative experiences with folks in the fly fishing community, and even the business, this year and it has taken its toll. I bear my own share of the blame. Grief has made me a much less patient man and there have been many times I’ve felt compelled to offer some of my pain to others. I’m not proud of it, but it’s a fact. I’m not very good at backing down from a fight on a good day, and good days have been hard to come by.
Any of my fishing buddies will tell you that it’s been pretty hard to get me on the river lately. I have plenty to do and it’s been easy to make excuses, but the truth is that for the last several months I haven’t cared to pick up a fly rod. That’s a difficult thing to admit. It’s also painful that the thing which has always restored me has become such a source of frustration that I have not been able to face it. It’s a loss I never imagined and was not prepared for. It also came at the worst possible time. The fact that we have not had rain here in Georgia for over three months has driven the metaphor home. With the forest which shade some of our best wild trout water on fire, everything around me has run dry, including my heart.
So last week, as I prepared to fly to the Bahamas for a week of bonefishing, I was filled with uncertainty. Not the feeling I’m accustomed to in that circumstance. I was not at all certain what I would find there. Afraid that I might be walking into an argument, rather than a release.
Fortunately, I din’t have to wait long for my answer. I found myself, once again, surrounded by friends. By anglers with full hearts and generous souls. Folks who love fish and fishing and had plenty to share. Stepping on the bow of the flats boat felt like coming home. The warm Bahamian water flowed through me, the sun washed over me, and the first beautiful shining bonefish to come to hand filled my heart. I watched that lovely creature slide from my hand and into the deep green water and I knew there was peace waiting for me.
There will be plenty of struggle in the years to come, and more than enough uncertainty. For my precious, lost boy all of that is over. As odd as it might sound, I’m thankful for that. When he smiled it was infectious, but it was far too seldom. When his heart ached, it crushed the very breath from his lungs and the light from his eyes. It came down with the weight of ten-thousand souls. I am thankful that he no longer carries that pain. I will take my small piece of it and I will carry it for him. Most of all, on this Thanksgiving, I am thankful that I will not have to do it alone. I am thankful to have my fly rod back. I am thankful to have my tribe back. And I am so very thankful for the pure souls of fish.