Fly Fishing Dreams

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Jason Tucker

I could hear the voices of Tommy and Phil downstream from me, a hundred or more yards away in the darkness.

They were methodically working over a promising looking pool, skating mice across the surface, discussing the possibilities. I’m kind of impatient so I felt my way through the brush and grass to a spot where I could fish.

The spot I found seemed to be just right- a sluice pouring out of deeper water upstream into the next pool. I stripped out twenty feet of line and put my first cast in the middle of the torrent. The moment my mouse reached the pool the water erupted with the sound of a brick being thrown in the river.

With a presence of mind rare for me, I actually waited until I felt the weight of the fish before setting the hook. When I did it exploded out of the water, leaping once, twice, three times, before settling into a dogged fight.

“I got him” I shouted into the darkness, and Tommy replied, “We’re coming Jay! Hold on!” followed by the sound of running in the darkness. Phil emerged from the brush, leapt without looking into the water and waded across in time to help me land the fish.

It was a male brown trout with a massive hooked jaw. Keeping him in the water, we taped him out at just over 28 inches long. We estimated his weight at 9 or 10 pounds. For me it was the pinnacle of my fly fishing career, and a lifetime fish for almost anyone who fly fishes. I was later told by those who know that it was one of the four or five biggest browns caught in the state that season, on a fly.

A lot of elements came together perfectly that night- the right river, the right time of year, the right weather, I had the right equipment, and the right fly. I made a good cast, timed the hookset right and my knots held. I was also with the right fishing buddies- experienced guys who had landed a lot of big fish themselves, who jumped in and helped out in all the right ways. Tommy even knew how to take decent photos in the dark.

What is it that makes us seek big fish? 

Of all things in life, why is that such a special moment? There are of course far more important things in life- graduations, jobs, proposals, marriages, buying a home, births,…Deaths. Those things are certainly more important than landing the fish of our dreams, but they don’t seem to excite us and capture the imagination in the same way. At least, not for some of us.

The birth of a child is for most of us one of the most joyful moments in our lives, and certainly one we will always treasure. At the same time, it is the start to an endless cycle of dirty diapers, sleepless nights, first steps, scrapes and bruises, and those are the easy days.

Soon you’re sending them off to school, negotiating the ‘tween years, puberty, rebellion and college applications. All a labor of love, but one that often leaves you wondering, which weighs heavier in the balance, the labor or the love?

I’m not sure everyone has a dream, but I think we do. When we’re kids we dream of being a fireman, astronaut, equestrian or maybe just operating heavy equipment. As we grow and become more aware our dreams change and grow.

I’ve had a lot of dreams over the years. As a kid operating heavy equipment seemed like the coolest thing ever. Later on I dreamed of climbing mountains. In my twenties I wanted to travel the world, see, taste and experience everything. When I moved back to Northern Michigan my dream was to paddle solo some Canadian rivers from their source near Lake Superior to Hudson Bay far to the north. I’ve also always had the dream of divesting myself of all my land based goods, buying a sailboat and sailing it around the world, doing enough odd jobs to buy food and supplies and pay for repairs, having the satisfaction of living a self-contained life without a tether.

Some people live those dreams. People live on sailboats, travel the world, and paddle rivers. Some people stand on top of mountains. When I compare this pursuit that is fishing, it can seem quite trivial compared to other dreams. Does it compare to standing on top of a mountain, with all of the struggle, danger, hardship and sacrifice it takes to get there? Does it compare to being in orbit above the earth for the first time after a lifetime of training? Does it compare to the freedom of the seas? Does it compare to trekking the breadth of Nepal? Once that mountain has been climbed, what is it like to come down?

I don’t know. Dreams come and dreams go. My childhood dream of being a fireman faded with age. I applaud anyone who chooses that career, but I found the personal danger unpalatable. It’s safe to say that most of us who once dreamed of climbing mountains will settle for the peaks we can drive up. We settle for the vicarious thrill, reading of the real dangers faced by actual mountain climbers from the safety of our recliners.

Some dreams really are just goals.

I dream of catching bonefish, tarpon, permit and barracuda one day. At a younger age those were dreams, fueled by breathless tales in the pages of outdoors magazines. Now they seem more like goals- achievable with some work, planning, the right gear and the right guide.

I was writing a piece on why we lose fish, and it struck me that we often lose fish because we lose our composure- that somehow the idea of hooking up on that big fish we dream about suddenly causes us to forget the skills we use every day. We fall apart and lose the fish. What is it about fish that captures so much of our imagination and passion? Why is a big brown trout, musky, steelhead or striper the “experience of a lifetime”?

I think it’s about goals, and about attainable dreams. The “dream” trip, perhaps of fishing the fabled rivers of Montana, is actually quite attainable. For the working class guy, like myself, it takes saving money and vacation time. We’d likely spend a whole winter doing research on rivers and hatches, with long hours spent poring over maps, looking at access points, studying terrain and water. But it is easily achievable. Once attained it loses nothing, and only gains in the amber hued rear view of memory, the dream gracefully bridging the divide into reality, and then memory.

I think that is the gift which is fly fishing- attainable dreams, dreams we can live every day, without losing our composure and letting them slip away. Whether it’s trout on a local stream, carp on a flat, or Grand Trevally on Christmas Island, fish and fishing keeps us connected to our dreams. Releasing a fish is that much sweeter, letting go of the ephemeral back into the void, to return to where it, and our dreams, can grow.

Jason writes the fine blog Fontinalis Rising

Jason Tucker

Gink & Gasoline
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2 thoughts on “Fly Fishing Dreams

  1. Beautiful post! But, don’t wait too long to act on your dreams. Days FLY by. Life moves on and your reality can pass by….leaving no afterglow or memory. I really know because I was just diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer. It came out of knowhere.
    I am optimistic, accepting everyone’s prayers, and always in Love with my Laurie, but this is harsh.

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