“How many more fish do you have to catch before we go home?”

The words sounded whiny from my 5-year-old mouth. My dad didn’t even glance at me as he threw another cast tight against the bank of a willow-choked stream and said, “Just one.”

My dad stood—impossibly tall in my 5-year-old eyes—clad in old vinyl waders while he whipped a long rod with a bright green line through the air. I stood next to him, the cold, clear water of the spring creek rushing over my bare feet. I shivered in the evening chill just as my dad’s arm suddenly jerked straight up. The bright green line went tight, and a fish splashed on its end.

When my dad let the fish go, it swam off right over my feet. I tried to catch it with my hands but only succeeded in falling flat on my face. I’m fairly certain I cried, and I know I asked Dad if we could leave.

“Just one more,” he promised.

 

“I’d rehearsed a story about a flat tire and bad traffic, but the memory of that one fish kept forcing a smile onto my face.”

 

Years later I stood in waders of my own, holding a rod I’d “borrowed” from Dad. It was Friday evening, the caddis hatch had browns feeding with reckless abandon, and I didn’t see any reason to stop fishing until the hatch ended or I ran out of light.

Except, of course, the birthday party for my girlfriend’s mom. I remembered with a start that I’d promised I’d be there. Even though her mom didn’t like me—a mutual feeling—my girlfriend gave me the hint that she’d be upset if I didn’t show up.

I’d nearly decided to head back to my Camaro, tail between my legs, and fulfill my boyfriend duties when I forgot all about birthday parties.

A huge snout with a kype large enough to be visible 20 yards downstream rose from the water to slurp my fly. The world went silent save for the distinct plop of a large trout eating deliberately.

The jaws closed, the snout disappeared, and I set the hook. My reel screamed under the sudden pressure of what John Gierach calls, “a once or twice a year oh s#*! fish.”

I showed up at the birthday party . . . eventually. I’d rehearsed a story about a flat tire and bad traffic, but the memory of that one fish kept forcing a smile onto my face.

I told my girlfriend all about the flat tire and traffic, but she rolled her eyes and asked for my keys. Confused, I followed her to my Camaro, where she opened the door to see still-glistening-wet boots and waders on the backseat. She sighed in a tone that told me she’d found what she’d expected.

“Did you at least catch fish?” she asked exasperatedly.

I nodded.

“Just one worth remembering, though.”

We broke up a few months later.

 

“I trudged back to camp that evening discouraged but not broken. I hadn’t taken the river’s queen, but I managed to steal a pawn.”

 

That led me to Oregon in late October. Fall hadn’t arrived to this part of the state yet, or so it seemed. Green leaves and tall cheatgrass decorated the landscape, and I didn’t even need to cover the firewood with a tarp at night to keep the frost off.

My buddy Mike and I were in the midst of a three-day trip, hoping to stumble on the last of the fall blue-winged olive hatch. The second day was one during which I questioned why I ever decided to fly fish in the first place. Perfect drifts went unnoticed. Size 28 parachute midges floated past feeding trout, completely unacknowledged. Fly fishing is a puzzle at times, and that day felt like playing chess against an opponent who’s only extending the game to watch you suffer longer.

I trudged back to camp that evening discouraged but not broken. I hadn’t taken the river’s queen, but I managed to steal a pawn.

“You catch anything?” Mike asked, poking the fire with a stick.

The flames danced and the fire crackled. I grinned slightly.

“Just one.”

 

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s also the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

 

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