Originally published in the Greensboro News & Record – Sunday, December 10, 1995
I don’t remember when I first cast a line into the water. But what remained from that experience is what brings me back.
The water has stayed with me through the years. I have grown, graduated and entered into the world, but I have always returned to the water . There is something about the line between a man and the water that ripples out to a mythic dimension. And there, in the deeper water , is the question that fishermen seem to seek answers for.
One time this spring a friend and I took a Saturday trip to the Smith River in Virginia to flyfish for trout. We packed a few sandwiches in the back of our fishing vests, stuffed a couple of beers into our waders and walked down the railroad tracks to find a fishable stretch of water .
We spent the morning with moderate success, catching a few small browns with a pheasant tail and a parachute adams.
When we walked up to where the river breaks into a shallow fork, we decided to take a break. We unloaded the sandwiches and put the beers under a rock in the river to cool off.
As we sat there, we began to talk about everything from football games we had played, to women we have known, to fishing trips we had taken.
A rare conversation for most men, I know, but in that typical talk a slightly more significant thought began to saturate my consciousness. Hoping my friend wouldn’t assault me with cliched-catch phrases from old beer commercials, I launched into a list of the best things in life.
In the near untranslatable tongue of men outdoors, I listed two things of which we were then engaged: getting a fish to rise and drinking a beer with a friend.
Now, such answers are near untranslatable because of the undertone which both of us accepted and understood without having to extrapolate.
But both answers ripple out into a wider understanding of what fishing is all about.
Sitting on the bank of that river with my friend exemplified the fraternity between men through the outdoors. I have grown closer with my father, brothers and friends through the community of fishing.
But the act of fishing is more personal. Getting a fish to rise is an image of the essence of fishing, both in the real and mythic sense. The act is, as Norman Maclean pointed out, a form of art.
To tempt a fish to rise from the dark waters with a delicately placed fly is to tempt the mystery of all things to the surface of consciousness. For a moment, to satisfy the question that is continually cast out into the current.
Whether I am plugging on a Hatteras pier or laying out line on the Smith River, when the fish rises and the rod jumps to life, I connect briefly with the answer to the question that brings me back to the water .