The river of life

Editor’s note: Tales from the Outdoors is a new column that will run the last Saturday of the month.

My dad introduced me to the love and art of fly fishing and I was tutored on the rituals of fly fishing in my youth. My dad would take every opportunity to school me in the oddities of the sport. I was drilled in the catechisms of the sport to the point where fly fishing became a religion to me. Every time we were fly fishing we would keep a tally of the fish we caught. Somehow my dad managed to pull fish out of the river with an ease I envied. Most of my time was spent undoing knots or trying to find that fly that would help me catch more fish than my dad. I have lost many of fly to a careless cast. On our way home at night we would-as any good angler would-resurrect the stories of the day. My dad would usually start out with “Well I caught…”

When I first learned to fly fish I was spoiled. Within thirty minutes of my house lay a blue ribbon river and all the treasures of that great river were mine for the taking. In my endless free time in my youth, I could easily slip off for the evening or spend the weekend fishing to my heart’s content. I took advantage of every moment on the river, honing my skills, and trying to pursue a larger fish with every outing. I quickly became complacent with my situation. I took for granted the fish that I caught. I thought I knew it all on how to fish that river. I looked forward to informing my dad about the fish I had fooled. Each fish I caught seemed larger in size but smaller in my conquest of the river.

When I returned home from college I went to visit that river that was so dear to me. I was so excited to be back in the slow moving water, watching the fish cruise back and forth. However, I kept catching myself watching my dad as he fished. He moved slower in the river and it took him longer to get his line flying through the air. He seemed to spend more time using his magnifying glasses to tie a fly on then any actual fishing. The only fish he hooked was a small fish that hardly put up a fight. He simply released it back into the river without the ceremonial whistling to me to let me know he had one on. It was then that I realized we were both changing.

I have moved on from that river of my youth. Instead of fishing the evenings and the weekends as before, I spend the evenings trying to manage life so that one weekend I can visit the river. The river I now fish is nothing compared to the river of my youth. My present river now starts out in the depths of the mountains and the water is bitter cold. The creek that becomes the river is dependent upon the amount of snow from the winter before. There are only certain times in the year when I can fish the river. The violent runoff in the spring, to the lack of water in the late fall causes my opportunities on the river to be limited. The few fish that reside in the river are small and not as picky in the selection of flys that you present to them. On a good day I can fish to my heart’s content and never tire of releasing the small trout.

When I fish that little mountain river, I often find myself reflecting about the water that flows through the great river of my youth. Does that river still seduce the fisherman to pursue a larger fish and is the water still warm and gentle to the touch. Are there still throngs of fisherman crowding her banks in an effort to find peace and solitude; are the local fly shops along the rivers bank crawling with eager souls awaiting their day on the river? Now and then I feel the tug to go back to that river, maybe once to see if it still holds that part of my heart of a first love. I still have the passion to fish; it is just so hard to take the time, to reconnect with my sport. Life seems to tangle me up and knot me down with the responsibilities of living that I spend more time dreaming of the river then any time spent on it. Maybe one day, I will have more time to get back to that river.

I fish alone these days, and now I am truly learning how to fish. The solitude and tranquility of the stream with its majestic surroundings capture me more than the tug of the line. I find joy in any fish that allows me to catch it. However, I miss fishing with my dad. Not only do I miss the friendly competition, there is that longing for the connection with my father, the man. When I am wading across the rocky river bottom, using my wading staff to guide me, I wonder if he is in the water too. Somewhere across the divide, is his wading staff being used to help him feebly cross his river? As we have each journey through different rivers in our lives, I miss telling him about the exploits of my adventures on and off the river. I sometimes find it hard to tie on those smaller flies now and when I am struggling, I wonder when my time will come to start using a magnifying glass. Sometimes, when I am on the river, with my line flying through the air I can faintly hear his voice still asking me “Caught a nice one …?”

Randy Davis is a member of NAMI Montelores. He can be reached at