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Fly Fishing Out of a Dead End Life
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Fly Fishing Out of a Dead End Life by Steve Howard
A small collection of short stories, flash fiction, and haibun. A young man escapes from a rough life through his passion for fly fishing. A man reflects on how fly fishing, anger, and meditation have impacted his life. An old man tries to decide whether to try and reconnect with his son or chase his dream of catching a trophy salmon. A businessman who had little time for family bitterly reflects on his life while on a fishing trip. A man fly fishing in the high desert of Eastern Washington tries to capture in words the powerful spiritual beauty of the land and sport.
Trout Streams, Motion, and Memory
The desert of Eastern Washington is a place of dryness and death. Without water nothing can live here. The thin little stream that cuts through the harsh rock and sand provides nourishment for the willow trees and the grassy meadow. It is the single life-giving artery in this arid place.
I walk along the west bank of the stream just as the sun rises in the east casting off reds and violets across the black, sharp stone ridges. A small white tail deer stands atop a crumbling ridge, staring down curiously, afraid of the upright predator, parting the thick weeds by the stream.
I have to be careful that my shadow falls behind me and not across the stream. The trout here are wild. Everything in their world is either a threat or a meal. Unnatural movement or reflections on the water scatters them. They are selective in their eating habits. Even my steps along the bank are measured. It’s a trade off; the rule is, walk heavy for the snakes, and softly for the trout. Rattlers, like trout don’t have ears, but are very sensitive to vibrations, striking suddenly when surprised.
I’m looking for dimples or swirls in the stream’s current, any sign that gives away the trout’s position. They always face upstream in feeding lanes where the current drifts insects down to them. Caloric energy is a premium in their world, and they never expend it lightly.
And then I see it, a break in the gentle flow of the current, the sloppy splash from a big tail, slashing back and forth in the trout’s enthusiasm for its breakfast.
I pull a few feet of slick fly-line off the titanium reel, making sure there are no kinks or tangles. I hear the methodic click of the metal drag deep within the reel as the fly-line peels smoothly off the arbor. I hold the tiny fly between my thumb and index finger, blowing on the delicate spun deer hair, and dark brown turkey feathers, fluffing them up, so they will be more buoyant. Then I gently press the point of the steel hook into the tip of my thumbnail to test its sharpness. Looking over my right shoulder, I check to make sure no hanging branches from the willow tree behind me will obstruct the path of the nine and a half foot graphite fly rod, as it is pulled vertical on the back cast, in a steady sharp snap of my arm.
But it’s not about the technical aspects of fly-fishing; the stalking, casting, and landing of the fish are unimportant. When the moment is upon me all these things drop away. There’s this feeling of clear intuition guiding me. Time is a tentative force in the background, and the stream and surrounding desert disappear. Only perfect momentum remains. I feel nothing but the flowing motion. It is the purity of form obtained in the action of doing. The motion of my body, the flow of the stream, cause and effect suspended in the structure of synchronized rhythm.
With the soft landing of the tiny fly on the gentle water, and moments later a large silver trout cruising from the depths, breaking the barrier between air and water to take it, shaking the energy of its life into my rod and through my arm; it’s existence resonating with mine; I know I have transcended.
It is always fleeting though, never captured, never grasped, or described. I have the moments spent stalking the trout, the long sweeping cast, and the trout’s short fierce battle for freedom. Then the brief period after, gently holding the slippery trout for a quick picture and then releasing it back into its cold home, but this is all. Only a shadow of the grace maybe reflected in the depths of my eyes, or a faded copy of excitement imprinted slightly in the tone of my voice. Maybe the memory of wanting to be an angler, and learning to fish, and later in life, wanting to be an artist and learning to fly-fish. These thoughts and memories remain, the rest drift down stream.