After a long drive and a short boat ride, we returned to our latest folly. A few nights a week have been spent way the hell out here, donating our pound of flesh, only to lose the single fish we seem to hook every trip.
We were beginning to wonder if it was the same fish, over and over, sent by his buddies with the sole intention of messing with our head...
"You see that guy? He's been up there for HOURS...Larry, go bite his fly."
"Why do I gotta do it? I don't wanna."
"Don't worry, Larry. Just put up a good fight for about 10 minutes, then throw the hook. Just like last time."
A fella can get a little delusional, standing in a cloud of no-see-ums so thick you can't breathe through your nose. We imagine these little conversations that the fish are having, we ponder pointless questions (does our hippie bug spray really work, or does it just make hippies feel good?), and we generally zone out. The steps come, even though they aren't necessary. By force of habit, the "cast one, step two" happens, part of the now-ingrained ritual. Strip, step, set, huck. Move, mend, mind off.
We're pretty sure that the bugs don't bother us much because they think we might be dead. Slow the pulse down, don't wave and shoo them like a little girl, breath slowly and sort of shallow...let them cloud around you, but don't react. It's tough, but when you are in the fish trance it sorta comes naturally.
Each and every cast has a grab in it, somewhere. That's the way you fish it.
When that grab comes, all hell breaks loose, even though you were expecting it. The next quarter-hour becomes a dance in which you feel woefully undermatched, a bumbling spastic with two left feet trying to follow the lead of a fish with more slick moves than Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. These fish don't wear out, they seem more to give in, and their blistering runs after bumping their belly on the gravel are ample reminders that this isn't playing, this is a fight.
If you have said your mantras, washed behind your ears, and lived right, you might land your fish. More often, you will make a few mistakes and eventually the fish will swim free. If you do it right, there is a moment in the fight where your dance partner seems to offer itself up to you, a temporary lapse in the will of the fish, a recognition of a worthy adversary. Do not squander these moments.
When it is all over, you feel the flood of relief, an abdication of the stress of the dance. Dispatch comes quickly and with respect...remember, this is meat you are making. The proper rituals are observed, the fish is made comfortable, and once again you submerge below the surface, into the fish trance.