The Bending Rods and Cracking Bats by Mark Usyk

We stood on the bridge, looking down to the small stream and the fly fisherman standing knee deep in the soft current. The sun had been up for a couple hours now, and birds flitted here and there in the trees. The swallows that are built for speed would come zooming down the stream weaving and swooping, looking as if they were having fun while getting their fill of the morning insects. Truth be told they probably do. It’s hard to say if a bird is smiling as it passes by at fifty miles an hour but it probably is. The insects have such a tough life. Death from above and from below. Swooping birds and rising trout. And then there are the humans, constantly swatting and squashing and spraying poisons. It’s no wonder the bugs spend years of their lives under rocks on the bottoms of streams only to hatch and fly for twenty-four hours or less before dying. We consider them thoughtless things, but maybe there’s more to learn from them than we think after all.

The angler was casting up stream and across, tight loops in the air and a dry fly that couldn’t be registered by the human eye from this distance resting on a current, carrying it towards a decent sized rock mid-stream. Beyond the rock, between it and the scrubby far bank, I pointed out the light splashes to my son. The Brook Trout taking insects from the surface. There looked to be two or three of them working close to the bank but the angler couldn’t seem to find the right trajectory to land his dry fly and then mend his line to get the perfect drift, the drift that would fool the fish. My son’s voice raised from a whisper to an elevated and excited whisper as he saw three good rises all about the same time. Then we saw the rise of the fish that was in front of the rock, less than twenty feet from the angler. The angler adjusted his footing on the gravel bottom, twisted his torso and lifted the line off the water and with one fluid movement shot fly line, leader, and dry fly forward and upstream of the spot the fish rose last.

From our perch on the bridge we couldn’t tell still where the dry fly was, but when the fish rose again in the same spot and the angler hadn’t lifted his rod tip we knew that the trick had failed. With the lift of the rod the line was once again shot forward and upstream for another drift through the feeding trout’s water, and two more times the fish splashed but the line didn’t go tight. Now whether these were last second refusals of the fly or absolute indifference to it and the taking of the real deal somewhere close in proximity we couldn’t tell, but I explained to my son how a trout will sometimes rise to a fisherman’s fly only to taunt them but never actually take the fake. That a trout, as small of a brain as they have, has an instinct engrained in it over thousands of years that tells it somehow that something is not right. Sometimes you can find the fault in the drag of the fly line in a different current pulling the fly unnaturally on top, sometimes you can blame the pattern for being the wrong one, the wrong color, or the wrong size, and sometimes it’s just a fish that won’t fall for it.

I have to believe that fly fishing has a lot to teach. That in today’s world where every kid gets a trophy, and every kid makes the team, fly fishing can teach the lessons of losing better than many other things that kill time and bring parents and children together. In fly fishing, there is a needed focus to both master the cast and to understand the situation at hand. And the fact that you could have everything perfect, just so, and still fail is a lesson that too many people deny today. Some days it’s just not going to come together, it’s just not going to end in your favor, and you have to deal with it. You have to keep casting, like a little leaguer in a slump of losses you just have to keep swinging for the fence.

After about five or six casts there was a splash, the angler lifted his rod. The rod bent and danced a happy dance, and a small wild brook trout swam circles in front of the fisherman as he brought it in closer and closer. We crashed down the bank from the bridge and my son got a good look at the fish just as it was being released, his smile as big as the man who had just done the catching. And there’s the final lesson.

No matter how much of a slump you may be in, no matter how the odds may be stacked against you, and no matter how many times you may fail, eventually you’ll find yourself with a fish in hand, or with a baseball sailing through the air following the crack of the bat. I think if more kids fished, life would become clearer earlier on. You can’t win them all. But that’s no reason not to make the cast. In fly fishing not everyone gets a trophy, yet you just keep casting.