Since my senior year of high school, the annual spring trip to Appalachia has become a highlight of my year. Although the fishing in May along up and down the eastern United States is usually at its peak, the time spent with close friends and fishing partners is the real treat of the trip. Our target destination has always been the infamous Penn's Creek of central Pennsylvania, but weather being what it can be this time of year, at times we've had to change plans and relocate elsewhere. Last year our fallback option was the Delaware, and this year, it was the Savage in western Maryland. When destinations like those are a "plan b," you're a pretty damn spoiled trout fisherman.
Early May thunderstorms forced us to bail on Penn's again; instead our group converged on the Savage with plans to rendezvous at a wonderful little cabin situated within casting distance of one of the best pools on the entire river.
The Savage isn't what you'd expect for an eastern trout stream. A steep gradient, and a uncountable number of large boulders make the creek difficult to wade. Although the fish aren't as selective as fish on other famous eastern tailwaters, an inhospitable working environment for fisherman can certainly make it feel that way.
By late Sunday night, the crowd had arrived and shenanigans had started. Although I've seen a lot of jerryrigged gear on fishing trips, this was the first time I'd ever seen a beer can used as a line winder. If this was any indicator of what was to come, we were certainly going to be in for a good trip.
Our group split up over the next few days and tried our luck all over the Savage, the North Branch of the Potomac, and many of the little brook trout streams that carve their way through almost every valley of the area. Although an unexpected release doubled the flow that morning on our target tailwater, and thunderstorms surprised us with unexpected heavy rain, after some persistence we found what we were after.
The fishing weather wasn't perfect, and conditions were far from ideal - but that's fishing, and it's just the way fishing trips go sometimes. I don't think there's very much "true adversity" to overcome in fly fishing, but as more and more gets stacked against you, the greater the reward is if you figure it out and fight through it. The reward isn't always the same, though, and it seems like each day every one of us is after something different. As much as fly fishermen get tired of hearing other fly fishermen talk about how "it's not just about the fish," it's funny how maybe days it really isn't. At the same time, when it isn't the fish that I'm really after, pinning down the reasons why I fish is like trying to catch smoke. They're always changing, and never the same.
Over those few days the fishing was clearly at its best from late morning through the middle of the afternoon. As dinner time approached, the fish that had risen for the past few hours happily to blue quills and midges, seemed to disappear into nothing. When you're standing knee deep making cast after cast, and drift after drift, that would have been eaten a couple hours ago going untouched it's pretty easy to find yourself at a loss for what to do next. The fishing had been good for hours, but once it was over, dozens of rising trout and a couple miles of river seemed to have gone by entirely too fast. By the time the sun was going down and we'd returned to my Jeep I was already wondering if I'd appreciated the day as much as I should have. Maybe now, a week or so later, as I stare at the computer screen and try to put words down to accurately describe the trip, am I fully able to appreciate what it was like. On the other hand, maybe the memories started yellowing around the edges the moment I stepped out of the water and started up the trail into the wood, and that moment of true appreciation is long past.
I guess the simple truth is that there are moments in fly fishing that are impossible to relive or to duplicate. Despite the countless hours and immeasurable effort spent trying, as they say, lightning never strikes the same place twice. I think this is a good thing. This lesson probably has a different meaning for everyone, but for me it's relatively simple. On a river there are lots of little moments, each one is unique, and good or bad, isn't likely to happen again. So instead of bailing on a drift early and looking back upstream to see where I'm going to cast next I'm going to do my best to make one more mend, and fish that drift out out to the bitter end. Who knows - even as my fly starts to drag there might be a fish dumb enough to take a shot, and if I look away I'll never see that magic happen.