** Note: This February 2016 story is revised and revisited here today.
Sawyer skidded the truck sideways a little and pulled the e-brake as we lurched to a stop in the fly shop parking lot. He looked at me and grinned.
“Be right back,” he yelled, and he jogged up the short set of stairs.
Sawyer ripped the wooden shop door open, and it clattered on the old hinges. I noticed the square sign on the door: No Waders in the Store.
Really? Who does this? Apparently, the sign is a necessary appeal. I’m sure the owner has a collection of stories about soggy men slopping on the carpet with wading boots, scratching the floor, scratching their bald heads (or maybe tilting their flat brims) and asking the dreaded question,“So what’s been hatching?” I could never own a fly shop — I can’t grit my teeth hard enough.
I sat in the warm sunlight that pierced through the windshield while I swirled the sugar and black grounds at the bottom of my coffee, wishing I was on the water already. Normal people love the sun. Fishermen do not. And if Sawyer and I weren’t going to be fishing by dawn, then the last and worst thing to do was stop at a fly shop — just get to the damn river. Sawyer knew this but couldn’t help himself.
Tippet. He needed tippet.
The shop door rattled again as Sawyer emerged with a victorious smile, holding the round spool of nylon monofilament over his head like an Olympic medal.
“That’s the stuff!” he puffed, as he slammed the door and cranked the ignition.
“Is that your magic tippet?” I asked my friend.
“Dom, it lays dry flies out as softly and beautifully as . . .”
“. . . a whispering butterfly,” I finished. “I know, I know. You told me.” We both laughed.
“I think we’re good on time,” Sawyer said.
I shook my head. “You’ll have to drive fast if you want to beat the weekenders.”
“Yeah.” He nodded.
“It’s just tippet, Sawyer.”
“No it’s not.” He smirked, and we merged with the traffic.
— — — — — — — —
I dislike fishing the weekends, but I’ve lived in the same area and fished here long enough that I can find a nice piece of water to call my own on even the most popular rivers and the busiest weekends. I’ll go ahead and get cocky about it now: I can find good, open water, with no one around, at the peak of the Sulphur hatch on a Saturday evening — I just understand the tendencies of fly fishermen around here.
If those Sulphurs have been around for a while, by the end of May, the ambition of fishermen will have waned a bit; they’ll lag and linger with other distractions before hitting the water, and you can find fine fishing and solitude before everyone else shows up for the late spinner fall of dying, delicate mayflies.
Predicting the habits of other fishermen is a learned skill. It’s not an exact science, but my forecasts are way more accurate than the local weatherman, who curates his information from distant, eye-in-the-sky satellites. Yup. I’m more accurate. And my information is from boots on the ground — dirty, muddy, mileage-worn, wet, heavy boots on their third pair of laces — boots that never dry out — and I’m thankful for that.
— — — — — — — —
Twenty minutes of Sawyer’s tense, eager driving later, and our tires finally hit the dirt road. We both relaxed a bit. Dirt roads will do that for you.
“I told you I have a spare spool of 5X tippet in my box,” I said. “It’s the same thing.”
“No it’s not,” he replied. “This new stuff is really different.”
I couldn’t imagine how Sawyer’s magic tippet could be so different that it was worth the late start, but I understood.
In some ways, it seems like everything’s already been done in this small world, and it’s easy to brush off new variations on old ideas just because they’re so common. But sometimes the smallest things make a difference, and you might miss something good if you’re not paying attention with an open mind.
This good life is full of repetition and variations on a theme. Honestly, that’s what makes us comfortable. Day-to-day life is structured like a familiar song: we do some minor things everyday with a little variation, setting up some of the major things that we also do everyday, and then — at our best — we do something different before getting back to the familiar routine. It’s the verse/chorus/bridge/chorus structure of life.
However, all of that’s not enough reason to stop antagonizing a good friend . . .
“It’s just tippet, Sawyer,” I poked again.
“It’s not the same,” he said.
— — — — — — — —
Around noon, I looked downstream to see Sawyer walking the stony bank toward me. With a casual, satisfied saunter he carried the fly rod in one hand and a chunk of beef jerky in the other. As he approached me streamside, I stared into my fly box, unsatisfied (and quite hungry).
“How was it?” Sawyer asked.
“I had a good run for an hour on that nymph I always tie with the red collar,” I said. “Lost the last one and my confidence with it. They won’t take anything else.”
Sawyer chuckled. He lifted the last bite of jerky to his mouth and pulled a fly box from his pack. He picked out three small, brown flies and held out his hand.
“Take ’em,” he said. “It’s the same thing. It’s just a Pheasant Tail Nymph.”
I shifted my eyes from the flies to Sawyer. “It’s not the same.”
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N