Life invariably contains a multitude of first experiences. Your first kiss, your first car, your first job.
And perhaps most importantly, your first fish.
For most of us, that first fish came on a spinning rod dad or grandpa rigged up for us, setting us down to dunk worms so they could fly fish and (try to) watch us at the same time.
Now, I don’t remember where I caught my first fish. My earliest memory of fish involves standing in a creek next to my dad when I was three or four years old, watching him fly fish. I remember the dry flies he used. I remember marveling at the ease with which he cast the flies, and how quickly the fish ate them. I also remember a fish swimming right over my feet. That may or may not be the wishful memory of a now-reflective trout bum, but it’s how I remember the night and I’ll stick with it.
While I don’t remember my first fish, I do remember the first place I caught a fish on a fly rod.
It’s a small mountain stream, not ten minutes from my childhood home. I grew up on the side of a mountain in Utah, and a crystal-clear spring creeks runs through the town’s canyon. One hole in particular is perfect for fly fishing. It’s a deep pool with a fast current in the middle and nice seams on either side. The trout aren’t big, but they’re wild and pretty. I spent countless hours standing on the bank of that hole, catching fish after fish when I finally figured out how to use my dad’s old fly rod.
Over the weekend, I had the chance to go home and pay the stream a visit – this time, armed to the teeth with a Sage Mod, more flies than I can count, and reels and line worth more than what I paid for my first car (I have what can affectionately be described as an obsession with fly fishing gear).
The stream hasn’t changed much over the years. It’s surrounded by a thicket of willows which have grown monstrously out of control. I guess that’s what happens when so few people fish it and so few anglers are snapping limbs off in an attempt to save their flies.
On the far bank, the grass has grown tall enough to hide a full-grown Sasquatch. Between the willows and the grass, you’ve gotta be careful when casting in this particular hole, or you’re going to be out $20 worth of flies in about five minutes. I speak from personal experience – that’s my own record.
I sat on the banks and looked at the small fish darting to and fro in the clear water. A few of the larger ones, undisturbed by my presence, rise and slurp a few small mayflies off the surface. I’ve been gone for years, but the fish haven’t noticed. The landscape hasn’t. I’m the only one aware that I’ve strayed so far from my roots.
I threw just a few casts that evening. As is the case these days, I had places to be, work to get done, and errands to run. The detritus of daily life has a knack for getting in the way of the more important things – fly fishing, love, adventuring through this great world.
But for the few minutes I spent fishing, life’s worries were cast aside and I felt as though I were the young boy once more, standing in a river for the first time, swinging a fly rod double my size.
Thankfully, the trout cooperated and played with my Royal Wulff.
I left far too soon, back down the canyon into cell service. My phone blew up with emails, texts, reminders. Life was back again, and the further I drove away from home, the memory of where this lifestyle began grew more dim with each passing minute.
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Spencer is a fly fishing writer and novelist from Utah. His debut novel, Learning to Fly, is set for a late summer 2016 release from GenZ Publishing. Spencer writes monthly fly fishing columns for multiple publications, including national outlets such as Hatch Magazine and the Orvis Fly Fishing Blog. You can connect with Spencer on Twitter and Instagram @Spencer_Durrant, or on Facebook at @spencerdurrantauthor.