Her world was water. Moving water. The rocks around her had changed little over the years, but the cold, liquid medium she existed in was forever morphing to the substrate through which it flowed. The water originated from snow pack, not far from her location at the headwaters of the stream. Cascading and rushing violently at times, it was pulled from its mountain source down to the valleys below by the force of gravity. Once in the valley, the water carved out more room for itself to play and, simultaneously, slowed its travels, seemingly enjoying its time spent in the fertile land before being ushered to the great salt seas beyond.
Her watery world was narrower in scope however, as she was born in the very pool in which she would one day die. The deep pool that she called home was created over the eons by water carving rock. In the David versus Goliath battle, water had won through sheer persistence, and the seemingly unconquerable rock had slowly succumbed to defeat, eroding away into a deep canyon as it retreated. At the head of the pool, water cascaded down from a logjam, built by the force that it once contained. But now, in its weakened state in the height of summer, the water was reduced to merely pass through, a reminder of its own mortality.
Although turbulence caused the visibility at the base of the waterfall to be poor, she spent time there, soaking in the oxygen-rich water through her gills. By constantly flicking her powerful tail and controlling her pitch through minute adjustments to her fins, she was able to overcome the torrent and lap in its richness. She spent most of her time though in the slower, more-forgiving current at the tail end of the pool. Here she positioned herself upstream to monitor the current, both on the surface and below, for food. Her lateral lines, running the length of her body, detected subtle vibrations in the water and, combined with her sharp eye site, made her an effective predator. Like an ever-moving conveyer belt, the stream carried her meals directly through her pool, however infrequently. The growing season in the high mountains is short, sometimes mere weeks, and, as a result, food is scarce. She could not afford to be picky. Anything that resembled a meal was quickly inhaled. Mayflies, stoneflies, caddis, midges, ants, beetles, and the occasional grasshopper rounded out her diet, although truth be told, she remained hungry the majority of the time.
Although her stream appeared tranquil to the layperson, babbling peacefully through miles of virgin forest, she knew otherwise. The water could be merciless. During the spring, snowmelt morphed the stream into a chocolate brown torrent, able to sweep aside whole boulders and trees with its sheer force, as evidenced by the large logjam at the head of the pool. As the water plummeting over the falls above, the sound emitted was deafening. During summer, the stream lost its vigor and was reduced to a mere trickle and her world literally shrank around her. In the fall, water temperatures dropped and an urgency seemed to befall the stream, as if it knew the harshness that lay in store for its constituents in the months to come. And winter. Cold, unpitying winter. The stream was reduced to an unseen trickle below a covering of snow and ice. The turbulence caused by the waterfall, now a mere shadow of its former glory, kept the pool from freezing over. She spent these cold, merciless months moving little, in an almost catatonic state. She ate virtually nothing and her once plump body was morphed into an emaciated version of her former self. Only the bounty of spring kept her swimming.
But now, in the early summer, life was good. She had survived another spring melt and the frozen months she must endure were in the distant future. And besides, a large moth, no doubt caught in the spray of the waterfall, had slowly drifted through the pool this morning. Her belly was full, more full than it had been in a long time. For the moment, life was good in her watery world.
The fisherman stopped and wiped his brow. He wore his years on his face and in his bones. This climb, one he had done hundreds of times over past decades, was becoming more difficult with each passing year. He awkwardly leaned back and sat on a log to rest his aching joints. His pack and fly rod leaned proudly against a nearby tree. His set up was a simple one – fly rod, a single box of flies, and a lunch. Simplicity he found was one of the most difficult things to achieve in life and yet necessary to fully appreciate a place like this. He finally caught his breath and began to focus on his surroundings. The waterfall and pool had been his destination many times, and yet, never ceased to astonish him with their beauty. Slowly his attention shifted to yet another unseen beauty; the trout that surely resided in this pool. These trout were not huge by anyone’s standards, but that is not why he fished. He smiled at the thought. Philosophical musings on why one pursues trout with a fly were surely over played and would have to wait. In the mean time, he merely wanted to catch a fish, admire it in all its exquisiteness, and then return it to its home.
He had to remind himself to squelch his excitement and slow down as he hurriedly strung his fly rod. His hands fumbled with the thin monofilament as he tied on his offering – a homely pattern crafted from his own vice. No matter, the trout here were not picky. He was ready. With each sweep of the delicate fly rod he let out more line. And then, with eyes focused on the pool, the logjam, the swirling current, and the hope and faith that a trout lay within, he cast.
Author - Kevin Mahoney is an avid fly fisherman and trail runner. When not teaching high school math and science, Kevin can be found combing the streams and trails of north Idaho with his wife and dog.