Fishing the Run Well by Jeremy Spyridon
Let me tell you what happens when you fly-fish for the first time in your life. You will fall. You will hook more rocks than fish. You will catch your rod on branches. You will tangle your line into knots you never knew existed. Your skin will burn beneath a merciless sun. Your body will be beaten, your skin will be scraped, scratched and scarred. You will curse the name of God on a whim. And then you will have the audacity to look up as a hundred swallows ride currents rising from the canyon floor into the golden beams of a setting sun and wonder if it all was worth it. And not just this day, but each day that had come before it.
Such was my state of mind as I limped pitifully back up the canyon walls. In the end, it was not my smashed knee that slowed my pace. It was not the gear that clung to the sweat on my back. It wasn’t even my wounded pride. It was my will, my worth, my identity. For the first half of our journey back to the car, I was able to keep up with my companions. But as our ascent continued, my spirit dove deeper and deeper into shadow. Thankfully, Elias and Joseph did not wait for me and continued at their own determined pace. As they rounded the next switchback, I stopped and accepted my fate. I chose to be left behind.
As I looked down into the canyon, watching the swallows dance in the diminishing sunlight, I reflected on the day. It had worn on me in ways I could not have imagined. After 6 hours of fishing and not even a single bite, I decided to lay down my rod and rest beside the river. With my hand in the current, I recalled bass fishing with my Dad. I remembered the excitement of rising before the sun. I remembered the joy of being on the water. But then I remembered something else. I remembered enjoying casting, but always hoping I wouldn’t catch a fish. I remembered taking long breaks just to enjoy basking in the sunlight. I looked forward to the next can of Diet Coke, but rarely the next cove. And above all, I looked forward to the long drive home that included a stop at Pizza Hut and hours spent listening to The Blues Brothers. But I never wanted to catch a fish.
I wondered what that meant about me. Was it true that I didn’t want to catch a fish? All these years, was I truly not competitive? Or had this always been a way to protect myself from defeat? Am I weak? Is this why I fear intimacy? Am I going to die alone? Fuck. 28 and single. My gaze rested on the golden peaks surrounding me. How like life, to survive so much pain and suffering and loneliness and, in the end, all you get to take with you is a few faded memories of some nice views that will someday pass away with the rest of you. Deeper and deeper I dove. Here I was, in one of the most breathtaking places I had ever beheld, questioning my next breath. I suddenly resented Joseph’s passion for fishing. I coveted Elias’s obsession with film photography. I hated what I had become. And so I looked at my feet on the cliff’s edge and thought, “it’s just one step.”
It had all begun with a simple question. Somehow, asking myself if I wanted to catch a fish had led me to question living another day. Of course the thought was no more than a selfish, self-indulgent pity party, but it happened. And it wasn’t out of nowhere. There was a chain reaction of thoughts that led to that moment, and I ignited the fuse each step along the way. Like a game of telephone, lies become evidence for more lies, and in the end, you’re left with something that makes no sense at all. You see, the mind is a powerful thing and yet it can be so stupid. Did you know that your body cannot tell the difference between reality and imagination? It’s true. Your body reacts the same way to a real tragedy as it does when you speculate worst-case scenarios. You experience the same stress when you lose your job as when you worry about that unsettling look your boss gave you yesterday. Finding out a loved one has been in an accident leaves the same scar as when you wonder why they didn’t answer your phone call. The difference is, you can imagine the worst over and over and over again. And when you do, you’re literally traumatizing yourself. Over and over and over.
The next morning I awoke bruised and beaten, but with a miraculous hope for a fresh start. We would give the river one final go before beginning our journey out of the canyon. We followed the river and found the run we were looking for. This was it. I was going to catch a fish. I even prayed for it. And then, to the amusement of God and all His angels, my very first cast, I hooked the tree above me and broke the line. I began to curse… and then took a breath. I felt my thoughts getting away from me again, so I stopped. Like the rudder of a ship, the slightest degree can have you end up in Iceland or Africa.
I took my rod and broken line to an isolated area and sat for awhile. I remembered something Joseph had said the day before as we descended into the canyon. He spoke of “fishing the run well.” You only get one, maybe two, chances to get a fly in front of a fish before he knows you’re full of shit. You study the environment. You observe the insects nearby. The formation of the river. The structure beneath its surface. Each bend, each shadow, each ripple. You consider the life of the fish and where they might rest. You take this all in, make your judgement, and then commit. You comb the river, bit by bit. You lose yourself in being present. And you watch your line with all your might. Then you move to the next spot and do it all over again. You fish the run well. The context was fly-fishing, of course, but we all knew there was something greater at stake.
Sitting alone with my pitiful situation of a rod, I decided to take a moment to start over. I remembered the knots I had learned the day before and went to work. After some grueling moments of patience, my rod and my spirit were ready. I spent the rest of the morning fishing the river on my own, reading the current, choosing my strategy, and then deliberately executing it to the best of my ability. I fished that river well. Up and down, near and far. I began to understand my rod. I felt the fluidity of my movements. My fly began to land exactly where I’d intended. And I loved every second of it. I loved it so much, in fact, that I over-fished the same runs simply out of the sheer joy of being able to cast without catching every single branch, log and rock I came across. And I thanked God for it. I never did catch a trout, but I learned that fishing a run well has absolutely nothing to do with what you catch. At least it didn’t for me.
For the photography nerds: All photos taken with an iPhone 4 and edited using VSCO.
Jeremy is a talented graphic designer by day. You should really check out his portfolio. He recently made a playlist called River Teeth inspired by our trip, which you can listen to over on his music blog, Icarus & Occident.