I've made up my mind, and nobody can change it.
God loves to go fly fishing. I know this, because today he came along with me. With everything God has on his plate, he took the time to strap on his waders and follow me along the river.
Yesterday at this time I was mired in the middle of madness. A new project at work and way too many nasty people to deal with. I felt stressed, inadequate, completely out of place, and unable to focus. I was just about ready to throw in the towel. I took a quick break and prayed to God, asking him to be with me and bring me some joy in the midst of sheer joylessness.
God answered the prayer, albeit in a sneaky, almost mischievous way, and here's what I think the answer was: "Soon, my friend. Soon. But not tonight."
In any event, God at least allowed me to survive yesterday at work, knowing that I would be off today and free to hit the river. I didn't really know what to expect on the Poudre today. We had our first snow of the year last weekend, and until the past couple of days it had been pretty cold outside. This morning had enough of a chill that I strapped on a goofy looking winter cap that looks like it was knitted in the 1950s by an elf somewhere on the island of misfit toys. I didn't care. I just wanted my ears warm and my bed-head concealed.
When we arrived on the river - me in my cap and Dad looking far more "fisherman-like" - we both noticed that the water had risen significantly, thanks to some drainage from a nearby reservoir. There was no insect hatch on the surface to speak of, and no trout coming to the surface at all. A perfect day to fish nymphs, which is fine by me, as anyone who knows me can attest to my preference for nymph fishing. I tied on a brown stonefly nymph - I'm not sure why - and a bright orange strike indicator, and out across the river I waded.
Turns out that God was wading with me. After no more than a dozen casts, I felt a subtle, familiar tug on the fly and watched the flyline stop its drift downstream. A quick hookset later, a feisty, strong rainbow began his run downstream. He fought violently, thrashing and jumping. I LOVE the way a big rainbow fights.
As the fish grew tired and I walked him to the bank, I felt an absolute surge of emotion, some strange combination of a gigantic exhale and a full body goosebump. I was surrounded by beauty, and for a few brief moments, everything was perfect. I don't know how else to explain it. I landed the big rainbow and lifted it up to show Dad. With one last surge of fight, the rainbow thrashed out of my hands and into the shallow water. As I reached down to work the life back into his gills, he flipped his tail and swam away. No pictures, no witnesses. Just a private fishing story between me and God.
I tied on a San Juan worm next and threw my line back out in the current. Shortly thereafter, the story repeated itself. A complete nose dive by my strike indicator signaled the obvious, and I set the hook. In short order, I had caught two of the bigger trout in my insignificant fly fishing career. 18 hours after praying to God for just a small amount of joy, I was suddenly awash in it. The picture doesn't do justice for the fish, but if you look closely, you'll see some gorgeous coloring and get a true sense of how big and solid he was.
At that point, God went to fish with Dad for awhile.
By this time, long past time for lunch, I think God decided he had to get back to work on the rest of the world. I'd hooked another big fish, only to lose him to either a poor hookset or laziness in playing him - I think the latter. Frankly, I could have walked off the river a happy man after the first fish. Nonetheless, I answered Dad's subtle suggestion that it might be time for a sandwich much as God had answered my prayer of yesterday. "Soon, Dad. Soon. Just not quite yet." My nymph was getting hung up frequently on sticks and rocks under the surface, so I popped off the split-shot that was on the line to sink the fly. I began to cast again, and then Dad and I saw a big brown leap clear out of the water right in between us.
Clouds temporarily covered the sun, just for a mere 10 seconds or so. I can't be certain, but at that very moment I think God was winking at me, saying "you're about to get your joy, kid." I drifted the nymph as perfectly as I'm capable of doing, and then watched the end of the line come to a stop. I yanked back on the flyrod and felt as though I'd hooked a moving anvil.
This fish had to be a big brown. Maybe I'm just imagining things, but it seems like browns and rainbows fight a little different. While the first rainbow I caught ran and thrashed and jumped, this fish seemed to be saying "I'm gonna sit on the bottom of this here river and swim back and forth a little bit until you're strong enough to pull me out. Give it your best shot." So I brought in line until he took it back out again. This game went on for awhile until I was able to get him into some shallow water. Only then did he start to thrash a little bit. By now Dad was in the game too, and every time Dad tried to net him, the trout snarled and swam away again.
Finally, Dad scooped him up in the net and we got a quick photo.
As we drove home from the river, I suddenly realized what had happened. God, like any friend, didn't want to hang out with me in a place of misery. Sure, he was there with me in sales hell, but I think he figured I could handle it on my own that day. It was almost as though he were saying "quit sweating this small, insignificant stuff. It'll be over someday soon. Deal with it and look forward to something better."
Maybe today was the preview of something better to come. Maybe not. But of one thing I'm certain. God does answer prayers and he does so with a purpose. Maybe I don't always understand the purpose, but I have no doubt that there is one. I think it's up to all of us to keep looking, keep seeking, and keep persevering.
All I know is this: I never prayed to catch fish. That would have sounded ridiculous to God, sort of like praying before a big game that your team will win, as though God would grant favor to one team over another, or to me over a trout. The prayer was for some joy.
There was joy aplenty today.