It’s been at least five years since I’ve fly fished. My tween-aged son is drawing me back into it by way of his emerging spinner rod fishing obsession. 

Now I cast, standing alone in the Arkansas River while he is at school. My first time in a river, fly rod in hand, in what feels like half a lifetime. I’m rusty.

I’m reacquainting myself with the rhythms of my wrist, my arm, and the rod by extension. And the way my feet and legs negotiate the rocky bottom against the current. The way my hands work. 

I am especially aware of my hands. I squint my eyes and work again and again with my finger tips to slide 4x tippet through the eyelet at the tip of the fly. I look at these quivering hands and my mind conjures the hands of my dad. Or at least the idea of them. 

I’m now the dad. These aged hands no longer are an abstract concept that happens to other. They are, somewhat inexplicably, mine. The terrain worn into the skin of my fingers, knuckles and the back of my hand is brought on by time. Mostly. But also by the dry winter that’s just passed in the mountains where I live.

I don’t care to catch fish. For the most part. I tell my wife before I leave the house for the river, “In fact, I hope I don’t. I just want to be there.”

When I said similar things in years past, I thought I meant it enough. And I suppose I did. But now I feel it even more deeply, never truer the words. 

When did time outdoors become so sacred to me? Or maybe it’s a matter of becoming aware that it is. To just be there is the prevailing desire. 

I cast with my right hand and arm over and over, the fingers of my left hand holding, pulling and giving slack in the line. I notice that my chest is squeezed. Over and over. I’m holding my breath. It intensifies when I cast, as if I’m aiming to achieve something.

“Cast until you exhale,” I tell myself. “Just cast until you exhale. Don’t go home until the chest is no longer afraid.”

It’s a bluebird day. I listen to the river and look at the snow-capped peaks that stand past the highway I try to pretend is not there. 

On the other hand, that the highway is there, that drivers rip by at 60 miles per hour, some of them no doubt seeing me in the river not far below, sparks gratitude. I am part of the picture, the scene. My fly rod casting rhythm, imperfect as it is, stirs something in the drivers. I know. It does when I’m one of those drivers spotting fly fishers somewhere. Anywhere.

Beauty. Envy. Solitude. Sunday mornings. Giddy midweek afternoons.

I recline on the bank when I’m done casting and done tying on another new fly. My knot was bad. Again. I lost the previous fly. Two actually. But this time I take a full 10 minutes for the task. I enjoy sitting in the sun with nowhere better to be, staring at my aging hands as they do this work. 

Before I hike up the short, winding trail to my truck and join the drivers on the highway to home, I absorb the moment. The sun, the sounds, the breeze. I take time to write. Thoughts, phrases of poetry. The inspirations of being there, the words that were writing themselves in my mind while I was casting.

I exhale. Finally. To the point I now feel like lying all the way back on that bank and taking a nap in the sun. 

This is why I’m here. Not the fish. Fishing is the claim. It’s ostensibly the reason to walk out the door and enter a river. A ruse.

The real reel is just being here

… until I’m here.

AI-generated title image created using DreamStudio, with this prompt: a middle-aged man with shaved head and long brown gray beard, fly fishing in a river in the mountains, words floating in the air around him

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