“I’m making a masterpiece!”
“A masterpiece! I’m making a masterpiece!”
“A what, honey?”
T-shirt boy dog-paddled his way within feet of my kayak.
I uncorked a long cast.
“Gar? They have teeth.”
“Yep. You guys are surrounded by them right now.”
“Yeah, they’re all over the place.”
“Do they bite?”
I paused a beat.
“Yeah, they do. Sharp teeth, too. Rows of them.”
“Naw … “
“Well, they probably won't bother you. Probably.”
A western mountain stream. Cold water twists, tumbles and plunges through ancient boulders before settling into a steady flow through a meadow of purple flowers and tan sage grass that wave in the gentle wind. The bright sun glitters among the subtle turmoil creating an infinite universe of twinkling stars which burn out as quickly as they shine, each one instantly replaced by dozens of others, perpetually flashing as long as the water moves and the sun stays above the aspens. Downstream, there is a long pool. Here, you have to squint to see the shadows of the cutthroat trout that hide among the multi-colored riverstone and within the broken reflection of blue-bird skies and distant snow-covered peaks. As mayflies land on your felt fedora, you reach into your vest, nudge aside your pipe tobacco and secure a small metal box. Your name and address are written in blue ink on a piece of masking tape on the lid, along with the words, “Dry Flies.” You open the box and admire its contents, so neatly and perfectly arranged within. You carefully select a small work of art, a parody made of elk hair, dubbing, thread and hackle. Using a knot you learned from the guide you met in Alaska last summer, you tie the fly to your tippet as trout rise to emerging insects in the stream below and you melt into the cover art for the next Orvis catalog.
A slight drizzle began to dimple the surface of the river and I checked my leader and fly. The business end was a four-and-a-half-inch-long bush of untangled and brushed nylon rope. I had added a few strands of silver flashabou and tied everything together with red thread. The hook was a long-shanked streamer hook that I had cut at the bend to remove the hook point. When wet, the fly slowly sank and when stripped, it darted to and fro much like a “walking the dog” jerk bait. The shredded nylon pulsed in the water, giving the presentation a very lifelike appearance. The leader and fly intact, I stripped out some line, loaded the rod with a backcast and shot a long cast into the river, which was now soaking up the needed rain.
“Honey, what are you talking about?”
The day waned, as did the bite. A few small fish came to hand, but the big ones — which continued to stalk my fly — were only curious, or not fooled, or not hungry. I paddled the short distance back to the ramp, stinking of gar slime and bug spray, and stepped out of my kayak into ankle-deep bacterial water. The girl and her family were gone, and the masterpiece had either been returned to the abyss or taken home and kept as a pet. The skies cleared as the sun started to set, and the black river suddenly glowed orange and shimmered as a toothy beak broke the surface with a pop and swirled back to the murky depths below.