I had one hell of a time getting this post started. Nothing worked. I literally wore out the delete key. I threw out beginning after beginning, re-worded, re-phrased, re-everythinged everything time after time, only to read it back and then (with my eyes closed) hit the delete key again and again ad nauseum to the point that when it was time for some shut eye I couldn't sleep. Yes, I couldn't sleep. It was that important to me.
Sometimes, as I go through my days (fly rod always at the ready) the things I make important in my somewhat narrow life's repertoire have to be set aside. Life is (and to not sound so full of myself as to think I speak for everybody I'll say this just for me) chock full of a kind of point and counterpoint, in that there do arise those occasions where I need to not only comprehend, but transcend (if you will) to the 'bigger picture'. And, for the most part, I have managed to keep my eyes open when it really mattered. It's always been too easy for me to get so immersed in my own little spectrum, and stay that way for months, years, or a lifetime. Maybe it's that way for all of us, I don't know, but I confess to thinking that's probably not the norm. Like I said, I don't for a second, with my less than infrequent social interactions and nearly non-existent circle of friends, pretend for that same second that I have any modicum of insight into what anyone else's lives, thought processes, or priorities, are, and at the same time I admit that I like it that way. I knew a long time ago, that as fickle as they may be, trout, and the ways they think are so much more important, meaningful, to me than what goes on in the minds of most human beings... most of the time...
At this point in my post I'd wanted to insert the word 'legacy' and it's definition, but then I read the definition and it just didn't work. True enough that yes, the definition loosely circumscribed the meaning I was after, but in truth, to me, it didn't even come close to what I was looking for. It had no punch, no weight, no depth. It didn't do any justice to what I'm trying to talk about here. So I'm left with the task of attempting to convey to you, my pathetically few but fervently faithful readers just what in the hell I'm trying to say. We'll see if I do, otherwise you won't be reading any of this.
"Delete key is operational as always, sir." (I know, I know!)
Hand-me downs. I grew up in a family that subscribed heavily to this tradition. Hand-me-downs ran the gamut from socks to books to athletic equipment and every entity in between. If you were lacking something, odds were nearly always better than good that someone who'd superseded you had just what you needed. I grew up in a neighborhood full of kids around my age whose families operated around the same principle. And there we all were then, wearing, reading, playing, competing; doing whatever it was we did with the same stuff our predecessors had used. It wasn't until either the existing stock on hand was depleted or we could consistently exhibit exceptional ability that any of us enjoyed the opportunity to experience doing what it was we did with something that was then purchased specifically for us. That's how I first learned to fish and then how I learned to fish with flies, and that's how my son learned. Hand-me-downs.
But in the long run, often the most important aspect of the hand-me-down was the information, or knowledge that was also dispensed. Sure, you had the mitt your grandfather, father, uncle, or older brother once used, but there were usually viewpoints/tips/inside stuff that came along with it. A set(s) of direction(s) to make your ownership of said item(s) more enjoyable/productive. I look back and understand why some of us went further than others from this fairly common starting point. Some of us had better equipment, that is, more relevant information than most of us. The kind of stuff that substantiated wanting to persevere, to get better, to even excel. To get better meant someone had rewarded your effort, and if they did, you upped your chances of reaping the benefits of those efforts; a new mitt, or backboard, a new pair of skis, or, as in my case, a new fly rod, which in turn supplemented the skill level already attained with a fresh outlook on progressing further. And so on and so on...
When I look back on my youth and my relationship with dad, who was an excellent athlete/student/musician in his own right, what I see is a man who though dearly wishing to never grow old, knew that good ol' Father Time was nevertheless proceeding with his master plan. Dad, in his classic short-tempered patriarchal way taught me everything he knew as far as athletics (and the piano) were concerned, albeit to a certain point. It was when I began to best him in different categories that he felt his input was not necessary anymore. For example, I still remember the very last time we played badminton. It was the time I beat him in a no-holds barred three game match. He'd walked off the court showing little or no emotion, but I sensed a certain pride in my accomplishment. How could he have not been? He'd taught me well, and better than that he'd taught me the right stuff, the kind of stuff that kept me playing, and striving to get better to the point that I was the Ferris High School badminton champ for four years in a row!
It was the same for fly fishing. He was a perfectionist. A knowledgeable, if somewhat impatient teacher. I didn't go past the lesson at hand until I'd completely satisfied him that I had it mastered. There were guidelines set down, practice was a given, and the reward was graduation to the next set of skills, until The Day arrived when I was asked (required) to accompany him in the Chris Craft up to his beloved Distillary Bay to fish big hairy dries for Cutthroat Trout. And, would I please rig up my new graphite fly rod before we went? I'd done it! I'd graduated to the next level, which was going to be as tough (or tougher) than the previous ones because this was the first one that actually dealt with everything concerning actually finding, casting to and catching a cuttie, which meant that my education as far as flies, insects, habitats, anything having directly to do with locating and enticing trout was beginning.
So, then, was the rest of my life. I just didn't know it at the time. How could I? I was twelve. There would have to be many years and many events come to pass before I would realize that. But when I did, I knew I'd been given the firmest of foundations on which to build my own sets of experience and knowledge. That will always be the most thoughtful gift I have ever received.
I stand in my river upstream from him, staying just busy enough so as to not to let him see me watching, but I have no reason to fear being found out. He is unaware of anything other than the job at hand. His roll cast is decent, and now he mends line in behind it, allowing his fly to settle as it is carried downstream before it begins to rise while carving its arc. His concentration is palpable, his demeanor, though, relaxed.
And I am quietly amazed by his ability, his method. It then strikes me that he is utilizing a set of tools I have taught him to use here, on my river. His movements are confident, unhurried. While he watches his line, I can almost see the wheels in his head turning. His fly reaches the end of its arc. I know it has because he is letting it dangle so it will be feathered back and forth, up and down by the current. Then, suddenly he lifts his rod which bends, and shudders as he does so. My son has hooked a very nice rainbow. It is only then that he chances a look upstream in my direction, a broad smile on his face. I can easily see that. Right through my own. And I'd have several more chances to grin on this morning and more still two mornings later, when he showed me his ease with something else I'd talked to him about.
The Spokane River is not a fly fisherman's river, at least not in the classic sense of dry flies, long casts, easy wades, or predictable hatches. It is almost never easy, takes years to even begin to understand, and is more than frequently a severe test for those who have spent their time here wisely. Its currents are never less than a hydraulic hell, demanding a fluent understanding of many odd but utilitarian casts and mends (other than the ones you're probably used to). It's all about putting the fly, nymph, dry, streamer, or wet into the strike zone.
But most importantly, it's really more about knowing that on this river there are no rules. And if there really are no rules, where does that leave the fisherman who has not only spent a good majority of his time playing by those rules and has also learned to make them work to his advantage? They usually don't stay long. One visit is quite enough, if they can't 'throw out the blueprint'.
Monday morning was a carbon-copy of the previous Saturday, weather-wise. Cool morning warming quickly as the sun rose into another bluest sky. We were on the water again before 6. But that's about where the similarities ended. It's like I've said a million times about the Spokane; every day is different. And if you wish to be consistently successful, you must remember that there can be no box, no routine, other than a routine centered around consistent creativity.
Two mornings. Different, for sure, but identical in that on both days as I watched my son he not only utilized some of the tools I'd taught him, but used them creatively, innovating and then implementing a basically new set of skills with which to be successful. That, my friends, is powerful stuff when you witness it happening. And it bodes well for his future fishing endeavors, because although he will undoubtedly fish more classically oriented waters in his lifetime, the lessons learned here will always be there, in his toolbox, waiting to be put to use again and again. And, most importantly, beyond making his dad quietly prouder than hell, is his mindset. Knowing that there is a solution, and knowing that he has the tools is the best gift I can ever give him. That's one hell of a legacy.
There. That's why I wanted to use that word.
But the lessons really never do stop. Not for me, at least. My fish count for those two mornings is not worth mention. Why? Well, beyond admitting that I landed very few fish, that wasn't really the point. How could I have enjoyed that over seeing the torch get passed. I'll take the way it all panned out every time over a big fish count. Besides, I have tomorrow and the next day and the day after that...
... and I'll figure it out all over again, and again...