So, I was thinking about writing a blog regarding my friend’s summertime explosive diarrhea, but then I thought twice about it. Who wants to read about a man on a tractor in the middle of somewhere who can’t hold his prune juice? Therefore, I chose to write about a friendlier summertime topic.
I was a fly fisherman once. By that, I mean one day. And, on that one day, the river, the rod, the raft, the flies, fish, boat and fellow mates were all against me, and there wasn’t a steroid around to enhance my performance.
Starting at an early age, my two brothers and I had been bobber fishing, bass fishing, and deep sea fishing before with respectable success and maximum fun, but we’d never been fly fishing at all as a trio. It was to prove, once again, that I will try just about anything once.
Looking forward to enjoy the beauty of Montana’s Bitterroot Valley as well as the company of my two brothers, Tom and I began our journey to the campsite where brother Greg and the instructor would await our arrival. I must write, the drive to the campsite, followed by an evening of laughter, campfire grub, adult libations and a night beneath the stars is always my favorite part of a trip with my older siblings. I can’t speak for Greg or Tom, but I can guess they look forward to both the night before fishing just as much as the next morning of tossing in a line much like one looks forward to Christmas Eve and the big day which follows. Brown trout, silvers, and rainbows swim in their heads because they know how to capture these gifts mother nature so graciously provides, granted they display the proper techniques and terminology required to catch their limit.
Pretentious fly fishing terms and phrases such as “amphidromous”, “the bimini twist” and “the blue dun hackle” floated off their tongues as smoothly as our raft sliding into the five star fly fishing river of the Montana Bitterroots. Me? (I could only memorize these terms), while shouting out to my brothers, “perhaps this is my first time casting with the ten o’clock to two o’clock motion, yet my preparation and angling vernacular should earn me a seat on our guide’s raft.” Sadly, my thoughts could only be compared to taking the driver’s test for the first time. It’s a night filled with crops of excitement only to be suffocated by a plague of anxiety. It’s a Christmas Eve when you know you may not get your present tucked beneath that pristine honey hole filled with swimming creatures of the shallows, whose demise is imminent depending on which angler is casting. Your thoughts drift slowly into cold dreams.
As a part time prophet, I tried to interpret these dreams but could only come up with a crudely whispered phrase: “Fish safe, me….very very cold, yet belly remain full.” Ok, I get the first part. Looking like a fool in front of my brothers, I’m not going to catch a damn thing other than pneumonia. But, why am I going to be so “very very” cold? I just purchased two hundred dollars worth of crap to keep me warm on this trip, and furthermore, how the hell am I going to have a belly full of anything if I don’t catch my dinner? And, please, don’t give me any of that “belly full of life” garbage you might find while watching Holiday Season Classics. I need my sustenance, and beer doesn’t always suffice.
Waking the next morning, we were greeted by our guide. “Get your goat smellin asses out of those frog piss stained fart bags! It’s fly fishin time in God’s Country, NO, By God, this is Greg’s Country!” Much to my dismay, my most Reverend Brother Greg was to be our fishing guide. Tom, the middle brother, only laughed, but I had remembered lessons learned from Greg at a very young age. Much like the introduction to fly fishing, they started out bad, and then resulted in bruises, frostbite, lacerations, and a few concussions. Now, in my late twenties, he still made me a little nervous.
Before I could rub my baby blue eyes, Greg proceeded with his four o’clock a.m. motivational rant, “What the hell is takin you so long, you little snot rag?! Are you waiting for those fish to send you an invitation using their gills? How about I catch one right now and bring it over to your lazy ass and he’ll wipe those scummy boogers out of your eyes with his fins. Grab your rod and let’s hit em’ while their wet, and before they figure out how dumb you are!”
Tom looked at me, and spoke with confidence, “You heard the man, let’s get our gear.” Only because Greg was taking one himself, I did manage to squeak in a morning leak before he could zip up his rubbers. After retrieving my gear, we were all ready to “rip some lips”. (I don’t know, maybe I’m a bit of a softy, but that fishing phrase just sounds simply awful to me.) Lips or no lips, I made my way to the raft and settled comfortably into my swivel chair. Almost sounding magnanimous, Greg spoke once again, but this time with a simple question. “Everybody ready?” Instead of providing an equally simple answer such as Tom’s “ready”, I belted out a “ready to go a fishin tune”.”You get a line, I get a pole, we’ll go down to the fishin hole, do da, da do da, today.” Tom silently shook his head knowing this was a colossal breach of fly fishing etiquette. Not the poor singing, but the blasphemous use of the word pole when the proper term for this fish slaying device is indeed a “rod”. Enter Greg’s Rod Rage.
Beginning almost quietly, though vibrating with rage and breathing quite heavily, Greg asked, “What did you just say?”
Sheepishly replying, “What? Huh?”
Greg continued, “That thing you sang about in your hand. What did you call it?”
Dripping with sarcasm, I replied, “I called it a pole. I am truly sorry, God of The Bitterroots, but before I seek ultimate forgiveness for using such poor judgement, and prior to providing an act of contrition, may I ask why it’s such a big deal? Can’t you fit both of them in the same holes I’m looking at right now?”
Piping in rather quickly and sternly, Tom questioned “Can’t we just get the hell out of here and fish, you two idiots? And Ben, call it a rod for Greg’s sake…..please.”
The raft, (thank God I didn’t call it a boat) set adrift quite calmly and we began to toss our lines in accordance to where Greg deemed the fish to be sleeping. If I may give Greg credit, he was marvelously adept when it came to rowing us through some rapids which kept me at ease. Additionally, he was magnificently knowledgeable when it came to the art of fly fishing. Greg was an excellent teacher, but he was dealing with one pupil (me) who had mentally shut down before entering the river. Already an impatient man, (My wife once made fun of me for being “The most impatient man in the world”) I don’t do well when orders are barked at me when I am merely trying to stay in a chair within a sliding raft hovering above icy waters. One slip, and I am headed nose first into frigid temperatures.
The fish were slow to bite that day, and Greg was quick to bark. His barking began weighing on my nerves like a wet carpet on a spider. There was nowhere to swim, nowhere to hide. My shoulders, thighs, knees and brain were growing weary from his seemingly endless stream of “God Damn it, Ben this” and “God Damn it, Ben that”. Coming directly out of the mouth of a Reverend, this seemed to be bad karma for us, and good karma for the fish. They had nothing to be worried about. For a while, I think I was even casting without a fly tied to the end of my line, thus only allowing the line to go as far as Greg or Tom’s head. Laughing, Tom would wave my line off like it was a pesky mosquito while Greg stared at me with disdain and disbelief, waiting impatiently for a lunch break where he would blindfold me at shore, spin me around like a dreidel, kick me in the backside of my waders and send me back through the Bitterroot Mountains in search for our camp.
Lunch provided a terrific break from floating, casting, and The Fly Gospel according to Greg. Stopping at a river bank, Greg provided the Subway Sandwiches, and since I already knew how to eat, school was out for that half hour. It was then when we could all enjoy the glory of the Bitterroot Mountains without one lecture amongst the trees………only welcoming beauty. I quickly forgot the disappointment of not catching a fish and relished in the relative quiet since our mouths were full of grub, and our eyes filled with nature.
Honestly, just before setting out on the last half of the fishing trip, I was satisfied to float back to camp as quickly as possible, but Greg was determined to get a fish on my line before dusk. It never happened. However, Tom did catch a few fish, and it did look like as much fun as Greg and Tom both described. But, by then, I had shut down and just gazed off to seek more mountain goats, deer, eagles, and an occasional Sasquatch hoax. I was satisfied with the scenery, but Greg wasn’t pleased with my angling failure, perhaps because he placed some of the blame on himself. He couldn’t have been further from the truth. It just wasn’t my sport on that beautiful day, and I didn’t give a yankee dime about it. Greg wasn’t finished, but this is where I officially did.
“YA KNOW WHAT?” (The phrase and chapter defining a solid portion of my life.)
There comes a moment in a person’s life when one reaches a breaking point. Mine is quite clear. I have a signature phrase I use as a warning. The simple phrase is usually followed by a litany of adjectives, adverbs and superlatives displaying my displeasure with my treatment. It’s called “Ya Know What?” Now, people who know me recognize this phrase, and nothing of positive nature usually trails behind the particular tone with which I deliver it. After Greg’s last order, it was time for me to give him his last supper, figuratively speaking of course. He caught me paying more attention to the rugged mountain goats than the fish taking a day off of getting their lips ripped. In an offensive tone, Greg attacked me once again with a filament reel full of embarrassing comments using up all of his last verbal brutality points. Setting down my “ROD” quite loudly, I retorted, “Ya know what?!”, ……..and before I could reach into my bag filled with insults and arsenal of creative profanity, Tom, the brother of voice and reason, extinguished the flames just before they started to crackle and pop like a campfire. He didn’t tell us to shut the hell up. He didn’t even say, “alright, knock it off”, he began to laugh. It wasn’t knee slapping hysterical laughter. Rather, you might find it somewhere hidden between a solid chuckle and a great natured belly laugh. For some reason, Greg and I stopped bickering and listened to his laugh knowing exactly what it meant. Laughter is another one of Mother Nature’s gifts proving logic, reason, and common sense to prevail in even the most ridiculous of circumstances.
There were no apologies. None were necessary. Greg and I let Tom enjoy his last hour of fishing while the two of us struck up an even keel boat of conversation. While rowing through the rapids, although quite miniature, you still had to pay attention in your swivel chair, hoping not to fall into the frigid waters, while additionally, ducking for random bridges on the last mile of the trip. Guiding many guests on his raft over the years, I asked Greg if anyone had fallen into the great Bitterroot River. With a shrug of his shoulders, Greg said, “So far, not yet”. Almost simultaneously, we hit a small rapid, and I found myself, my hat and my beer hurtling in the air just to be dipped head and feet first into the drink. Tom and Greg had no need to panic. If you have ever been to Sea World and watched dolphins breach, my ability to thrust my body out of icy waters matched their grace and strength. I was back in the raft before they could say, “we’ll see you back at camp……good luck!”
They were laughing, and other than my frozen raisonettes, I was fine. Making it back to camp safely, thawed raisonettes and all, I did have an ace of a dinner hidden up my sleeve just in case I didn’t catch my own sustenance. This was certain to make Greg forget he had wasted a day trying to teach a young man how to fish. “Grilled Pork Tenderloin Garlic Boats with Sauteed Mushrooms”. It was a dinner fit for for three brothers. One, a surly, yet thoughtful instructor. One, a pot waiting to boil over, and one, a referee using laughter and wit, other than brawn to keep the two former brothers separated.
All fly fishing forgiveness was given.