Lightning, jagged and spectacular, crashes
from cloud to cloud. Magnificent and dazzling
against the broiling black thunder heads, they
leap like celestial panthers from fold to billow.
Though I know I should retreat, seeking shelter
in the truck which is parked a couple hundred
yards away on the seldom-used road, there are
fish rising, undaunted by the conflagration
overhead. A patch of willow off-center of the
pond is motionless: This storm, while raging in
the skies above me, has brought no wind as yet.
Because I have seen no bolts strike the ground
or any of the taller structures nearby, I persist,
just a little while longer. Fish are rising; there
are ringlets and circles on the surface of the pond
everywhere I look. The air is charged, I can feel
the hair on my arms standing on end from the
Only a damn fool would do this, I thought to myself,
then immediately replied, Well, it's not the first
time you've been called a fool and probably not the
last. Takes one to know one, pal.
To the south, distant and unheard, traffic is a column
of multi-colored, speeding ants racing to work, rushing
home to cook supper, change clothes for that late evening
meeting, collapse from a long, exhausting day. I tuck the
butt of the rod under my left elbow and drop the leader
into my outstretched right hand to inspect the tip for
abrasion. I would like to pity those rushing insects
along the highway just barely in range of my vision,
but I am not so lofty. Were they closer, they would
probably gawk at the fool fishing on the pond as
lightning flashes warnings overhead and thunder
growls threats so fearsome the ground trembles.
Perhaps, as I pity them, they'll pity me. I would
like to believe that, rather than rushing down a
cattle shoot coerced by deadlines, paychecks and
obligations, they are instead off to meet a lover,
join friends for a supper, spend an evening watching
the storm from a screened-in porch. They'll perhaps
pity me in obverse, thinking me without family,
without friend, without love, relegated to this
lonely pond out of sheer boredom and neglect. As
if those things are shackles which would prevent
me from being here. I suppose we'll never understand
each other. I'll never understand the need to struggle
so mightily up that imaginary ladder, and they'll never
understand the family, friends and love that stand
beside me on the banks of a little pond where the fish
are rising in swarming glee.
Gotta live a little, I reminded myself. Gotta live
a lot. Youth is not necessarily wasted on the young.
Though the grass and weeds have grown tall over the
summer months, if I keep the rod tip high as the line
loops out behind me, snapping it forward just as I
feel the barely perceptible tug when it reaches full
measure, I can avoid the backcast snags. I lay 40
feet of line out, not perfectly, not even prettily,
but adequately for a novice. At the end of the leader,
a small chartreuse fly with rubber legs has just settled
onto the surface near the edge of the willows.
Before I can even gather the line in my left
hand to mend the slack, simultaneously the water
churns and thunder smacks deafeningly, both
startling me. I wince from the thunder and snatch
back on the rod, the tip of which bends over nicely
with the weight of a respectable fish on the fly.
Feels wrong, I think, and in a second of decision,
I lower the rod just a tad then snap it back again,
setting the hook a bit more firmly. The fish makes
a startled run for the willows. I know that if he
wraps my leader around a stem in there he's gone
for certain, so I tug back, and lightning leaps
from cloud to cloud as if in response, illuminating
the pocket of shade cast by the willows overhanging
the pond, where the fish is seeking escape.
Across the acres, the cars and mini-vans and
tractor-trailers speed on, oblivious, all heat
and stench of exhaust and rubber tires. A father
looks at his watch and wonders if he'll make his
client's dreaded party in time; a single mom dials
the radio stations, searching for a better song,
hoping she'll make it to the next pay day before
any checks bounce; a toddler screams in the back
seat, exhausted and tired from tagging along on
a long day of grocery shopping, paying bills and
looking for a job, startled by the thunder.
I coax the fish away from the willows, and he
resists again by rushing out toward open water,
and I let him run, drag applied only with my
forefinger pressing line against the rod. He
races in the same direction as the distant
traffic, and I half expect him to shoot out
onto the bank and continue, taking my line to
the backing, then popping it off the arbor like
a clap of thunder. Instead, rebellious, he leaps
out of the water, shaking vigorously, attempting
to dislodge the fly, but my second hookset holds
fast. He dances on his tail for a moment, then
falls back into the pond and races — a little
more slowly, he is tiring — toward me.
I reel line in as quickly as I can, trying to
avoid slack which will allow him freedom to
perhaps head back toward the willows, or into
a bed of submerged weeds, where he'll wrap my
leader around the unseen growth and pull free.
When I have the slack line back onto the spool,
it snaps back taunt and I guide him away from
the weeds, but he has caught his second wind
now, and is heading for open water again.
As my small, personal battle unfolds under the
storm front which is still holding its rain, I
know I am blessed. There's not much else one
can think about while fighting a decent fish
on a fly rod in a small pond full of willows
and weed beds, but somewhere in the back of
my consciousness flashed confirmations. That,
after all I've sought and all I've found, it
was pulling down the ladder and throwing it into
the ditch that made me happy. That, when all is
said and done, the only regrets I have are the
miles wasted on that concrete, crooked spine. And
that, in the end, I can truthfully say I am happier
today, this minute, with this job, this home and
in this place with these people I know and sometimes
love, than I have ever known myself to be.
At last, the bass is spinning tight circles near
my feet, and I wait for him to settle down, then
place my thumb gently, respectfully, under his
lower jaw and lift him out of the water. Three
pounds, I guess. Not bad for a light fly rod. I
thank him for the battle. We were, after all,
only counting coup, and I immersed him into the
water again, let go his jaw. He didn't rocket off
like the lightning flashing overhead — rather, he
meandered along the bottom, heading out toward
deeper water, unrushed, unburdened, unencumbered.
Free. Defeated this day, perhaps humbled, but whole
to fight again another. This is the way of dignity.
It is not necessary to kill him. It is only necessary
to best him, as I have been similarly bested by other
rising fish on other ponds many times before.
I stood and my back ached, my shoulder snapped
a little, or perhaps it was a minor clap of thunder.
I glanced at the highway, and could have sworn it
was a few miles farther away than the last time
I looked. ~ Roger