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Part One hundred seventy-one

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By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA

Like the rest of the world, I was in shock. So many emotions, so powerful, welling up instantly on the day of September 11th. Anger, fear, sadness, defiance, wrath, and a horde of other feelings raged through my body. Desperately trying to get a hold of friends and family in the area, relief washing over the body and soul when the phone is finally answered.

I had spent a week without going fishing. In part, I had too much negative emotion in me to enjoy the experience. I also had small lumps of guilt in the pit of my stomach. Guilt for being alive, when so many had perished. Guilt for seeking relaxation while others spent 20 hour days digging through fallen rubble. But I needed to go now. I needed to feel the cool flow of the water, let it wash over me both physically and emotionally.

I walked up the bank to the edge where I had seen the carp swimming a week before. The water was stained, but I could make out three dark shapes slowly patrolling the bank. I walked back to the open bank several yards downstream and tied on a Bead-head GRHE.

I slipped my booted feet into the water, the chill sinking into the canvas, and then into my skin. A weekend of cool fall days and colder nights had dropped the water temperature 10 degrees or more. I made a mental note to do my best to stay knee deep or shallower, unless absolutely necessary.

I began stalking slowly up the shore, and flipped a short roll cast off towards deeper water. The fly landed with a soft plop, and began a slow sink. As the nymph drifted out of sight, the line twitched, and I tightened the line. A 6" smallmouth came jumping out of the water. He splashed and flipped, coming to rest in my hand, where I slid the barbless hook out of his mouth and returned him to the water. I breathed easier, and felt the world's weights lightening from my shoulders.

I continued slowly up the bank, a hunter armed with graphite rod and felt bottomed boots. My prey, wily, skittish and particular, but oh, the sweet joy of success. I stalked slowly up the river's edge. Passing several boils of light mud along the shoreline, I began to get the sinking feeling that the fish were not so generous in their appraisal of my wading skills as I was. Humbled, I concentrated on each footfall, moving slowly and deliberately. As I lifted my foot to step over the submerged obstacle in front of me, I stopped. Staring into the water intensely, the obstacle resolved itself into a clearer, recognized image, and my heart sank. My concentration on my wading had been so focused that I had waded into and through the hole where the carp had been patrolling earlier.

Frozen, I turned towards the shoreline, to go stand in the shallow edge water and await the hopeful return of my target. As I placed my foot down and began to turn, my legs were buffeted by waves of surging water and 3 dark shapes rocketed past me towards the depths. I trudged dejectedly to the shoreline, and leaned against the sheer bank. Short casts over the edge of the hole were twitched and touched by this year's hatchling smallmouth, and by the occasional, larger, red-breasted sunfish.

As I played games with the small fish, I saw them coming towards me. Still in a group of three, they seemed to be headed straight at me, angrily, defiantly. As one, they turned away only steps from my feet. They circled slowly, and I finally came to my senses, dropping the small nymph in their midst. It settled down and I twitched it once, twice. Perhaps they just weren't feeding. Perhaps they couldn't find the small fly in the stained water. I wish I could say that my lack of success was due to the chilled water. But they turned together and drifted away, and my chance was gone whatever the reason. I didn't see them again the rest of the day.

I continued up the shoreline, catching several sunfish and bass of varying sizes. I didn't see anymore carp, except for the occasional breech in the middle of the river. The falling sun tried to force it's light through the branches of the trees that crowd the shoreline. It snuck through the gaps in the branches where it could, falling on the water. It fell in scattered strands, as though through a stained glass window, and warmed my shoulders as I stood, simply looking at the water.

If the weather stays the way it's been, this will probably be the last time I'll get to go after carp this year, with any hope of success. A lot of last times have come and gone this past week. I'm comforted and calm, many of the troubles and worries that had weighed so heavily on me have drifted away, coursing over the riffles and downstream in the cool, swirling current. I am resolved. I will live the joys of life that we hope will never end, and always remember them as first times. ~ Jason

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