Chilly winds swept the sky clean last Sunday. With the mercury hovering around the low to mid 40s, the emphasis was on chilly and for the first time this fall I bundled up with a sweater before hitting the river. It figured to be a pretty day. Leaves had turned a little, giving the feeling of driving through a church with massive stained glass windows on both sides.
Leaves also had decided to litter the river, for the sole purpose of snagging a fly fisherman’s flies, I’m sure. That happens a lot and is expected in the fall. We put up with it in our continuing search for the answers to life’s most perplexing questions, as they might say on NPR.
A fisherman’s ultimate goals change over the years — first trying to catch the most trout, then the biggest, then the most difficult — but life’s questions hang around to make it all that more difficult.
As my fingers numbed in the wind, I asked that very same question. I was slinging a two-fly rig, with a weighted pheasant trail nymph tied about 6 inches below a larger Yaller Hammer nymph. The Yaller Hammer is a scraggly looking thing that used to be tied with the yellow/black feathers of the yellow flicker, now protected and off-limits to fly tiers. So, we use dyed imitations with feathers from some other poor bird.
A fish bumped the fly on my first cast, but I never hooked up with a single trout all afternoon. The impudent wind was a constant, nagging nuisance. Like a little brother pulling your shirttail, it was relentless.
I pushed on. Switching to a dry fly, I hooked into a feisty rainbow on my first cast. The little olive parachute fly bounced nicely in the channel flowing near the rocks, and through the crystal-clear water I watched the trout rise from his hiding place. The rod tip was shaking pretty well. Then, it wasn’t shaking at all. The trout was gone.
That rude wind slapped at my face.
Now, fishless after several hours, those persistent questions returned, especially that one about "Why?"
With those two flies tied in tandem, a good portion of the early afternoon was spent untangling those flies from the weeds and trees on the bank. Each time the question came up, "Why?" That wind did not help.
I tried finding the answers at the origin. I trucked upstream until there was no more stream, at which point I followed the trickle of water to where the French Broad River originates. It was a fairly rough hike, over boulders the size of small houses and past sheer cliffs of rock where you hang on the rhododendron limbs with prayerful grasps, hoping the wood does not break.
Scratched up and bumped up and heartbeat really up, I got to the source, a place up near the top of a little mountain.
The wind died. And it was so quiet there was no need for any answers. By then, I had forgotten the questions.
Except that most persistent query of them all – why am I not catching trout?