For the better half of this month my expectation of opening day on Blue River, with the trout being in place, has grown daily. However, I also learned this past week of the passing of my dear friend Francis. Francis and I not only worked together for seventeen years, but also enjoyed many a fine fishing trip. During our friendship, Francis was always good to invite me to his wonderful family outings, and quiet simply... he was a good friend.
Although my plans today were to simply fish for these pretty fish, I'm now here to remember Francis. It may seem odd to many that a man would bring his sorrow to the river, but that's what I doing today. Such an act is not out of character for me - it's something I've done a number of times over the years. In 2001, I attended part of the memorial service for my fly-fishing friend Curtis Hughes. Part of his memorial was held on Blue. I've also come here to mourn the passing of my mother, my wife Susie, and my companion dog Smokey.
I believe the reason I turn to the river for healing is in my belief that fly-fishing in not a thing we do, but rather a place we go or a place we are taken. It is a place of peace and reflection. I use the river as a healer, and the fly rod is the instrument used to connect with the river.
Stepping out of the prairie schooner shortly after seven, the brisk morning air greets me. This morning the temperature is only six degrees above the freezing mark. I head for Cottonwood Pool and the trout are indeed waiting for me. Within thirty minutes, my hands are beginning to sting and hurt, and this reminds me of a cold March morning when Francis and I fished for the famed crappie of nearby Cumberland Pool.
It isn't long until a good sized group of anglers gather around Cottonwood Pool, so I decide to go elsewhere. No matter where I go today, the bows are waiting, the water echoes, and my memories of Francis come to the forefront.
The pretty fish are quite rewarding today, and each brings a small measure of calming pleasure to my soul. These tidbits of calmness slowly over-ride the lingering sadness that is bouncing around in my heavy chest and racing mind that constantly seems to ask the question..."Why?"
The trout are at Cottonwood Pool, Chuck's Ledge, the Island, the Riffles, and the Boulder at 17. Glory Hole was a disappointment with only a few fish that showed interest. But, at Glory Hole I remember a spring day that Francis, along with family and myself, cooked beef bourguinon in the Dutch oven.
With each trout that comes to hand, the healing continues. So many of these trout today bear the parr marks that screams their youth. I could not have brought myself to take any of their lives even if I wanted to.
Around eleven o'clock, I head back to the crossing and my day gets much lighter in seeing the familiar faces of Jon and Kay Bolig. They both are fly-fishing due to Jon finally converting Kay over to the gentle sport. Most intriguing is Kay's pink fly rod...and she is catching trout. I visit with Jon and Kay for fifteen minutes or so and decide it is time to leave the river.
Today, I meet 42 trout. Today, I miss at least 100 trout. I'll admit that today I was terribly rusty in my fly-fishing for trout life. The reasons I missed so many opportunities is because I was using too big a pattern for such small fish, and it took me awhile to realize the trout were double-striking the fly.
Today could have been a 100 fish day. Today could have been a day just to sit along the riverside and take it all in. And today, could have been a day to remember and fish, and heal... and I did both.
I give thanks and leave the river.