Trout on a fly

Long before my first fish had taken its fly, I’d considered the irony of my investment in fly-fishing.

Today, I waded into the North Branch of the Raritan River alone and netted my very first trout on a dry fly. In fact, over the course of half an hour, I hooked up a dozen of them and landed nine small hatchery Browns, none larger than ten inches.

These followed a fish that was something else altogether. It had scales, was silver in color, and fought like a little rocket. When I brought it to net, it measured a good eleven inches in length. Its vigor thoroughly embarrassed the trout, and, without knowing what it was, I released it back into the pool just south of the Rt.202 bridge. Having every intention to continue in this solitary sport, I hope that this unexpected fish and I will meet again. Until we do, I am prepared to regard it as a wayward, clandestine tarpon, land-locked and stream-bound, high up here in the Somerset Hills.

Within moments of releasing this first good omen, I was quickly onto another fish and took even less time to bring him into my net. A brown trout, smaller than the first fish, but resplendent in his speckles and proof that I was, at long last, a real trout fisherman. I very deliberately removed my hook from his mouth and eased the little fish back into the current. Mouthing a silent prayer of gratitude at the journey that had brought me to this, I was suddenly conscious that trout were rising all around me in the North Branch, supping unseen creatures at the river’s surface. I think I saw several Blue Wing Olives flying above the pool, but none came close enough to confirm, so I continued to cast my #18 red fur ant at the rises with deadly effect.

Long before my first fish had taken its fly, I’d considered the irony of my investment in fly-fishing. Toting up out-of-pocket expenses for a carbon-fiber rod, a reel, chest-waders, boots, a vest full of gadgets, fly-line and leaders, tying materials, instruction, etc., I surmised that my first fish—whenever I should finally catch it—would be the most expensive meal of my life. Embarrassed, I’d mentally resolved to fish diligently and “average-down” these costs over time. My family would just have to get used to fresh fish on weekends. The irony, I realized today on the stream, was that my long hours of contemplation before that first fish had also revealed in me a “catch-and-release” sensibility. Somehow, those 8” fingerlings seemed scarcely comestible. Over the next half hour, I caught and released nearly a dozen of them, laughing each time at my folly and the glorious afternoon.