Fly Fishing Satori

©1990 by Spider Johnson

We had been fishing about three hours, working the still pools of Beaver creek, casting under the overhangs and into the shadows, pulling brim and Rio Grande perch and black bass out left and right, sometimes hooking "doubles," working the creek out into its mouth on the Llano, where we alternated banks, wading, casting, wading and casting some more. The hot central Texas June sun was settling low enough along the length of the river that I had to cock my head in its direction to be able to see the flies hit the water after I cast up near the bank. It felt good, the sun's warmth, even though the cool of the evening was beginning to slip in almost imperceptibly. As Leonard suggested, I had two flies on the leader: a "wet" fly, sort of a muddy nymph-type, and a "floater" popper-type, with about two feet between them, a combination that, lo and behold, actually produced several exciting doubles up to that point. I had not lost a fly until that moment. So I began the meticulous process of pulling out new leader from the spool, cutting a length, splicing it to the old, and tying a new fly on its end.

I was standing in a foot of clear, tepid river water running over a gumball assortment of stones, all about hen's egg size, adorning the riverbed so neatly they looked deliberately placed (maybe they were) with the precision and neatness that my mother prepares a table setting before one of her dinner parties. The sun, ever lowering, was casting a thick golden patina over my bare legs and hands, upon the reeds at the shore, on the boulders festooning the wide, shallow river, and on the curiously evanescent ripples of water themselves, which would hold, in their dimples, the golden nectar-light for an instant only, then trade it to a neighboring ripple on its crepuscular journey up the color spectrum to purple-grays and moon-highlighted purples as evening deepened. The sound from the uncountable stones resisting the river's aqueous continuum produced a resonant womb-like lullaby as familiar and reassuring as a solitary quail's plaintive call. The unstrained concentration, through the nectar, of tying the two filament ends together in a blood-knot, was punctuated, after an indefinite interval, by the startling thought that I was here experiencing this ritual, and had no other awareness or thoughts or distractions or concerns or worries or fears or anything else, except just BEING THE FLY FISHING ITSELF! The "I" part of my Self had disappeared for that indeterminate period of time, and was replaced by the verb, the process, the state of being, called "Fly Fishing." I actually ceased being the creature who assesses, complains, judges, evaluates, etc., and became "fly fishing."

The Zen idea of "just being" is, in the West, truly most fully realized through this ritual of fly fishing, because it is one of the few solitary activities of humans which, unlike most of life, demands more than the brief moments we normally dedicate to a desultory task; the nature of fly fishing demands that one invent it as one goes. The philosophical enigma that one cannot step in the same river twice or even once notwithstanding, fly fishing is an entirely kinetic process, with constant repositioning: walking up or down stream, the unconscious coordination between the casting arm and the line-feeding hand, and an astute but not distracting awareness of the camber of the rod tip as it moves to keep the fly and line aloft without fouling or worse, whip-cracking the fly off into oblivion.

And then! Watching and knowing the taut instant a fish irresistibly takes the fly so as to set the hook with exactitude; that's the moment of impeccability for the living cell comprised of No-time, river, fish and fisherman, the moment when nothing possible can be added to make it more complete, more satisfying, or more whole. It is the consummate experience that, like multiple orgasms, subsides momentarily to crescendo again and again until darkness breaks the spell and one must again return to the ordinary and familiar and predictable. It is the Zen salve for the soul, the unstructured meditation, the rare sojourn to the present moment, a salubrious ride on the Eternal Now for the Everyman, would he but take up rod, flies and river. Fly fishing is one of the few glimpses a human being ever stumbles across of that undeniable truth: living fully in the present moment, with razor awareness, vigilant anticipation, and concern only for the task at hand. And it is a glimpse that, once seen, remains indelible.

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