|The FishWitch Journal -
Oct. 2001 (c) Mary Riley
The old boy was finding it a lot harder to get out of bed to go fishing at
5 A.M. He winced in pain as he dressed. It wasn't "minor arthritic pain"
anymore. Not when you've seen the better side of seventy. Downstairs in the kitchen,
he poured a generous dollop of Jack Daniel's into his coffee. He glanced upwards, thinking
of what the Old Girl would say, knowing that after 45 years of marriage she would chastise
him with a look. If she were still here. He put on his hat. He picked up his flyrod
and his creel. After checking his vest for his flybox he made his way to the river. He
knew the old trophy brook trout would be there, waiting. Dawn was just breaking on that
soft summer morning. Everything was perfectly still. The old man tied on a fly and began
to cast. Rays of sunlight flashed along his leader, turning it to silver. The line
whispered through the air, taking on a life of its own, knowing it was in the hands of a
There was no wind, no birdsong. His casts were so graceful, so perfect, it was
as though Nature herself had stopped to watch. The fly landed on the water's surface,
somewhat farther out than the old man could clearly see, but no matter. He could have done
The old trout moved slowly, as if on cue, out from the cover of his rocky pool. He
watched as the fly drifted above him, and seemed to consider whether or not he should snap
it up. As the little bug danced erratically on the surface, the trout gave a lazy flick of
his tail and approached, almost with contempt. He knew what time of day it was and he knew
instinctively that this fly looked a little too familiar. The old man seemed to know the
precise moment the fish would strike. So when the telltale ripple appeared on the calm
water, the only sign he gave was a slight tightening of his hand on the rod.
The trout made a dash, a lightning strike. He grabbed the fly and leapt, in a shower of
diamond droplets, into the air. The old fisherman watched as the fish seemed to pause in
midair. He made no move to set the hook. Fish and fisherman locked eyes for an instant. In
the next moment, the trout spat out the fly. He arched his body and splashed back into the
river, whereupon he flicked his tail in a victory salute to the old man before
disappearing back into his pool.
It had become their ritual. The trout was legendary among the people who fished the
river, and many an angler had gone away in humiliated defeat. No one had wanted him more
than the old man, but over the years the wily fish and the master flyfisher had forged a
bond between them. The Old Girl had thought the trout too beautiful to kill. She who had
sent her line out alongside his, fishing with him, sometimes outfishing him, for over 40
years. He remembered how she would lift her rod to him when he caught an exceptional fish,
her special acknowledgement of his skill. The temptation to catch that trout had been
there for her too, but on the few occasions she had glimpsed him, she had been awed by his
beauty and power. She had decided the old fish had earned his freedom. She had told the
Old Man that both he and the trout shared mastery of the river.
In the years that followed the Old Girl's passing, the old man had caught the great
trout three times, and three times he had let it go. He would never be certain just who
had fooled whom. He caught three smaller fish that morning, and as he turned to make his
way home he caught a glimpse of a figure in the mist rising from the opposite bank. He
could almost see her, her flyline drifting softly on the water, her hat low over her eyes.
He squinted into the sun, and thought he saw it. The slow, almost
imperceptible lifting of a flyrod, in tribute.