I’ve had some variation this encounter about a million times in my life:
Friend: “How was fishing?”
Me: “It was awesome!”
Friend: “Did you catch anything?”
Friend: “Sounds lame”
Most of my friends ski a lot, much like I once did. It is part of what made us all friends in the first place; we’d skip class for good snow and spent countless January days freezing on the King Pine quad and loving every minute of it. Recently, I find myself spending a lot more time in rivers than on the slopes. That is to say, I have not been skiing in a few years and I’m obsessed with fishing. I guess you could say I’ve officially traded in my season’s pass for a fishing license and my pair of Dynastar downhill skis for a pair of cork handles surrounding a Skagit head on a spool. I literally use my old ski poles as wading staffs for my clients.
Last week I was down in Lake Tahoe gathering with all of my college friends, all of whom still ski a ton. When I got ready for the trip I wasn’t thinking about how much snow there was at Squaw or whether or not to rent fat skis for a day, I was thinking about where to access the Truckee River and what to fish. Not typically a difficult task for a fly-fishing guide, unless there is this much snow in Truckee:
Those are people. On a house. Getting ready to ski off the house. Squaw Valley is ten minutes from here and everyone is jacked up to ski tomorrow, except for me. I’m still plenty excited, just not to ski. I’m gonna explore the river. “Why? Are you gonna catch anything?,” my friends ask. “Probably not, but it’s still gonna be cool,” I reply.
I strapped on some snowshoes the next morning and set out for the river. The challenge to overcome here was to get to the river in 7 feet of snow and counting. I found some railroad tracks (no trains right now on account of the snow) and used them as my snowshoe access road. I came across a clearing and a mildly steep hill that leads to the river and I set off for the bottom of the canyon. When I finally got to the river, strapped the snowshoes to my pack, rigged up and wet that line, I felt many things: alive, free, content, focused, hope, anticipation. I felt professional in this setting, yet humbled by the magnificent beauty in undiscovered (by me, that is) nature. Every turn of the river filled me with new hope and increasing awe. Not a soul to be seen. Soothingly quiet. So perfect there. I will remember that experience forever as one of the greatest days of fishing I have ever had, and guess what? Not even a tug on my bugger or a slap to my Skwala.
So why was this day so satisfying and exhilarating?? Because of the sense of discovery I get from creating my own adventure. Because of the canyon walls covered in ice and snow that felt like they’d never been seen in this light. Because of the moving, clear, cold water. Because “What do you think is around the next bend?” kept popping into my head. Because there are no lift lines here, no parking lots or hotels and because the only things that cut this path I am traveling downhill on are gravity, time and water.
I got back to the house that night and over the fire and drinks I felt a similar sentiment in a different place: the comfort and purity of time spent with true friends. That “alive” feeling that overwhelmed me on the snowy banks of the Truckee was here too. It was in the fire, the snow cave, the Tecate and our frozen beards. Somebody asked me that all-too-familiar question, but this time I respond with another question:
Friend: “Hey man, you catch anything?”
Me: “Nope. Did you catch anything?”
Friend: “Well, no. We were skiing.”
Me: “Exactly. I caught just as many as you did”
So while we may put flies on the end of our tippet because the goal is to find a living creature on the end of your line, the fishing doesn’t have to be all about the fish and you can have a banner day of fishing without a take. Believe it. I tend to find the healing powers of fishing to be in the hope, discovery and freedom that comes from being on the river and out in the wilderness. I also find that waders make the best snow-pants and that it is always a good idea to name your car or truck, no matter what.