Fly on a Hook

Fly fishing the Tarryall.
Fly Fishing in Colorado.

The kid walked up while I was down in the creek fiddling around with a big rock, to tell me he’d lost his last fly. I was the fishing guide and supposedly the person who’d take care of that sort of thing and thus, knew I needed to act quickly. Of course, the most obvious solution would’ve been for me just to give him one. Usually, that’d be a simple thing to do– but since, in this case, I didn’t have any, it wasn’t even an option.

I responded instantaneously, by walking up to where he stood. I did take my time as I slogged through the creek and then up the bank, hoping to give my mind a chance to come up with a remedy, or at least something I could say to give the impression I had one. He was assuming, as logic would have it, that I had plenty of extra flies somewhere on my person and that I’d pull one of them out, hand it to him, and he’d get back to business.

It was early afternoon, which in this case meant there were still a couple of hours of fishing time left in the day. The boy and his father had hired me to take them out into the backcountry for a full day of fly fishing, and it was evident from the start that they were intent on doing just that- fishing for the whole day. Leaving early was not in their plan, and they were counting on me to ensure that no logistical or equipment details got in their way of doing just that. Having extra flies on hand was one of those things I was expected to have. Running out of flies would simply not be cool.

As I slowly waded and walked toward him, my mind worked in a frenzy, struggling to find something to say besides “sorry” or “oh well.” My truck with all my extra gear was more than an hour’s walk away, which meant the two-hour round trip I would take to go there was not even a realistic option. Besides, I knew there weren’t any flies in there anyway. I did have a fly box in my back pocket but had already opened it up twice in the past hour out and had noted it was empty. I’d decided that even having it with me was a waste of space. And so, in a nutshell, the fact I simply didn’t have any with me was fresh on my mind.

When I finally got up onto the solid and flat ground close to where he stood, I seamlessly launched into what appeared to be a plan for getting him another fly. While that’s what it was on some level, it wasn’t the one he thought. I put it into motion not because I thought it was viable but because I figured it would stall the inevitable for a little longer.

To kick off the plan, I reached down and picked up the spinning rod that I’d propped up against a bush, close to where we stood. Then, I walked down along the side of the creek in the direction from which he’d just come and said, “where is it? I’ll hook it with a spinner.”

I said it with complete confidence, and there was no doubt in his mind about what I was about to do and whether or not I would be successful. But little did he know my true intentions. He was sure I was returning to where he’d lost his fly, would cast my treble-hooked lure out into the water, hook his lost fly, reel it in, and give it back to him. I didn’t even consider that outcome to be a possibility. I was just trying to waste time in hopes that something positive would happen. I was confident the plan had little to no chance of actually leading me to come up with the fly. But maybe, I hoped, the boy and his father would decide to head back a little early. Or I’d stumble upon someone’s snagged fly in a bush, or perhaps a rainstorm would develop out of the blue sky and send us running for the trailhead. Of course, I wasn’t all that confident anything like that was going to occur but as we walked, I kept thinking how… “you just never know!”

After walking for about 10 minutes, we came to where he’d lost the fly. At that spot, the creek was about 20 feet wide and only about mid-calf deep, except for a few deeper holes. He pointed into a small backwater pool that appeared to be about two feet deep and on the edge of the stream, thirty feet away from where we stood on the top of a steeply cut bank.

“There, it was right in there,” he pointed.

I did what he expected and cast the lure out into the pool. All I wanted to do was get it to land close to the perceived right spot. Since neither of us knew exactly where that place was, I was just hoping to get it into the ballpark.

I slung the lure out in the direction of the pool. Almost miraculously, it landed close to where I’d intended it to go, sank, then quickly disappeared. I waited for about a second and then began reeling it in. I felt a slight tug as it moved across the pool toward us—a stick or weed, I assumed. As it got to the water’s edge, I reached out over the bank and lifted it out of the water and then reeled it the rest of the way in until it was snug against the top of the pole. The boy immediately saw what he planned to see. But I saw even more…… of the three treble hooks on my lure had miraculously hooked the missing fly through its hook eye, and I was flabbergasted.

I set down the pole, removed the fly, and handed it to the boy. He took it as if that was supposed to be what happened.

“Thanks,” he said as he began tying it back onto his line.

“Be careful with that one,” I said. “For sure, it’s the last one.”

After the kid headed off to return to fishing, I thought about how it must be my lucky day. So, I walked up to the water’s edge and cast the lure toward another likely fish-filled pool. I was confident I was going to hook a monster Brook Trout. But unfortunately, when I cast the lure over the creek and got snagged in a willow tree. The line broke when I tried to pull it loose, and I watched the lure fall and then disappear into the water.

So, I sat down, leaned against a tree, and pondered the situation. I was unhappy about losing my yellow Panther Martin but pleased the lost fly situation was resolved. Up to this point in my life, I’d mostly been able to solve problems by determining a solution and implementing it. But in this instance, I was having trouble coming up with a logical remedy for the lost fly. So, to create more problem-solving time, I told the kid about my outlandish plan that I considered nothing more than a stalling maneuver. But he was convinced it was real and was going to solve the problem. While I didn’t lie to him, I also didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth about what I was up to. The stalling plan ended when I blindly cast the lure out into Lost Creek.  But then, I miraculously hooked and retrieved the fly, and the plan as the boy perceived it was successful.

On some level, my plan did work, and the boy got to get back to fishing. It’s a sure thing the problem was solved by pure luck and not by any sort of miraculous skill on my part. But I’ve always thought that the boy’s wholehearted confidence in the outcome did play a significant role in what happened. Prior to this event, I’d used the concept of visualization repeatedly when teaching various outdoor adventure skills, like mountain biking or rock climbing. But I’d never considered applying the concept to many of the other aspects of life in general until the boy got the result he visualized. And that is the day, on the banks of a little creek in the Tarryall Mountains when I finally recognized that the act of imagining success works in all kinds of ways.

Author: David Appleton

I was born and raised in Texas and currently live in the Texas Hill Country, spent some 30 years living in the smack dab middle of Colorado, and have spent a lifetime adventuring and leading others on adventures in many parts of the wild world.

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