Me and the Mighty Miramichi
Yes, my legs were a little more wobbly than they were this time last year, but I held strong. I felt strong.
I raised my fly fishing rod and made my next cast in one smooth movement: I whipped the rod back, held it at the top and whispered Miramichi to count my hold, and then cast forward softly. The fly landed just left of my intended target of rippling water. It gently bobbed downstream until it was due to be pulled out and cast again.
I came up empty but my technique had been near-perfect, and thus it was a giant win by my estimation. Fly fishing had a grace to it that I never expected, nor one that I naturally had.
On cue, a baldheaded eagle took flight from the river’s edge and continued along its shoreline.
Jeremy casted with ease, his fishing line gracefully soared through the air with full extension each time. His movements were smooth and deliberate, his hooks landed on the water’s surface without drama. With the water sparkling all around him in the bright sun, Jeremy made it look effortless and romantic. Tyler told me later that Jeremy was so precise that he once purposely snatched a hat right off his head from mid-stream.
In coaching me, Jeremy repeated the few words that I needed to run through my head in the process: whip back, hold for “Miramichi”, soft release, arms at a 45 degree angle.
“And I’m apparently not going to listen to anything you say,” I said seconds later as the fly ended up just a handful of feet in front of me due to my ignorance of the third point. Both Pete and I suffered the same impulse having played baseball in our youth: what should have been a gentle extension of our arms toward the target often ended up in a forceful whip that dropped far short.
Hundreds of casts later, we were each starting to get in the groove of it. The frequency of our faultless casts increased, as did the praise from our guides. And so we kept chasing that satisfaction of the perfect cast, while trying different spots on the river for fish, and each of us tested our luck inside of the boat and out.
Our group came up empty save for two little river chubs caught by Sherry; the salmon were visible but not tempted by our flies. Our guides seemed nervous that we would be disappointed by our lack of catch, but they had underestimated the joy we would have just by being there.
Those hours were the first I had spent in many months doing something that resembled an athletic activity. Those new skills were the first that I had acquired in as long a time. Fly fishing is not a demanding task but it proved a wholly nourishing one. I now understood that completely, and perhaps in a way that few others could.
It was fifteen kilometres from our departure point back to the Lodge but there was little to severely test our skills given the shallowness of the water in the later season. A couple of small sets of rapids had us navigating rocks and almost getting stuck, but I took the lead and guided us all through safely.
I was eager for more but knew I was already busting the limits of my weary body. I was tired, but I barely stopped paddling. My arms hurt, but I insisted on continuously moving.
For a few moments midway I did force a pause while Pete and Sherry propelled ahead. I feigned interest in taking photos but really just wanted a few moments alone. My emotions, unexpectedly, were taking over.
The culmination of the scene before me – the reflective glass of the river cut up only by our movement, the lushness of the river banks, the freshness of the air I breathed in deep – every element of that perfect morning served to overwhelm me. There was little I could do to avoid it; I rested my paddle across my lap and just sat and cried. They were not tears from fatigue or weariness, but out of pure joy and pride at myself.
In the past there have been many moments that I have spent on or in a river, but none seemed nearly as significant. These few were pivotal to me, for in those brief solo minutes I had been given a gift by the Miramichi.
I finally felt like I was beginning to get my life back.
how to do it
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