Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Isaiah 41:10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee:  be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

After 20 days of 100+ temps, the August weather greeted me with a crisp fall-like morning. I prayed my usual prayer: “God, just keep me safe.” The long walk to my favorite fishing spot was pleasant with little wind. The river welcomed me with only a few foggy curls but several fishermen. I hiked toward the end of an island and found my favorite place already occupied by a man and his 3 teenage boys. Their canoes full of gear rested high upon the bank. Dad directed his boys on where and how to cast their spinning rods. Two boats full of clients with their guides drifted above the next site. So I stationed myself between the two boats and the canoers.

I tied on a Little Randy, named after a local guide who ties them. I had one take, a small Rainbow stocker, but no other interested parties. Next I reverted to my go-to fly, a Partridge and Orange. Several tiny pecks let me know small fish were intrigued but no hook-ups resulted. Growing frustrated I noticed a lot of surface action and tried a zebra midge with a silver bead and was rewarded with another small Rainbow.

It was time to add tippet and I was hungry. I walked downriver and passed the stringer of the canoers. The fish were in much too shallow water and most were already dead. The guys were gone but I could hear them talking upon the island. One of the boys hid almost lost in tall weeds reading a book unaware of all the activity around him. I stopped to rest on a grassy knoll, cleaned my fingers with a wet wipe, sipped from my small canteen and munched a golden peanut caramel bar. By this time the sunshine stole all the fog away. I absorbed the view from my perch and took a deep breath, grateful to be alive on such a stunning morning. Could life be any more perfect?

A fellow fly fisher stopped to talk. From Louisiana, he spoke in a soft accent and told me that he visited the area usually twice a year and enjoyed fishing when the river was not crowded. “I’m not like some of those guys who say, ‘look at me I’ve caught the biggest fish,’ he said. We spoke a bit longer sharing fly suggestions and stories and then he traipsed on upriver. By this time I was anxious to return to the water. I often struggle with my surgeon’s knot; but after 2 attempts, the new tippet held. I attached a green Anna K with dark wings and hooked it into the small eye near the rod handle as I always do when I finish.

As I stood, I reached for the rod with my right hand. Somehow my momentum created a sliding motion and a sharp bite occurred. My eyes widened as I saw the hook buried in the soft pad underneath my index finger. I quickly sat back down and stared at the problem of my own making. Multiple solutions rampaged through my brain. Should I cut the line, gather my gear, walk back to the car and drive myself to the ER? I tugged gently trying to back the hook out. Don’t faint. But the hook held fast. I pushed the opposite direction hoping maybe I could pull it through. No luck! I began to wonder if I should seek help from my fellow fishers. Whom should I choose? Mr. Louisiana self-centered? How about one of the teenagers or their dad? Dead fish indeed! Did I really want a stranger pulling this fly out? I tried to think rationally. Thank God I‘d just had a tetanus shot 2 months ago! Thank God the hook was barbless!

Deciding to attempt one more withdrawal, I fumbled the forceps into my left hand, closed my eyes, gritted my teeth and pulled. Nothing … one more time … much harder. At last the hook came loose in my hand. Relief and gratitude washed through me. I knew I hadn’t accomplished this by myself. My earlier prayer for safety echoed in my mind. I cleaned my bloody finger, wrapped the wet wipe around it and applied pressure. I seriously thought about calling it a day. But the morning was young and I was stubborn. God had given me another chance. Why not use it? There were more fish to be caught and cool weather might not show its face for another month. I applied more pressure, swirled the finger around in the cold river water and began to fish.

The green Anna K outperformed my earlier flies. Sore finger quickly forgotten, I caught fish after fish. Grateful for another opportunity, I fished until heat and hunger forced me back to my car.

On the drive back home, I couldn’t resist calling my choir director friend, Terre, who I knew would be working in her office after staff meeting at our church. As soon as she answered the phone, I began to sing to the tune of the old railroad song.

I’ve been fishin’ on the rivvvv er

All the live-long day.

I ran a hook

up in my finger

And it went in

all the way.

Don’t ya know

I had to get it?

But I pulled it out

real slow.

Rolled around

in the gravel.

Yelling oh oh oh oh OH!

Of course I took her by such surprise she began interrupting my singing:

“Did you have to have stitches? Are you alright?” And soon the entire story rolled out with multiple questions until I reassured her I was fine.

At our choir picnic the next evening, I sang it again to my alto buddies. What was serious only a day before became another great tale from my fly fishing escapades. But as usual on my adventures, I came away with new bits of knowledge: Always begin each outing with a prayer. Don’t panic. God will provide a solution. Keep your head. Consider your options. Accept God’s second chances.

And never … forget your wet wipes!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Yearning to Yield

Matthew 28:6 He is not here; for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
Dreaming of low water became a reality recently with zero units at Bull Shoals Dam. I quickly quaffed a big breakfast planning an all-day trip.
A lonely parking lot with only one vehicle greeted me. Wonderful! Almost the whole river to myself. I pulled a fleece jacket over my head, wrapped a headband around my ears and shoved my winter hat on my head. My rod came together easily. The wind whistled at my back as I noticed my tangled fly line within the reel. The prospect of pulling the reel apart by pushing the button caused my sore thumb to protest. But there was no option. After a couple of fruitless tries, I saw the owner of the vehicle arrive. I asked how he did. “Pretty slow,” he said. We spoke and I continued to struggle, but decided I wasn’t too proud to ask for help.
He quickly pulled the reel apart and told me what flies he’d used. “I’m gonna rest my back awhile. There are a few Caddis hitting the water.” The last comment changed my battle plan and I decided to start with a large blue/green soft hackle with sparkle to the tail. This character captured lots of fish during the last Caddis hatch.
As usual, since I hadn’t fished in several weeks, it seemed to take forever to gear up. I longed for my feet to fly across to the main channel, but had to satisfy myself with a slow steady walk across two shallow gullies until I reached my chosen spot.
The soft hackle warranted only one small take which I missed. After that it produced nothing. I did notice a few Caddis dance on the water where trout gobbled the tasty morsels; but I observed nothing quite as exciting as the frenzy exhibited during a large hatch.
I switched to my old standby Partridge and Orange with no greater results. Within the next several hours, I fished with an emerger, a Green Butt and a Caddis Sparkler. Eventually I switched to a strike indicator and alternately tried a pink jig, a white jig, and a pink midge.
My frustration built. Would all my waiting and hoping and longing for low water reap no results for this day? Finally I realized my tippet had shrunk and it was time to tie on more. I made my way to shore, sat on a grassy hump to rest myself and tied on an extra-long length.
This time I thought long and hard about my fly choice. I hadn’t tried a yellow Anna K, so named after the granddaughter of my friend and fly tier, Ron McQuay. Maybe, just maybe this would “represent” those little Caddis to the right trout.
Within 2 casts, my choice was rewarded with a small Rainbow. Since I’d tied on extra tippet, my line was now too long to get the fish into my net in deeper water, so I backed up into shallows and quickly landed and released the fish. My pulse thrummed after catching a fish on this long day of failure.
Over the next hour, I tried several spots where I’d been unsuccessful the whole morning. Each one produced only average stockers but a lot of fun. Finally one take seemed particularly vicious and I could see a thick Rainbow fighting to lose my fly in the deeper water. Again I had to back into shallower flow to work with the longer tippet, but landed a fat feisty customer around 14” who was starting to develop the big head of a much larger fish. This was worth the whole day, I thought.
A couple in a canoe with two small dogs paddled by, headed straight for a large rock. She paddled while he used his paddle like a rudder and they managed to miss it. They pulled up on the large gravel bar downstream and the dogs jumped out to play. Within a minute, another couple in a canoe swept by. She crouched in the bottom with head against the middle seat while her partner did the work. “Looks like the lap of luxury to me,” I called out.
She hollered back, “I’m lovin’ this.” They joined their friends and the dogs, spread a blanket and had a picnic.
My sore muscles told me it was time to head home, but I saw one more spot in a different rock bed that I hadn’t tried. The current was faster there and I picked my way carefully over slick rocks and the harsh push of the water until I arrived at my destination. After a couple of casts, I landed another small Rainbow. The wind kicked up even harder than the morning and I decided to quit, go home and prepare for church the next day.
Sunday morning I arrived in the choir room to unexpectedly learn that I was helping serve communion. I mentally reviewed the tasks from the last time I’d assisted the minister. When the appropriate time came, I carried the plate of small “wine” cups and bent to each kneeling member, held out the tray and said, “The blood of Christ shed for you.”
This simple task always strikes me as a humbling experience. Not only am I acting as a servant of God, but am allowed a closer observation of the faces of those who kneel. They communicate through unguarded expressions eagerness, gratitude, and something else … yearning for the forgiveness and restoration that this experience brings.
And as I return to the choir loft and we begin the last hymn, I carry those looks within me as tears cascade down my cheeks and realize that in those yearning-to-yield faces I find my own.
Are you trudging through your own gullies of sin and worry this Holy Week? Have the dark winds of despair swept across your spirit bringing no answers? Easter Sunrise calls to us across the river. The risen Christ stretches out his nail-scarred hand. All we have to do … is clasp it in our own.