A few years ago Josh took me to Pagosa Springs, to share with me his favorite place in the world and share with me the love of fly fishing. Josh has been fishing all his life, and his family has generations of excellent fishermen. It’s a sacred hobby, practiced in the most sacred places nature has to offer. I couldn’t have been more excited to learn, and catch my very first fish!
The first fish I caught may not have been the biggest, but I think that its significance is well beyond it being hooked, for it just as effectively hooked me! The purest of pure, Colorado Cutthroat trout is a sacred, respected species in my family and I’m beyond proud that this was my first- I only hope for it to be my last. I had just gotten my wisdom teeth out and we decided to go to Colorado while the weather was still mild, so I could learn to fly fish. My husband took me to a secret spot- hidden from maps and everyone but us.
We got to where we would hike in before the sun had risen. It was fall time and the aspens were in show stopping full effect, with leaves as bright and varying as the sun. Wearing layers upon layers I had a minimum of two of everything on- two pants, two shirts, three socks, three jackets. I’m always cold. We started our journey, super thrilled despite the stitches from my surgery aching under the pressure of the elevation.
We had to cross a river before we could make the ascent, and misjudging the subzero temperatures Josh went to cross the river jumping along some boulders. There was an invisible layer of ice on top of them. First thing, he lost his footing and the heavy backpack he was carrying threw his balance off even further into disaster. He fell into a raging, body locking cold. I was on the bank, in shock and just as frozen with fear as if I had plummeted into the cold with him. Josh is stronger than anyone I know, he’s capable and he’s coordinated beyond belief. But as being a professional athlete is a gift it also has its debilitating qualities, like body fat or lack there of. I’ve often thought that maybe polar bears are such adept swimmers because they have a mass of blubbery fat to help them float right along, a Twinkie thick life preserve built in if you may. Josh has no such body fat, none at all, and as I watched him being pulled down the river I was screaming and running along the bank after him-a million thoughts of what to do running through my head. It was nothing short of a miracle that he somehow gained his footing. He ran to the opposite bank, threw his pack off, and walked right back across the river to me. Is he mentally insane? Does hypothermia affect someone’s state of mind this quickly? He got to me and said, “Okay, I’m going to carry you across!” You don’t want to go back to the cabin and maybe dry off? Sit next to the fire? Or hug the woodstove until your bones stop shaking from the cold? “Okay!” I said, as we got to the other side he started stripping, laying his clothes over the branches for a quick dry. The sun was barely coming up and we still had a long hike in to where we’d be fishing. Luckily, all the extra layers of clothes I was wearing were all his, so we had a warm set of everything besides hiking boots. Once Josh has it in his mind we’re going to do something it’s a done deal. As I tried to tell him we can come back tomorrow he pointed out that we had already gotten across the river!
On our way up the mountain, I would be lying if the pressure of the altitude wasn’t weighing heavily down on my jaw. Josh kept sprinting ahead in an attempt to warm his iced over boots up-his shoelaces had literally turned into icicles-but mainly to show off. He ran so much that he felt the water turn warm. Finally at the summit, we could see for miles. Pines, aspen outcroppings, valleys, rocky sided mountains as far as the eye could see, it was breath taking!
When we had gotten to the stream we had lunch, taking in our surroundings and the sounds of the river. Josh started getting my rig ready to go. I was so excited ! When I was younger I had never been very good at staying patient enough to wait for a bite so I’d give up and just go swimming. But that was regular fishing, this was fly fishing. This was being so completely submerged in the act is fishing that you were in the water with the fish constantly moving. And it was artsy to be. Beautiful. Elegant in its motions. Casting was an art form. I’ll share something embarrassing with you now…. You can laugh just not too hard… I had thought that when fly fishermen were casting they were making the fly look like a bug flying over the water so that the fish would see it and jump out of the water and grab it! But I soon learned that was wrong. We got in the water, so cold! Everything was biting.
It wasn’t long until I had gotten the feel for casting and most excitingly, setting. Josh caught a fish almost every cast. My very first was in a little shaded knee deep pool. I remember setting and panicking when I felt it wiggling and shaking on the other end. Ahhh! Now what! “Keep the tension, try to direct him over here,” my husband was saying, just as excited as I was. I didn’t know how to hold a fish. I had to get my hand wet so I wouldn’t damage him with the oils from my hands. The water wasn’t cold anymore, at least not in that moment, and my heart was fluttering. I couldn’t tone down the smile, it was beaming from deep within my soul. I was proud of myself, and I liked fly fishing. As I held him in my hand I was immediately enamored. The colors were unreal, the texture was slick and all stone I understood that’s what it must take to be able to swim your whole life. To be one continuously flowing movement, to cut through current and riffles with ease, he had the perfect anatomical make up. Just as smoothly had he taken my fly had he taken back to the river from which he came. And then he was gone. Gone forever. But he will stay forever in my mind and my heart. I loved fly fishing!