As the first fingers of dawn reached into the morning sky, I had slipped quietly into the river, crossed the riffles, and settled onto a large, mid-stream boulder. I sat silently, my fly rod across my lap, and watched the sun emerge from behind the trees, the fish begin to rise, and the first daylight moments of my 57th year arrive.
Fifty-six is an awkward age, the geriatric version of early teens. Too young to be in the golden years - too old to be in the prime of life. At fifty-six, most men are at the peak of their professional careers, wringing the life out of their final working years while it's wringing the life out of them. The mid-life crisis has been avoided, endured, or embraced, the wounds have been licked, and a semblance of stability has been achieved – a stability that could, without care, decay into stagnation.
Retired early, I have the time, but neither the interest nor the energy, to tackle the big issues of the day. I’ve tilted at my fair share of windmills, toppling a precious few, but am coming to simply accept what is and I wonder if that makes me a smaller man.
With these thoughts, I slipped from the rock into the stream, stripped several lengths of line from my reel, and began to cast, sending my fly to drift on the moving water.
The ultimate challenge in fly fishing is the mastery of the dead drift - the presentation of a fly on moving water in such a manner that it appears to be natural and unconnected to line. The ruse is necessary for those most wary of trout to which the minutest of unnatural movement is a signal to flee.
Most streams consist of a variety of currents, created as their water moves around objects, through deep and shallow areas, and over streambeds of varying composition. As a fisherman lays line across these varying flows, portions of it may move faster, or slower, or even in different directions, than the fly at the terminus. The challenge of the dead drift is to “read” the water, analyzing the currents, and “mend” the line, placing slack in appropriate places so that, as the currents pull inconsistently, the drift of the fly is unaffected.
It takes forethought, patience, and skill to attain what appears to be natural.
As the brown flashed downstream, I sighed and raised my rod, lifting the line from the water, preparing for another cast, another fish. I knew that the next trout would require a better, more natural drift, as would the remainder of my life.
I’ve navigated the turbulence of my “productive years” and, while the waters around me still pass in a dizzying array of paces and directions, my goal is to cast into my remaining days and present myself - with forethought, patience and skill - such that I appear to move naturally, effortlessly, in harmony with the flow of time, and life, around me.
I must master the dead drift.