The Old Line
A short story by the author of “Small Fry”
That Maryland bank clad in stone offered no line of credit. The business, best described, was an angle of line to rock beside which a redbreast sunfish held suspended in shaded water.
The cast my 3-weight made would have appeared dainty to a third party. My 6X tippet ended in a small hook, hugged by knitting wool (I’m lazy and lousy with dubbing), tailed with a brief length of pheasant feather (I’m also a bird hunter). This brown and grey subaqueous nymph imitation parachuted forward to the surface before a fifteen foot sparkle of floating line touched moving water on a sunny afternoon. The pattern, tethered to fluorocarbon, dived to the gravel and began rear-ending its way on a sail toward the sunfish.
Clear water visibility was an asset. My yellow fly line had served me for several seasons and had faded in a way that made it sometimes invisible on a dappled surface of flowing water. Today the lay of the line was plain and the mind of the basking sunfish allowed itself to be read, while still in position underwater, translation provided by the body's actions: the wide left eye met my target; the colorful flanks followed it in a slow, stiff, stealthy reposition to an upstream feeding station. The imitation insect swam and sank in a diagonal trajectory with fish's expectant face. The teaser was the twisting motion as it swung into the current tongue of take. The fish darted forward, circled, reversed, swinging nose up and around with a final pound down upon the pattern.
The old line ran straight. I raised the rod a single foot higher, setting the hook into the nerveless gristle around the left corner hinge of the fish's jaws.
What followed coincided with an Existential expansion in my field of view. My mind's eye now saw myself broadly from above as my two cornflower blues focused on the fish before me, rising, diving, circling, and splashing beside the big rock. The perceptual duality was pleasing and mildly cinematic. The rod bent twice in quick succession. The headshake and surge phase even took off a few feet of line from the reel. Large redbreasts fighting in a current are like less showy, more obstinate, smallmouth bass. I took conscious precaution to follow good form – a short, slow, deep knee bend onto my haunches, back end hovering centimeters over running water – as if I were playing out my starring minute in the latest on-the-stream DVD. I swung the fine leader toward my open right hand whilst the left clutched the rod and raised it perpendicular to the planed panfish.
Seven, so far lucky, inches span the length between the wrist and outstretched middle fingertip on each of my hands. This fish fell in between the sum of those two. Linked middle fingertip to middle fingertip like a docked Russian Soyuz and American Apollo, I could cradle the length of this sunfish with a mere royalty percentage of space to spare. There I beheld Art: a kinetic object of barred evergreen and orange cream pearled in the surface film; a fluid composition of line, shape, and color together revealing, and reveling in, healthy Life; a nice catch, which I then released.
I stood, pinched the fly line between my left thumb and index finger, and stripped it through them to squeeze it dry. More than a few nicks and rough patches could be felt, scars begging retirement, which reminded me for the second time in less than a minute that fishing, in large part, in an ongoing lesson in learning how to let go.
Author’s Note: Maryland is known as The Old Line state.