Chasing Lightning

There are days when the pull of the water is strong; the burden of the workaday world has tipped the balance and out of sorts I will go despite conditions, and hatches and the real possibility of catching. I go for other reasons, I tell myself, but mostly I go because I want to be shocked back to that other person by the charged particles delivered through a tense, alive line. I also go because, like most anglers, I am an optimist filled with hope.

Indiana isn't a very trouty place. That doesn't mean one can't find trout in the state, though I'm not sure you can, but it's not a destination that one would pick for an adventure if one were a trout angler. The long car drive to Indiana was for camaraderie and carp. There were likely other reasons too but those were the primary motivators that caused Jonny and I to drive thousands of miles during five days in June.

The fishing in Indiana was a bust. After a week of great company and mediocre angling we had only managed some smaller largemouth and a couple of handfuls of bluegills. Our lack of opportunity was primarily attributable to what the weather gods had delivered. The rivers throughout the region were muddy and full. The carp flats roiled, not from the fat bodies of eager fish, but wind driven flood waters. Even in the numerous lakes and ponds it appeared the fish were off of that something they were supposed to be on. Not far from downtown Indianapolis, we watched a large pod of carp feed in an unreachable eddy. In a way is was comforting to know that the fish were actually there. It was also deeply disturbing.

We left Indiana early hoping to make the drive east to familiar waters which seemed to have tolerable flows and certain opportunity at fish. While the decision to drive was an intellectual one - well reasoned to maximize angling advantage - what began so innocently turned to something else. The road waited for Brazil to cheat its way to a win over Croatia. Once the extra time had expired we hustled to Starbucks and made for Ohio. Midnight in Cleveland was the goal but we'd be satisfied with something less or more as long as the long game for Friday shaped up to something better.

Six hours to Cleveland scored us a hotel room in a place thick with fans of and from Croatia. Well after midnight her fans were surprisingly upbeat after the drubbing. I suppose there's something to be learned from that though I suspect it is related to liberal doses of booze.

Friday we hurtled east towards clouds the built through the day. Jonny secured us lodgings in Hancock and we started to talk about the places that we'd fish. After a week of searching hard in unfamiliar water for meager reward the familiarity of it all - the plans, the trout, the waters - had us energized. Of course, no plan survives first contact and as texts came to us from friends already on the water we learned that a Plan C would have to be developed. While the river gages told of reasonable flows, on site inspection disclosed water colored in what, by now, had become a familiar hue.

The only course seemed to be a race east ahead of the weather. I suppose, in hindsight, finding a pub and calling it what it was was an option. While that thought may have briefly crossed my mind it did not warrant serious attention. I needed to fish. Jonny sensed it. We were on a manic drive to find something that had eluded me over the past week. Driving seventy miles an hour for the better part of a day we had finally caught up with the line of wind and rain and jumping electricity and I felt that if we could just punch through we could find something on the other side that would lance this thing and provide welcome relief.

Approaching the Hudson we suffered the tantrums of the beast but by the time we crossed Fishkill Creek the brooding clouds and electrical displays were behind us and the skies were filled with a bright spring day. Now we only had to put another hour of road behind us to be at a familiar spot.

That hour passed quickly despite a few wrong turns and a tense moment when a stunningly low railroad trestle threatened to slice the kayaks off the roof. Parked beneath towering pines we rigged for trout. Having tossed large flies for three days my rig was not ready to for trout. A 3x leader, now down to something like 1x, wouldn't manage a trout dry so I went with streamers.

The first fish to hand was a smallmouth. It was just about smallmouth season on the Housatonic so it wasn't unexpected but I had built in my mind the expectation that we were finally back on familiar territory. We were trout fishing. Taunted by the distant rumbles of the storm that was now chasing us I worked my way through the fly box looking for that thing that would tempt a trout. Smallmouth came to hand several times before I got it right. There's something about the red and yellow of a Mickey Finn that just says "trout" and it delivered on the promise. The storm arrived in earnest twenty minutes later and in the hour or so Jonny and I had tallied more fish than we had in any one of the previous days.

In the end the catching felt unsatisfactory. That deep itch didn’t feel scratched. Over beer and mediocre pizza I didn’t feel the sense of accomplishment that one might after thousands of miles. In our race to find the thing, we had made it a race; the antithesis of what it was supposed to be. It was just a journey and it should have been left as such.

Steve Zakur writes at He dead drifts purple Wooley Buggers in western Connecticut.