My life stands at the critical juncture where, as Gary LaFontaine once said, young whippersnappers need to consider events of merit, like marriage, a mortgage, and a minivan.
I’ve considered them. I ruled out the minivan immediately.
Most of my friends passed this stage in life years ago, and while they debate names for unborn children, I’m trying to decide what to have inscribed on my next fly rod. Do I go with my full name, or name the rod after one of my favorite streams?
Not too long ago, a buddy of mine called one evening to tell me he’d sold his beautiful, mud-loving, rock-crawling, hunting machine of a truck. Of course, I wanted to know both why he’d sold it, and why he hadn’t offered it to me.
“I decided it just wasn’t practical anymore,” he said, proceeding to tell me how he and his wife had traded it in for a “sweet” minivan with TVs in the headrests.
I hurried him off the phone before he could explain why he didn’t sell me the truck.
Now, I don’t have anything against marriage, kids, or family. Hell, I think all of that’s great; in fact, the church I attend most Sundays preaches that family is foundationally important to salvation. I’m just not ready to be saved, I guess.
I’m slowly becoming the odd man out, and the constant barrage of wedding invitations and birth announcements wears a fellow down to the point where you begin to think losing your lucky steelhead fly on the Skagit wouldn’t be as bad as attending another wedding.
Back in the early fall of 2017, I opened the mailbox to a veritable flood of wedding invitations. The folks who invited me obviously didn’t know me well, since almost all the weddings were on a Saturday or Sunday. Weekends are for fishing, not weddings. If God hadn’t wanted man to fish for sport, he wouldn’t have given us two days a week out of the office.
I send a present for the weekend weddings I don’t attend, and consider showing up for the weekday ones. That autumn, I had a pretty close friend of mine decide a Wednesday was as good a time as any to tie the knot, and I dutifully put it on my calendar.
That Wednesday arrived before I knew it, and I found myself sitting in the office, staring out the window at the Wasatch Front range of the Rocky Mountains, which forms the eastern wall of Utah Valley. Clouds littered the sky, dappling the sunlight just enough to potentially bait the caddis into hatching, and in turn, me into fishing.
The wedding’s in five hours, I thought. I can be on American Fork Creek in 15 minutes. If I wear my suit under my waders, I can fish longer ...
A ringing phone interrupted that train of productive thought.
“Hey, you busy?” My buddy Hyrum asked in a tone that I knew meant, “You wanna go fish?”
“Nah,” I said. “Just sitting in the office.”
“You wanna hit The Ranch?” he asked.
Hyrum’s family is well-to-do, and some uncle twice removed owns a boatload of land just outside of Park City, Utah. A gorgeous creek runs through the land, and Hyrum has carte blanche to fish when he pleases. It’s the sort of place you make time to fish, because no one else ever touches the water. It’s almost like stepping back in time to an era where fly fishing wasn’t a popular sport and virgin water wasn’t a pipe dream.
I left the office, jumped in the car, and drove to meet Hyrum for the drive to The Ranch. Briefly, I wondered if I’d make the wedding
Ah, the hell with it.
The wedding started at seven in the evening; at 6:45, the caddis were hatching so thick that I’m sure Hyrum would’ve never invited me back to The Ranch again if I’d suggested we leave. And I didn’t want to leave, either.
I made a mental note to put their gift in the mail the following day.
As I cast to a broad brown trout, which was sipping dries an inch from the bank, a buddy called. I answered the phone only because I’d left the office to, “visit with clients,” and it was still within business hours.
My house sits on the bench of a broad, steep section of the Rockies. My backyard is a mountain slope covered in cheatgrass, scrub oak, and the occasional lone cedar stand.
That slope, my buddy informed me, was on fire.
I looked up in time to see the fish I’d cast to eat my fly, but I’d love to see anyone set the hook with a phone in one hand and a rod tucked beneath an arm.
So, I did the only acceptable thing you should in that situation. I gave my buddy the code to open my garage door and said, “All my fly rods are in my closet, in the corner by my two rifles. Grab the rods and the rifles, and if you have time, the box of fly tying hackle on my desk. Throw ‘em in your car, I’ll get them later.”
“You’re not coming home?”
“There ain’t anything I can do except sit there and watch things burn,” I said. “And the river’s on fire right now.”
I hung up and got back to fishing.