￼I went fishing for a couple days last week. Not that my time on the water is news, or a big deal, but it was awfully important from a mental health perspective. We all need to take the occasional day off, and fishing—or in this particular case, rowing a couple of other anglers down the river for the better part of two days—was exactly the kind of therapy I needed.
There were a handful of us. Chris Hunt and Steve Zakur were in one boat, while Pat McCabe, Mike Sepelak and I were in another. We were floating the Missouri near Craig, Montana, and the river, which was awfully high and a little on the chilly side, was playing coy. If you’ve ever fished the Mo, you know that she can be generous to a fault, to the point where other rivers, even those with big names and fancy pedigrees, can seem downright stingy in comparison.
She wasn’t like that last week, though. In fact, she made us work hard for everything. The dry fly fishing was pretty much nonexistent, the nymphing, for those who chose to go that route, was mediocre at best, and the streamer fishing elicited the kind of colorful profanities that President Trump and his team of incompetents provoke on a regular basis.
You didn’t think this piece was going to be political? Hell, everything is political nowadays.
So yes, the streamer fishing was tough. Mike would sling a cast into a pretty little bank-side eddy or Pat would laser-beam his streamer of choice into the tiny pocket of darkness under an overhanging willow and we’d all wait in anticipation for the massive strike that never came.
I can’t help but think back to the days when attractive young women would occasionally walk up to me, smile, say “Hi!” and slip a little piece of paper with a phone number into my hand.
Unfortunately, our fishing was nothing like that.
Nothing at all.
It wasn’t even like the Missouri was flirting with us. She just turned her back and walked away.
The good news is that the catching is only a small part of it. Hanging with Pat, Mike, Steve and Chris was a blast. We talked and laughed; we bitched and moaned; we ate good food and kicked back at a sweetheart of a rental cottage; we stayed blissfully unaware of the world’s current travails due to the lack of cell service and wi-fi. More than anything else, that’s exactly what I needed. Some pulls on the oars. A little time with a fly rod in my hand. Companions who were, for lack of a better word, simpatico. And a break from the news of the day.
Then it all came together on the last afternoon. We went to the power strip, which, given the water temp, shouldn’t have been all that effective. But it was. Colder water usually requires a slower strip and a more nuanced retrieve. For whatever reason, though, those big Missouri River browns didn’t care. They wanted their streamers fast. The faster, the better. Seriously, I have no idea why, but we started slamming some really big fish, and life, which was already on the rebound, got a little bit better.
Fly fishing, done right, is a magnet, an attention sink, a rabbit hole. It pulls us in, further and further, until all the crap and the detritus and the angst that surf through our lives just melts away. Angling offers an escape from the fact that we live in a world that’s pretty much insane; a world where our leaders in Washington, D.C. have more in common with children playing with matches than with statesmen and visionaries. For reasons I don’t really understand, our ￼society, or at least our politics, seems intent on pushing decent, honest people out to the ragged edge while it rewards deviants and morons and sycophants and sociopaths.
If there’s any upside to this “teetering on the edge of the abyss” existence, it’s that fishing with friends is a get out of jail free card; a blessed interlude when, for the space of a few hours, we don’t have to think about our politicians selling off our public lands or lying about global warming or trading our health care for magic beans. Not that we can ignore any of those things for long - they’re simply too important to put on the back burner - but fishing, at least for some of us, is the anchor. It helps keep us sane. It’s a life-line; a reset button; a warm shower after a day of rolling around in the mud.
I’ve been home for five days now, and while it’s truly good to be here, it’s already obvious that I need to get back out on the water. Trump is still in office. Congress is still committed to selling its soul to the highest bidder. The world continues to go to hell in a hand-basket. Anyone want to go fishing?