Ushering one fisherman's descent into madness

At some point early in the last decade, I was like Frank. The entirety of my fishing gear would fit in a small box with my clunky boot foot waders, shiny and new, filling the lion's share of the space. One fly box with a dozen random flies. A single rod. Click and pawl. Discount line rigged with a leader nail knotted in apparent defiance of the impermanence of its design.

I took Frank and his new kit out on a summer's evening last year to see if he could learn some basics and, more importantly, find a tug that would accelerate his descent into madness. Late summer water is supposed to be forgiving. While the trout are hunkered down in the refuges, the smallies are active and more foolish than a brook trout fresh off a stocking truck. This should have been a perfect moment for a rookie.

Something was off, though. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. The water was up a bit but still well within bounds. I had hoped for some bugs but they were absent. I felt an unease about the moment, the angling and Frank's odds at getting a fish. I had a vague notion that this would have been a good day to stand in water and meditate in silence. Instead, I coached my downstream charge.

Frank looked every bit the rookie. He hadn't yet acquired the ease with which experienced anglers stand against the flow. His tentative form made all the sloppy mistakes that you're supposed to make at this stage but the bugger was in the water more often than not and he was fishing the fishiest spot in the run.

I watched him miss several strikes. You would think that the tug on a streamer would be enough to elicit a natural "set the hook" reaction but I had neglected to cover hook setting in my brief instruction and he just gave a surprised grunt every time it happened. Eventually I clued him in and he put the tug and the set together in a way that would soon be instinctive. The rod tip bowed and wiggled. His first fly caught fish came to hand; a modest fall fish. Pictures were taken.

I saw Frank again over the winter. He hadn't fished since that summer night but he was sitting in a theater waiting to watch the Fly Fishing Film Tour and was excited about the fly fishing school he'd attend in a couple of weeks. We talked about spring hatches and spots to fish once the snow was gone.

The last time I saw Frank was at a Trout Unlimited meeting during the late spring. He was now fully instructed in the ways of our sport and needed only time on the water to become the angler he envisioned. Seeing him mix among all the older and more experienced members made me recall my first TU meeting a decade before. I too mingled uncertainly exchanging nods with those whose tales went back decades and like Frank, I was going to need a bigger box.