On an overnight backpacking trip when I was about fourteen, my dad and I happened upon a fellow standing knee-deep in a stream, whipping the longest fishing rod I had ever seen back and forth, a yellow line singing through the crisp mountain air in slow arcs before him, then behind, seemingly impervious to gravity. The man finally allowed the line to drop into an eddy fifty feet downstream, the tiny lure kissing the surface of the water with silent, gentle ripples. He allowed the bait to float a little, then gently stripped line from a reel mounted behind the grip of his rod, and let the fly catch the gurgling current to snake farther down the waterway.
We stood and watched for while from fifty yards away, my dad and I, under a dying sun that filtered lazily through pines and aspens, stippling the streambed with spots of gold like spilt coins. It was a scene from a storybook, a snapshot of serenity in an already calm world. It was a moment when time stopped, and there was no yesterday or tomorrow, there was only now, and now was all that mattered. It was one of those defining chunks of life that creep back as memories years later, when a child reaches up to be held, or a beloved dog leans against your leg in the backyard, and you suddenly remember other special moments that have made your life worth all the trouble and effort. It was, for me, an epiphany.
I’d never seen anyone fly fishing before, so my dad explained the concept as well as he could. I decided right then I would have to try it, and though it was years later before I bought my first flyrod, my epiphany was not about fly fishing, or even fishing in general, it was about me. I realized that being often outdoors, in the wild places, where the air was clear and clean and fresh was necessary for me.
Another of those moments came recently on the Llano River in Mason County, and it, like the other so many years ago, also involved watching someone standing knee-deep in a stream, casting a flyrod. The sun was higher, the trees were shorter and more rounded, and my dad has been gone for more than a decade, but the moment was no less special, no less beautiful, no less defining.
My wife, Jocelynn, and I spent a weekend at Rockport kayak fishing recently. Phil Stranahan, a Rockport local, took us out and, since the fish were being uncooperative, offered to teach Jocelynn to cast a flyrod. I had never tried to show her because we learned, soon after we were married, that trying to teach one another anything was likely to end in divorce. Husbands make lousy instructors.
After half an hour, with Phil patiently coaching her, Jocelynn was casting impressively. She loves to fish and, after we got home, she decided she needed to spend some time on the Llano practicing her casting. Not that my wife needs an excuse to be outdoors; she loves nature as much as I do.
Not to be left out, I went along and stood on the bank and watched as my wife stood in the river and fished. She used a popper hand-tied by a friend, and as she whipped the rod forward and back, I remembered that day, almost forty years ago, that I stood on a different riverbank and watched a stranger cast. And the world went away for a while.
It wasn’t long before Jocelynn caught her first fish ever on a flyrod, a largemouth bass just big enough to keep. She grinned and held the fish up and I took a grainy picture with my lousy cell phone camera, probably one of the most valuable images I’ll ever record. The trouble with Kodak moments is that we seldom seem to have a Kodak handy.
Jocelynn insisted on removing the hook herself, reminding me of another special snapshot from the past. Our youngest son, Leret, was about four years old when he caught his first fish on a trip to a friend’s stock tank. He wouldn’t allow us to put it on a stringer, but stuck the small perch into the bib pocket of his overalls. We had to wait until he fell asleep in the pickup on the way home to retrieve it.
With spouses, as with children, quality time is what we remember, and what makes our memories valuable to us. But quality time can’t be planned or forced, it happens at random on a schedule of its own. And without question, quality time always occurs somewhere in the midst of quantity time. Always.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Spend time fishing with your family and you feed your soul for a lifetime.
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who never tries to teach his wife how to do anything. She returns the favor. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org