A single false cast. I feel the little rod bend from the casting stroke. Line shoots and a fly gently lands in the soft water next to a current seam. The CDC fluff beast’s design and materials cause it to float high on the water. It drifts drag-free down the seam, then suddenly disappears without fanfare. I come tight to a wild brown, my rod pulsing with the life I am tethered to.
After a short fight, the trout slides into my net. I ready my camera as the fish recovers its strength. A few hurried pictures then I allow the bejeweled brown to escape. It rests in an eddy, calmly finning and recovering. Then with a flick of its tail, it vanishes. Except for the photos I could not discern if the catch had been real or a dream.
In an age of constrained natural resources, some anglers choose to release most or all of the fish they catch. The credit of popularizing this ethic is given to the venerable fly fishing pioneer Lee Wulff, who said that a fish is too valuable a creature to be caught only once.
So we catch fish and release them. But we don’t simply free them. We re-lease them; that is, we give them another lease on life.
Lee Wulff was not the originator of this concept. He merely applied it to fish caught in sport. There is a deeper and more spiritual application, beautifully illustrated in Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables”. In this clip, paroled thief Jean Valjean steals from and assaults a bishop who gave him food and shelter for the night. He flees only to be apprehended by police, who return him to the scene of the crime. The outcome of the convict’s second encounter with the bishop confounds Valjean, and changes his life forever.
In all of the mystery that binds us to nature, rivers, and trout, perhaps the act of giving a fish another lease on life is also a subtle reminder on our need for the same. And so, with a small prayer of thanks for my own unmerited redemption, I play a small god and redeem the life of a wild thing. And in so doing, the trout has somehow now caught me.