The last week brought realizations and realities.
One of the very best times of my year is when the fly fishing guides at Falcon’s Ledge get together at the same local Olive Garden for our season-end dinner, awards presentation and amateur comedy hour. John Rock, a truly masterful teacher and guide, won Guide of the Year, again. There were ample gifts from the lodge (thank you FL), tweed references, innovative (i.e. inappropriate) fly names coined and fish tales told.
As I drove home from another of these short sweet get togethers, belly full of tortelloni and Diet Coke, I thought a little bit about how lucky I am to get to do that. These are some of the very best people I will ever know. I’m grateful for their association and owe it all to our shared passion: fly fishing.
Right about that same time a news story broke in the Denver area. A friend sent me the link, then it started showing on Facebook. The owner and organizer of the Pro Fly Angling Tour (PFAT), Anthony Naranja, had been accused of scamming participants in his events out of tens of thousands of dollars.
My mind shot back to a phone conversation I had with Anthony as he had tried to talk me into joining his tour and talk me out of the $8K it would take to secure my “tour card” (because that’s “how it works” in golf and other pro sports tours). The invitation had been flattering but the fishy format, hard sell, and especially the dollar figure, had put me off. I decided to wait and see what might happen to the PFAT.
I guess we know.
I had known Anthony for several years, having competed with him in Fly Fishing Team USA/FIPS Mouche sanctioned fly fishing events. In light of all that went down at the PFAT it’s important to understand the difference here. FIPS Mouche (international governing body) competitions are carried out in much the same spirit as the Olympics, with special attention paid to conservation, community involvment, learning and advancing the sport. I learned a lot and met many incredible people (some have even participated in the above mentioned OG event over the years).
You may dismiss all competetive angling as something that isn’t your thing. That’s fine. But please understand, PFAT is not FIPS, nor Fly Fishing Team USA.
Back to Anthony Naranja. I don’t know all the facts, but I know enough that, without some incredible explanation involving ETs and/or a long hallucinatory affair with Courtney Love, I’m not buying it. I’m officially considering that dude I used to know the human equivalent of didymo (rock snot), the most infamous, slimy, and profusely abhorent of riverene invasive species.
The juxtaposition of the two sets of aquaintances is jarring, in fact, much more jarring than any usual good news/bad news dichotomy because it had been fly fishing that introduced us. Fly fishers don’t do that to each other. They just don’t. Well, they shouldn’t.
I fished alone one day last week. It was a crisp clear calm afternoon. Everything you expect from late Autumn in the mountains. As I walked toward the river thoughts bounced around on each step. Recent events, people I know and had known, the sight of a tiny winter-grey buck in the willows, riparian smells and the geometry of runs I planned to fish, it all carouselled around, appearing in brief, unfinished, alternating scenes.
I had intended to cover a bunch of water with streamers in search of fall lake-run browns, but there were small delicate baetis flitting about. The smaller fish in the heads of riffles seemed extremely interested in sucking down duns with an abandon fueled by approaching winter.
I was predictably distracted and found myself fishing a small gray Better Baetis on 5X for most of 2 hours. Many fish in the 6 to 10 inch range succumbed. With very few refusals to a well drifted fly and eagerness in every take, the whole thing was a lot of fun.
But as shadows appeared so did recollection of my intentions for the day. I’d come to catch a big brown chucking meat. It’s what this entire season is all about. I quickly massacred my dry fly leader, attached an articulated long bug and went to work downstream.
The streamer fishing was equally as rewarding and eventually lead to a solid line jolt and hook up with one of the finest fall brown trout I’ve ever seen. It was strong and thick and a deeper gold than one would ever expect.
The hard take, powerful tussel and subsequent fight had yielded something more beautiful than I’d seen in a long time. I snapped some quick shots and sent it back riverward.
As I moved no more than a handful of steps into the next riffle and threw a couple of casts, another angler stepped out of the brush and began to fish the run below. In terms of ettiquette, it was close but not terrible form since I was fishing downstream and should defer. I’d been guilty of worse myself. Thinking of other runs to fish, I turned back upstream. There was an angler working his way from the willows into the run directly above, where I’d just caught the beautiful autumn brown.
I was officially squeezed. It happens.
I watched the guy above me for a few casts. Seeing the hope in his anxious movements, I smiled and knew the day was done. I stepped carefully from the river and aimed for the gravelled parking lot we anglers were likely all sharing.
Walking the trail through thick tufted river grass and thin willows, I thought about people, first the anglers in the river above and below, my friends at the restaurant, the people I know best, those I had known and all people everywhere. I thought about the times, about Paris, about home, about places I’ll never see, about friends and about all the people on boats in the Mediterranean and dispersing through Europe and the world.
We constantly bump into each other. Often we apologize dust each other and go on our way, too often we shove a bit, on rare occassions we knock down, stomp or worse. But most of the time, luckily, we anglers and we people stick together, share a plate of pasta, spin a few tales and appreciate each other.