Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I have a confession to make. I didn't see a shot of the U.S. Open. Not one. Diddly-whatsit, zero, etc. I just flat out took U.S. Open week off, and went to Yellowstone with the breadsnatchers and She Who Must Be Obeyed, along with some of her family from Mississippi, and their whippersnappers. It was like the Griswolds' Buick Roadmaster had crashed into the Beverly Hillbillies' truck, and they'd decided to make a week out of it. I decided to tackle up, get up to my waist in fast-flowing 40-degree water, and engage myself in an epic battle of wits with an invisible herd of chortling trout.

Oh yeah, I'm a fly fisherman now, and one of the best that was ever up a creek. After an hour, my scrotum had shrunk to the size of a California raisin, I couldn't feel my knees, but on the bright side, I was a little wiser than before. I didn't know that trout had a sense of humor. The bastards are sarcastic too, and at least as clever as me, which makes them damned smart, the scaly little creatures.

Okay, so I was crap at it. It doesn't make me a bad person, and in fact, from what I read about the U.S. Open, there are probably some parallels between what I did last week, and what went on at Bethpage. I had about as much chance of catching one of those slippery little buggers as anyone had of catching Tiger. Also, there was a certain mystical pointlessness to my endeavor, which made it rather rewarding overall.

Actually, I got to the stage where it didn't matter whether or not I caught a fish, it was just fun to be there. I particularly enjoyed the crowd reaction to my efforts. There is nothing like having a few uncontrollable children around when you're trying to concentrate on something difficult, like fly-fishing.

Picture this: After several minutes of myopic fumbling, three loud yells, and one barely concealed hissy fit, you've managed to tie a fluffy hook the size of an anorexic gnat to an almost invisible piece of monofilament, when a four-year-old wearing a set of lavender foam antlers runs through the line, driving the hook deep into your index finger. Then she gives you a piece of half-chewed emu jerky, which you have to try, daddy!

It's okay, all you have to do is drink a half-pint of Jack Daniels, push it through, nip off the barb, and pull it out. No biggie, but a rookie mistake. Up there, they like you to fish with barbless hooks anyway, so you might as well crimp'em before you tie'em.

I figured that one out just in time to drive a much larger imitation stonefly nymph into the back of my skull at about 120 mph. It's surprisingly loud when you take one that close to your ear, but it was a dawdle to get out compared to the wee caddis fly thingy. Lovely stuff.

There was a heckler in the crowd. It was a smartass osprey chick in a cluster of sticks at the top of a telegraph pole, and I could've sworn it was counting my attempts to present the fly in the right spot. It was taking me quite a while though, and it got bored. As I crocheted myself a pair of pale green underpants between the reel and the first guide hole on the rod, I spotted one of the parents, which had been perched in a nearby Douglas fir for some time.

Suddenly it dropped, as silent as snow from the branch, and fell into a low, smooth, impossibly fast glide. Surely to God it wouldn't, I was thinking to myself, but I felt the goosebumps rise on my forearms, as it leveled out inches above the water about 100 feet in front of me. It barely broke the surface tension of the Madison river as it plucked a wriggling six-inch long silver blade from the water and without a wing beat, peeled hard left and up toward the nest. A yard above with full flaps, it touched down like a snowflake, beaked the fish toward the squealing infant, and slowly turned its head to look directly into my eyes.

That's how you do it, you moron.

Oh, yeah. I had that expression -- you know, mouth the size and shape of a Cheerio, and eyebrows vanished into the hairline. Damn, I thought, what a show.

And this place is open to the public?

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