At 11:45, I felt a ponderous weight on my line, and after reeling frantically, I was soon greeted by the spectacle of a rainbow suspended in midair. An elderly man on the opposite side of the pool and I snagged the same trout at the same time and we began arguing over who’d actually caught the hapless creature. Our respective lines were hopelessly tangled, and only because the rainbow was somewhat closer to my position was I able to stake a claim to the levitating fish. I still feel sickened by the whole wretched day as well as by my behavior regarding that trout. I couldn’t help but think there had to be more to fishing than this.
Years later, I found what I was seeking. Paul, one of my friends who’d participated in the Blue Hole debacle, called and said that he had discovered the joys of fly fishing for native brook trout. He requested I join him on a mountain tributary of the James when trout season began. I didn’t own a fly rod, but I was sure that my spinners would outfish his flies and told him so.
I still feel sickened by the whole wretched day as well as by my behavior regarding that trout. I couldn’t help but think there had to be more to fishing than this.
My boast proved spectacularly wrong that day. Paul caught wild brookies, one after another, on a size 14 Adams while my spinners plopping into the shallow water sent every brookie fleeing for cover. Not long after, I purchased my first fly rod.
The memories come flooding back on my drive into the highlands with Elaine, and for the first time, I tell these stories to her. She repeatedly smiles at my youthful escapades as we cross the old bridge over the James, drive by the Blue Hole, eventually leaving the stocked waters of Jennings Creek behind as the paved road turns to gravel and eventually even the graveled road ends at the edge of a Jennings tributary. Just like I hoped and expected, we will share the stream with no one.
“We’ve got about seventy-five yards of stream to fish in this valley before we come to the first major plunge pool,” I explain. “There’ll be a mix of wild, stream-born rainbows and native brookies here, but above the waterfall, it’s all brookies and all uphill. I want you to have the first shot at the bottom pools.”
“No,” she protests. “You know how quickly I get tired, and how easily I can fall. I want you to stand beside me, and we’ll take turns.”
Elaine makes the first few casts at the initial stops before we begin taking turns at the succeeding pools. Then she tells me that she wants me to have the looming pool to myself and sits down on a streamside boulder as a way of settling the issue.
I creep up to the run and realize it is the best-looking water I’ve seen all day—a pulsing current enters the three-foot-deep hole characterized by basketball-size rocks and enveloping rhododendron and speckled alders. I spot three shapes finning against the current. It’s a trout flanked by two chubs. I know the first cast will be my only realistic chance to entice the trout.
Amazingly—or perhaps not so—the trout beats the chubs to the fly. A few seconds later, I land the six-inch wild rainbow and actually chortle with glee. Elaine takes a few quick pictures before I release the fish.
In silence, we drive down the mountain past a crowded campground and the Blue Hole, where no one is fishing. I wonder if any stocked trout still dwell in the pool, and would they be amenable to a properly presented streamer? Perhaps I’ll find out on a future summer evening.
We drive over the bridge and see more than a dozen vehicles lining the small parking lot. Elaine begins to talk about our children and grandchildren. I speculate next summer when Sam is three might be the time for his first fishing trip with me. I have traveled a good deal in my little postage stamp and am more than satisfied with the choices I’ve made and the journey thus far.
Bruce Ingram is a freelance writer, photographer, and book author. He and his wife live in Troutville, Virginia.