Most years I manage to take a week long fishing trip somewhere into the wilds and for those years I have failed I vow to repent. What an abundant collection of friends and memories this habit has generated over the years! This year’s adventure into Idaho and Wyoming were no exception! We fished little waters and big waters, waters in woods and waters through vast meadows. All these waters were chock full of aquatic life providing a feast for both eagle and angler.
Speaking as an angler who has cast into the hallowed waters of three countries, I was asking myself (after seeing the Henry’s Fork) why I ever left this one! The fishing was unsurpassed! The fellowship with my son Daniel was precious! But there was something even more going on. With each cast I became conscious of a question taking shape, even beckoning me; “Rob, What accounts for the deep pleasure you are experiencing?” And while they were good indeed, I knew the answer was more than just fish and fellowship.
As one who credits glory to God for creation it was only natural to consider the aesthetics of all I was taking in as the source of my deep pleasure but even then, there was something considerably more that was escaping me. So, I did as I often do, I just let the question meander around among my thoughts.
Questions, to my mind, are no strangers. In fact, I am concerned they are accumulating faster than are answers! I typically let a question simmer, then I will stir it, modestly at first, then if warranted (as in this case), more deliberately….. Where was my deep joy coming from?
Was it the music? Maybe. Admittedly, Daniel’s playlist had been providing a sweet atmosphere on our drives from one wild place to another. It seems appropriate here to just pause and say, “I’m “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash (and for that matter, Buck Owens) too.”
Each evening I had been reading about John Coulter so his forced marches through this landscape were prominent in my imagination. But…. if you have ever driven with a millennial you will know what a forced listen is. This is where conversation (even thought?) is suspended and one is prevailed upon by the customized audioscape of the 20 (or 30) something’s playlist. 🙂
I would categorize Daniel’s music as “Americana Glorifico” and I 90% love it. The scant 10% is best represented by the cool sounding Darius Rucker / Brad Paisley cover of I Don’t Know and I Don’t Care (which is now inconveniently stuck in my mind). I’m just sure there will soon be a movie produced called Millennial Cowboy with this musical declaration as its title song.
So, to contend with the 10% of the forced listen, I had to keep reminding myself, “I do too care and I darn sure want to know!” In particular, I still wanted to know what this visceral, almost palpable pleasure was that was haunting me. My answer came together as I was watching Daniel on the Yellowstone River. Here is my diary entry from that day (with minor editing)…..
We drove for an hour to get from Little Firehole Creek to the Yellowstone River where I set up with a hopper and Daniel with a big golden stone fly imitation. This section of the river (just a few miles below Yellowstone Lake) looks like you could wade across is. This is an illusion. We waded as far as we dared which was just above the waist. (Go further and you become a bobber moving downstream at roughly 5 mph). From here our best casts might reach mid-stream. We learned the formula quickly though: In BIG waters…..
BIG casts (with BIG dry flies) + BIG mends = BIG rewards!
Within 2 hours I had hooked 4 big trout (20” or better) and landed 2. So did Daniel but he hooked and landed a monster. Our guide, Matt Murphy (Murph) had worked in Yellowstone and fished this river extensively. He had also guided here for several years. When he first saw Daniel’s fish coming at him and his net, he convulsed, “OMG!, That’s the biggest Cutthroat I have ever seen in the Yellowstone!” The fish measured 25” and had a huge girth. A true elder of these waters, Mike Lawson confirmed: “25 inches is about as big as a Cutthroat will get on the Yellowstone River. Wow!
It is impossible to put into words “the magic” of what I had witnessed. (Thank God I captured most of this on video!) Lot’s of people try and fish the Yellowstone. Most leave empty handed. The smaller easier-to-catch Cutty’s, (Mike Lawson confirms) have mostly all been eaten by the Lake Trout upstream.
The Yellowstone is “big” water and it’s just flat out tough to fish. Daniel’s conquest began after a beautiful long cast and at the end of a long 50 to 60 foot drift. It was a solo hook set, meaning no guide yelling, “Hit him!” (If you have fished with guides much you will know “this” is a moment to be savored since “Hit him!” can eventually feel like the end of a whip if you happen to have missed some hook sets.)
There are so many things that can go wrong in fly fishing. Daniel’s 25” cutthroat did not just voluntarily attach itself to his hook. It required some mastery of fly casting to have even delivered the fly to the place where this fish lived. It then took mending skills to keep the fly drifting with the current so that it would appear as a legitimate meal to the trout. The hook had to be set very quickly with this much line out. The line then had to be be kept taught; Any slack at all at any time would release the trout. The fish had to be reeled in at a pace that honored both the fishes efforts to escape and the strength of the 5x tippet connecting the fly to the fly line. If just one of those things go south the fish will not be joining the fishermen in the shallows with high 5’s and OMG’s. But on this occasion Daniel and the stars were in perfect alignment. It was a privilege to witness this communion of skill, circumstance and creation merging into something sacred.
Nature had become his pulpit and my son had become my teacher. His sermon on this bright Wyoming afternoon provided the answer as to why joy was crowding in on my thoughts. It was communion; What I had been experiencing and was now watching was communion, not the Christian ceremony where bread and wine are consecrated and shared but communion where God is sharing himself with man.
It was to no mute stone Daniel’s fly had beckoned, “Rise!” His fly was taken by the eldest Cutthroat in the Yellowstone River and after seeing him yield (very reluctantly) it was a joy to release him back to his tribe. What we had experienced had, in its own way, been overlaid with gold and silver. Everything we beheld was bursting with breath and for certain, the Lord was in His holy temple. And, with the exceptions of the Yellowstone’s murmurs (and our own gasps of delight) the earth was silent before Him.”
With ospreys and eagles patrolling overhead, with buffalo and bears literally over the next hill, with geothermal power pulsating beneath us and the Yellowstone river itself coursing with life, I was watching a dance. Created things were being drawn together into the deeper rhythms of God. What I was watching was deep calling unto deep. Communion was the backstory to my joy.
Father, may we apply the lessons learned in the Yellowstone Sanctuary in the daily affairs of our own uniquely wild places. Even where we do not perfectly hear your symphony or have not yet mastered our step, teach us to risk entry into this dance into which you have certainly invited us. Amen.