It’s getting up
before the sun.
The only sound
is coffee brewing
for the road.
It was Halloween, 2018, a Wednesday.
I’m not much for playing dress up, but it was a fine day for waders.
It was expected to reach 60 degrees in Iowa’s Driftless Area, quite possibly the last unseasonably warm day of the year up there, which meant brown trout would be rising on Waterloo Creek.
My fishing buddy (and colleague), David Poyzer, and I hit the road hours before first light.
It’s the drive
from Des Moines.
small towns and
adventures to have
and films to make.
I was in Lake Tahoe a few weeks earlier hiking the Sierra Nevadas, paddling azure water, and playing mountain disc golf with my wife. I brought a fly rod along just in case.
Trout season was over on Lake Tahoe tributaries, so when the opportunity to tie one on arose, I hit a local fly shop, Tahoe fly Fishing Outfitters, for a quick recommendation.
It was a cold, drizzly day. The guide at the shop thought Lake Baron, just 15 minutes away in Meyers, CA, would be my best bet in the area. He also mentioned that there are trout in Eagle Lake, an alpine lake in the Desolation Wilderness.
I headed for Lake Baron first.
Just a few casts in, a big rainbow hit my zebra midge.
I could tell right away I would need to play the fish just right, like grilling a filet mignon to a perfect medium rare with a single flip, if I was going to land it.
The feel of the fish on the line triggered a memory of one I’d lost on North Bear Creek, another Driftless stream. I was a little too patient bringing that fish in, and it owned me.
I tried to horse this one in quicker. My consolation prize was seeing a thick, silver body break the surface as the fish jump-turned, spit the hook, and waved goodbye with its tailfin.
That was the only shot I got (and it left a sour taste in my mouth I was hoping to rinse out on Waterloo Creek).
But before my Lake Tahoe fishing day was over, I learned a valuable lesson, and it wasn’t the one the fish taught me.
Hiking granite past quaking aspens 500 feet up to Eagle Lake, even in a cold rain, was a beautiful reminder that fishing isn’t just about the fish:
It’s the walk
to and through
of the setting sun
and moving water,
of past walks,
casts and drifts;
are a prayer
I’ve recited before.
They’re a feeling
that doesn’t depend
on a fish.
So even though I’ll never forget the one that got away in Tahoe, this lovely, late-season day, with my favorite Driftless stream to ourselves, reminded me of the revelation I had on the hike to Eagle Lake, the most charming alpine lake I’ve seen, where I cast and cast and cast to no avail, surrounded by the Sierra Nevadas.
These frames weren’t intended for an audience.
The film was shot in 10 minutes. It was the first footage shot on our Red Cinema Camera as a preliminary test. Dave told me to take a walk.
A couple days later, he surprised me with a link to a rough video he had cut from the footage.
There were no fish in the video. That resonated and inspired a poem.
A couple years later, with additional editing and sound design, we release this fly fishing film as a visual and spoken poem.
Ryan Borts is a producer/director at Canoe There. He prefers to paddle-travel and has since high school when he and a friend were unofficial Skunk River guides. Ryan’s always on the lookout for new adventures, which typically revolve around paddling, summit hikes, fly fishing, and disc golf. Find more about Canoe There at @canoe_there, on Facebook or at canoethere.com/about-canoe-there/.