Our time in the outdoors, much like life, is defined by the successes and amazing events that live on in memory and require no photograph or journal entry to remind oneself, or perhaps a group of close friends around the campfire, of what happened. A simple “do you remember that time when…” stokes the flames of storytelling that burn on into the night, triggers a bit of super-sizing those memories and rekindles a passion to get back out there to try to repeat those feats and experience new ones. They may come along once in a season, or once in a lifetime, but the magic lingers and keeps us dashing out the front door for more. What follows are a few of those magic moments that have amazed and motivated me along the outdoor learning curve and have kept me coming back, in the hopes they inspire you to take stock of your own and join in the sprint back into the wild as summer makes the turn toward fall.
Dry Fly Deduction
On the first day of my first fly fishing trip for wild trout in the high mountain streams of Norway, it seemed as if the brown trout were everywhere. As my friend Einar pointed out the pools where the trout were holding, I eagerly wandered down the rocky stair-step of the summer-dried waterfall and sized up the remaining flow that rolled out before me. A small circle rippled the surface and I reached out to it with a quick but awkward cast of those early days with the long rod. A second circle appeared under my fly and the line jumped with the electricity of a take. A hand-sized brown trout soon found its way to my net, and the light bulb above my head went off. From that point forward, the entire process of fly fishing — particularly with dry flies — began to make sense as I cast to each rise on the surface and converted nearly all of them into strikes and many of those strikes into my first memorable stream trout fishing experience with several dozen brown trout in the afternoon’s count. The magic of turning textbook tips into on-stream success has remained with me throughout my fishing adventures, and is always fun to repeat, whether it produces one or countless fish.
On a warm July day, with four of us crammed into the old Grumman boat, we headed upstream to the small feeder creek on the river that had just filled with the rush of rain to see if the inflow would attract any walleyes or smallmouth bass into a springtime haunt which we usually abandoned in the warmer months for time on the nearby lakes. Space being as tight as it was, I opted to take the nearby shore and I wandered along it with my spinning rod and small tackle box in hand as the remaining crew worked the muddy inflowing delta from the boat. As I did, the grass beneath me came alive and the tiny froglets, certainly just emerged from their aquatic stage, scattered into the water to the left of the muddy path which ran along the steep embankment. As they did, a swirl came up the rise behind them and a flash and muddy blur was all that was left of the little frog that had suddenly become some fish’s lunch. Taking nature’s cue, I hooked one of the small amphibians on my jig and quickly cast it out a few feet from shore. It didn’t take long and I had the first of four keeper walleyes from the fish that were stacked up and eating the just-appeared summer bounty. The ten-minute stretch always serves as a reminder to look closely at what’s going on to get a feel for what fish want and what they might be feeding on.
I can recall the rooster pheasant flushing to my right over the autumn-browned stand of grass as I stared after the pair of hens that beelined straight away following a heart-stopping flush, in the warmth of the sunlight of the late October morning. Though I’m sure I looked, properly identified the bird, sized up the shot and pulled the trigger in a blur of reactive energy that seems to have re-written my memory, it still feels as if I simply pointed my scattergun in that direction without looking and loosed the spray ofnumber six pellets that caused the explosion of feathers and sent the bird into the hip-high cover. It was as though I was in some sort of zombie movie, utilizing the cliché no-look maneuver in finishing off the last of an advancing horde with a trick shot that amazed the rest of a battle-worn rag-tag crew of survivalists. Though it was only my dog and I who wandered over to where the bird fell and stumbled upon it in amazement at the whiz-bang series of events. After placing it in my vest and finishing the walk to the truck, it struck me how quickly the situation happened, and how much it felt like a Jason Williams-styled no-look dish from the hey days of the NBA.
Moments like those don’t come often, but when they do, they stick around in memory. They become part of a personal legend formed by skill and things learned, or in my case when it comes to shooting, mostly luck. Anyone who hunts or fishes has them and they frame our entire world anytime a boat is in tow, a dog is kenneled in back, or a rifle is cased and racked in the rear window and in those quiet moments of reflection on a glass-calm lake or in the flicker of a dying campfire; and they always keep us coming back for a shot at more…in our outdoors.