The yell from behind me was some combination of surprise, excitement, and “what the $&@# just happened?” I turned to see one of my two clients for the day, a twenty-something named Marko, hooked into a nice fish–the type of fish that we spent an extra 45 minutes in the car to find. The fly rod was doubled over, the reel was singing a frantic tune, and the look on his face reflected what I had heard in the yell.
Perhaps he shouldn’t have been surprised by the size of the fish thrashing at the other end of his line, seeing as how I had spent several parts of the morning’s drive telling of 16+ inch fish that we had seen on this small trickle of a mountain creek. But on the other hand, perhaps you can’t fully believe a fish story until the water explodes where your previously dead-drifting fly used to be, and you are suddenly attached to a ticked off rainbow whose ancestors most likely left this very river on a thousand mile journey into the ocean, returning wearing the badge of “steelhead”. Perhaps you can’t fully believe a fish story until you are smack dab in the middle of writing a similar one.
And so Marko was launched into a fish story of his own. But as the initial seconds of surprise and excitement still hung in the air like the mist formed when a warm Summer morning’s air meets the cold mountain water, suddenly the fish shouldered its way into the faster current and Marko’s expression changed. It changed because of a sobering realization forming in his brain: the rod that connected himself to this particular specimen had only moments before made a 10 inch fish feel like a real heavyweight…and this particular specimen could probably eat that 10 inch fish.
In that moment, and in that realization, life was breathed into the fish story. Marko’s knees suddenly didn’t feel so steady, his palms began sweating, his heart began racing. The fight was on. The fish story was unfolding, and the main question left to be answered was would the story end with this likely descendent of an anadromous fish hardwired to fight for survival landed in a net, or slowly swimming away after breaking Marko’s line–and his heart.
I stopped and watched for a few seconds with a smile on my face. Then I grabbed my net and head down-river to get a front row seat for the fight. Win or lose, I knew my job as a guide was being accomplished in that moment: I had presented an opportunity for a story to unfold, and then given them the space to write it for themselves.