CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sometimes when I contemplate the universe, odd thoughts pop into my head.
It just dawned on me, for example, that almost 35 years have passed since I caught my first trout on a fly rod.
I've caught hundreds and hundreds since then, but the memory of that first one still lingers.
It was a damp, cool day in early spring, a day filled with rain showers and blustery winds. Max Robertson had invited me to ride with him to Monroe County's Rich Creek, which at the time was a public fishery managed under fly-only regulations.
I had started fly fishing, if you could call it that, the autumn before.
My tackle consisted of a $30 rod, an inferior reel, a line found in a discount bin somewhere, a tapered monofilament leader and a plastic fly box that contained my first few crude attempts at fly tying. My casting was wretched. The fish mocked me.
During a first-anniversary vacation with my wife, I tried to persuade the trout of Shavers Fork and the Back Fork of Elk to rise to my gosh-awful flies. I got exactly one cautious inspection, followed quickly by a snooty rejection.
I spent the following winter reading, studying, practicing, and wondering if I'd ever catch a fish on a fly. During that time, I met Max and several other veteran fly fishermen. All of them were members of the Kanawha Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and bless them, they took me under their collective wing.
They told me about the "angling arts" classes they were teaching that winter. I signed up for Max's beginner-level fly-tying class and Mike Gilzow's beginner-level rod-building class. By the time spring rolled around, I had built a functional graphite rod and was able to tie flies that, while not good, were at least functional.
In early April, Max invited me to go fishing with him, and we ended up on the banks of rain-swollen Rich Creek. The water was off-color, but not too murky to fish. Max suggested I try "fishing wet," and pointed me toward a section of stream and went off to do his own thing.
I flogged the water for two hours and never got as much as a nibble. When Max caught up with me, he showed me why.