I am not a misanthrope but I do shun the company of people when it comes to fly fishing. When I have a stream to myself, I become more at ease, more aware of my surroundings, and open to nature’s bounty. I am not so busy chatting about hatches, competing for water, or enviously eyeing the skillful ease of a fellow angler’s cast. One downside is that there is generally no one present to confirm or deny the size and number of trout I catch and release on any given day. Even worse, when something truly incredible happens no one is there to verify it. However, this is a small sacrifice for the pleasure such experiences in solitude brings.
When I am on a stream solo, extraordinary things happen. One experience I will never forget occurred while I was fishing a stream near my home in the West Kootenays of Southern British Columbia. This particular day in July was like most of our summer days: scorching. There was no breeze, no clouds, no shade, only the merciless weight of the sun. Thankfully, I was waist deep in the cool, forgiving river, casting my fly toward a deep depression sunk into the opposite bank that created a bit of a back eddy. The fly settled a few feet upstream of the eddy but the current soon floated it into the seam. It happened so fast – the splash, the set, the trout hooked, played, and gently released – a nice sixteen inch rainbow.
As I continued working the water, casually casting into the riffles and holes, my eye caught a flicker of something in the air. Turning quickly to my right, I focused my gaze on the stunning, acrobatic convulsions of a butterfly. The vibrant purple wings with orange sun-burst tips and white borders, suggested a Lorquins Admiral. It dipped and fluttered through the air until it settled on a withered log at the edge of the stream. I saw another, an exact replica, take wing and stumble drunkenly over the water. It was followed by the first. Then another took off from a distant branch, which was followed by another from a white stone, and another, and another and another.
They appeared out of nowhere and soon the air filled with hundreds of flickering, fluttering butterflies, a sunlit, gleaming cloud of moving, expanding purple space. They filled the sky and danced as though engaged in some secret papilonian ritual. I stood frozen, heart pounding, as my breathing quickened. The multitude of butterflies, now a shimmering, surreal entity, encircled me, enveloped me in a mystical whirlwind; then lanquidly floated high above, stopped and hovered as though poised on some mysterious looming precipice, then as one fluid mass, tumbled off like air-born rapids down the river valley and into the steep canyon.
I remained motionless for a long time after. I kept peering down into the canyon in hopes that the butterflies would emerge for an encore. My breathing slowly returned to normal but a strange, nervous tremor still lay deep in my stomach. A slight breeze began to stir, and the sun dipped low over the western hills, taking much of the oppressive heat with it. Suddenly off the water, a large mayfly emerged. I watched as another alighted on the stream, drifting along on its current only to be swallowed up in a fatal splash. I couldn’t pass up a good Ephemerella grandis hatch. I tied on a red quill dun and cast into the ebbing light, the sound of butterfly wings still echoing in my head.
It was a sublime moment and though the experience may seem incidental to the fishing, I could not have witnessed it had I not gone fly fishing. Wherever and whenever I go, whether alone or with others, it is for the simple pleasure of being out on the water amidst the wonders of the natural world, seeking fish, and, if truly fortunate, finding butterflies.
Jim Bailey and his wife Natasha live in the west Kootenays of British Columbia, Canada, where they fly fish and are regular contributors to publications such as BC Outdoors and Canadian Fly Fisher Magazines.