Winter's chill turned my breath into frosty cigar smoke around my head, and a thin layer of mist rose from the black, icy water that snaked around my knees in a seductive embrace.
Gloved hands stripped line from a reluctant reel–at 18 degrees, nothing moves willingly–and I began to cast. It had been a while, but it felt good to fall into the pattern that had been so familiar before the visit to the surgeon. It felt ... natural.
I eyed a likely run on this austere winter day, more interested in renewing my acquaintance with the craft than I was in actually hooking up. The act of casting had been a missing ingredient in my life of late, and it was nice to slip back into the practice... almost like slipping into an old pair of shoes that have hidden too long in the back of the closet.
Nearby, my daughter cast, too. Bundled up in neoprenes and a bright pink ski parka, she intently gazed at her indicator, watching closely for the tell-tale dip. I found myself watching her line in eager anticipation, and I was surprised when my own leader pulled tight. The instincts were still there, and I lifted my rod in response. I felt life tugging back.
"You got one, Daddy?" Delaney asked, glancing my way.
"I do, baby."
She politely began to reel in as I maneuvered my way into skinnier water and worked what seemed to be a nice fish to the reel. No shoulder pain. Just pure joy, really.
Through the dark water shrouded in winter's shadow, I could see an occasional flash from my quarry as it fought for its life, a home-tied Prince nymph pinned perfectly in its mouth. I pulled the fish closer, and knew within seconds that I'd connected with a fish native to this water, and a big one at that.
"What's that, Daddy?" Delaney asked, gazing intently at the homely salmonid resting in ankle-deep water at my feet. It's fitting that my first fish after months away from fly fishing was a mountain whitefish fooled by a fly concocted the night before over a glass of bottom-shelf whiskey with thrown-together ingredients.
"A very special fish," I said, as I reached down and plucked the barbless fly from the fish's smallish mouth. The big fish slowly finned back into the dark current and was gone.
I grabbed my fly rod from a nearby snowbank and followed my little girl back into deeper water, where the river once again grabbed my knees and calves and reminded me who was really in charge. I watched my daughter cast again, her eyes intent, her gaze steely. I stared at her for what must have been a couple minutes. Her voice brought me out of the trance.
"Aren't you going to fish, Daddy?" she asked. I met her eyes and smiled. I took another look around at the dormant forest cloaked in winter's white and sliced raw by a ribbon of dark, living water.
"Nope," I said. "I'll just watch you."