One September a few years back, I got an invitation from my brother-in-law in Grants Pass to fish the Rogue River. The Rogue is one of my favorite fly fishing rivers, especially for steelhead trout. They weigh 2 to 3 pounds, take a fly eagerly and put up a good fight. We practice catch-and-release so that instead of killing the fish, we just mildly inconvenience them for a while.
On a cool, gray morning, we went to one of my host’s favorite runs a few miles downstream of town. We hiked over a long, wide gravel bar to the river’s edge.
Fly fishing is not just about the fish, but a chance to enjoy the outdoors and the pleasures of Mother Nature. Rivers are great places to enjoy wildlife and are particularly good for bird watching. Being distracted by a bird has caused me to miss more than one strike, but I consider it part of the experience.
Late in the morning, a hatch of small insects was apparently in the air, as there was a large number of tree swallows whirling around, feeding on them. You couldn’t help but notice lots of swallows.
One of the swallows took my rod for a tree branch and decided to rest awhile. It was about a foot from the tip and looked completely happy there. I said to my companion, “Check this out,” and I could hear him chuckle and say it would make a great picture.
After a short while my desire to keep fishing got the best of me and I lowered my rod tip into the water. The swallow got the idea and flew off to continue eating bugs. I resumed fishing and managed to land and release a couple nice half-pounders. Then I felt my back cast hit something, and turned to see what had happened.
What had happened was, I hit a swallow in midair and the leader line had wrapped around him. He fell into the river upstream of me, and I watched him float down. I reached out and he floated right into my hand.
Up close, I saw that the leader had wrapped around his body a number of times, and the fly was lying right next to his wing. In the air these birds fly with great power and energy, but in the palm of your hand they are suddenly delicate and fragile. I could feel his warmth. I was enjoying this experience more than he was, as evidenced by the pecks he was delivering to my thumb. A final act of defiance? Not needed.
My problem now was turning him loose without harming him. I decided the best way was to snip the fly and unwrap him. After putting my fly in my vest, I held the leader out over the water and let go. The swallow unwrapped himself. He spiraled down like a yo-yo but instead of coming back up, he hit the end of the leader and dropped into the river, floated with the current a couple of feet and safely took off again. I imagine we shared the same sense of relief.
Back in the car, my companion and I had a hot cup of coffee. I said, “That swallow and I both have a great story to tell.”
He said, “Yeah, but nobody’s going to believe either one of you.”
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