There is something truly humbling about learning something new at an older age.
To put on your student hat can be daunting and unfamiliar. Eating pride, laughing at the process and telling the humiliating tales after, is somehow liberating.
Case in point.
I love fishing. It’s a rather new addiction that began a few years ago on the trails of Pennsylvania.
I was often hiking with my dog and I would see these older gentlemen (Referred to in my mind as silver foxes, with all due respect.)
They would sit out back of their vehicles in the parking lot, sipping coffee in camping chairs and getting their fly fishing equipment together.
They would split up for a couple of hours, wading to their own favorite pools in the river, then end up back in their chairs with a cigar and a beer or bourbon in a tin cup.
I thought to myself, these are my people. When I retire, this will be my sport.
Last year I found myself thinking why should I wait to fly fish when I could do it now!
I have limited time on the fly rod, but I get so excited I can’t wait to get my line in the river. Inevitably I see fish rising when I am putting my gear together.
I miss eyelets, tie crap knots, and at this particular moment of the tale, I was fumbling through some brush to get to a deep, shady pool, convinced I would catch the trout of my life.
Now, this is a famous trout river in the eastern US, and there are anglers arriving moment by moment.
Instead of chatting and getting to know some locals, I was so hell-bent on getting my line wet, I caught it on a tree and lost a fly before it was even in the water.
Bumbling like an idiot, I tried an awkward cast among a bunch of shrubs, my rod separated apart and my glasses snagged on a branch.
As I was cursing and trying to contain my frustration, I felt a tug in a weird place.
On my lip!
I think, “No! Oh, no. Oh no, no, no!”
I reached up and touched my lip, as a line twinkled in my peripheral vision and felt, with chilled fingers, that I had somehow buried my brand new nymph, deep in my lip!
Insert more cursing.
I gently laid down my rod and followed the line to the spot. I did not feel it go in, it was so sharp. “WHAT AN IDIOT!” I thought to myself.
I was mortified as I looked around and tried to fumble for my cell to take a photo, to see how bad it was.
Like I said; buried.
I tried to yank on it, yet I felt my lip swelling around the hook. I thought, “Please God, let me have remembered to crimp the barb!”
It was not coming out, so I hastily gathered my things and rushed back to the car. I pretended like I had to be somewhere and avoided people eyes as the color rose in my cheeks.
I flung open the door, tossed in my gear and backed out and down the road, where I could assess the damage with a hair of privacy.
I muttered furiously, “There is no way in hell I am going to a US hospital to have a fly removed from my lip!”
As I kept tugging, I wondered with increasing detachment, how bad it would tear if the barb was still on it.
I pulled out my pliers, yanked as my lip stretched and thought, “Screw it, I’ll have a torn lip. I’ll buy Crazy Glue and put it back together when I’m home.”
I took a deep breath, judged the angle as if I was pulling it out of a fish and bloop, it popped out!
I assessed the damage in the rearview mirror. To my humiliated relief, it looked like I just had a fat lip, served with a side of very bruised ego.
It crossed my mind how fish feel, and I thought, “Well it sure did not hurt going in! I would probably do it for a good snack.”
Mortified, I could have put the truck in reverse and limped on out of there, with my tail between my legs. The forecast was calling for upcoming rain and snow and before me glinted a beautiful river, shimmering in the sunlight.
So I shoved my pride in my pocket and while I sucked the hole in my lip, I returned to a grassy glade on the riverbank.
I sat down and came up with a new mantra. “Breathe. Tie good knots, take my time, crimp my hooks.”
So I retied my set up and with the first cast, promptly got it snagged in another tree.
Breathe some more.
As I cracked my neck side to side with an increasing level of agitation, I contemplated climbing the flimsy tree before me. No point in having a broken leg to go with my torn lip.
I sat once more on the grass and truly appreciated the sun on the river. Dappled patches of light lay over the ever-changing features of water. In perfect timing a huge bald eagle soared into my line of vision, hunting for her own fish below.
I breathed out once again, this becoming a new meditation of patience. I inspected the river in front of me and saw a big trout, lazily swimming above a pebbled, light brown bottom.
One more try.
I attempted a side cast. To my shock, it quietly whipped over the water, landed where I wanted it to and floated downstream.
I tried that a few times and felt, for the first time, had a glimmer of what this coveted sport was supposed to feel like.
I slowly shifted my location to a big rock off the bank, saw a fish rise, splash its tail and return to the shifting depths. I got so excited, I stepped back into a deep mud hole that soaked me up to mid-shin.
The fumbling never ended it seemed. I vowed to buy waders as soon as I could.
I finally began to relax. So pleased with myself as I managed a few more casts and distracted by the eagle above me, I was shocked to feel a strike.
Hopping up and down on my rock, with hoots of joy, I reeled in my fish.
I slowly brought it close enough to slide my hand behind the gills to give it a firm squeeze. I had caught my first Pennsylvania wild brown trout. Only 7 inches long, but absolutely beautiful.
Its perfect yellow body shimmered with big brown spots along its back. I thanked my fish, licked my own lip and wished I could have tossed a worm down his throat for the trouble.
The hook pulled out way easier than mine, I might add, and it lazily swam away into the deep.
I promptly squealed, jumped around on the grass and hugged myself with hard-won achievement.
I reflect now that it was like any learning day in a sport, be it climbing, surfing, skiing or golf.
You can be fumbling and horrible one moment, then one wave, one drive comes together and all the frustration and angst, flutters away and you don’t feel like a total moron after all.
That until I glanced in the rear view mirror and it looked like someone punched me in the mouth.
Trout 1: Canadian 1.