ESSAY: Slow Days

I want to catch a fish. I’ve been through a dry spell, whole days of fly fishing when nothing happens, the birds singing above, the creeks winding and clear, the plunges boiling and riffles riffling, fishing every turn with the greatest expectation only to get…


“Thy time best spent is spent with thee, and not engaged in passionate glee.”

Crap. I want to catch a fish.

I thought I had it solved. Yesterday the water came alive with tiny blue winged olives, the trout feeding like popcorn. I got out my fly box, my mood glum. Did I even have any blue winged olives?

Only about a hundred.

I tied one on and started casting. No bites. “No takers” as the old man at Feingold Jewelry used to say, when a vintage Rolex sat in the window for months. Anyway, there are times when fly fishing calls for art, not dynamite. I located a single feeding fish and put the fly over him again and again in a delicate, pinpoint presentation, the fly pausing in the air before falling, falling and dimpling the water in a tiny kiss. I know how to cast.


Oh, something did happen. Another blue winged olive tried to mate with my artificial.

I like to fish dry flies. It’s more fun to watch a fish strike as it floats over a likely spot. But a nymph, or underwater presentation usually works better. That’s if you simply want to connect with a fish. I did, and for two hours I dropped a bead-head nymph into every deep pool and behind every submerged rock I could find.


It’s a matter of pride for any fly fisherman to use only artificial flies. That’s why they call it fly fishing. The sport has been handed down season by season and fisherman to fisherman for centuries, a pursuit of honor. It’s a Zen thing. No self-respecting fly caster would think of using live bait. It’s just not done.

I kicked over a log. There were several big brown angle worms, and I picked out the biggest. I threaded him onto my bead-head and tossed it into the deepest hole I could find. Sure enough the line straightened out. I set the hook and the fish, now get this, flew out of the water. I caught him one-handed, like a baseball player.

I had caught a… chub.

A river chub, to be more accurate. Technically speaking, a minnow. A nice, big minnow. But a minnow just the same.

Curiously, I didn’t feel bad. I hadn’t got skunked, not that day at least.

When people ask about fly fishing I tell them you need patience. It doesn’t hurt to study the trees and take an interest in flowers and animals. A contemplative, accepting frame of mind is best. You will get what you fish for.


Richard Donnelly

Richard Donnelly lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Classic flyover land. Which makes us feel just a little... superior. Mr. Donnelly's first book is 'The Melancholy MBA,' published by Brick Road Poetry Press in Columbus, Georgia.