Some things just seem to go with the long, sultry days of mid-summer: iced tea, a hammock gently swaying in a shady spot, the sound of children playing tag in the gathering darkness, old folks talking quietly on the porch. Part of the allure of those, and other aspects of summer in the South, is that they appeal to the senses. That is also why, to many anglers, the ideal tool for fishing that time of year is the fly rod. Freshwater fly fishing, at least the way it’s done down here, is more than just a way to catch fish. It’s more like Zen meditation with a fishing pole in your hands. It’s a conscious determination to slow down and smell the roses or, if not the roses, then the honeysuckle and crepe myrtle.
The scene is a familiar one. As the fisherman eases down the stream, his long, limber rod arches as he lifts his line off the water. He senses a slight tug as the line straightens out behind him, and pulls forward with a motion made automatic by years of repetition. The bright green line rolls forward and settles onto the black water with barely a ripple, and about five feet farther, at the end of an invisible leader, a tiny white popping bug plops onto the surface next to a cypress knee. For a moment it sits there, suspended between Heaven and the depths like the proud little insect it’s supposed to represent.
Then, with a sudden slurp, the bug’s gone and the fisherman’s rod forms a solid bend as he whips it upward. The line makes zinging sounds as it’s pulled toward the deeper middle of the creek and then back toward the snags scattered in the shallows. The fisherman keeps the pressure on, though, and slowly strips line in with his left hand. Finally, after the line cuts several frantic circles beside the boat, he reaches down with a small landing net. When he lifts it, a dark, purple bluegill the size of a man’s hand lies in the bottom. The sun glistens on its wet sides. Its gill covers open and close slowly and steadily. The fisherman carefully untangles the fish from the net, slips the popper from its jaw and, after one more admiring look, eases it back into the dark water. Then the angler picks up his rod and begins to whip it back and forth to feed line out for another cast.
Like cicadas singing in the gathering dusk and kids chasing lightning bugs, It’s just another part of summer in the South.