Tom Ross: There's more to fishing than meets the fly

Angling outing teaches lessons in humility, offers multiple rewards

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When it comes to making a list of the most important elements of a fly-fishing trip, catching trout ranks right near the top. But angling success isn't necessarily the most important thing. And we learned Sunday that it's possible to have a very enjoyable fishing trip without catching fish. No, don't leap to conclusions, we didn't get skunked. The Yampa River will change course and flow into the Gulf of Mexico before we come home skunked. However, it's safe to say we had ample time between trout Sunday to eat a big slice of humble pie. We also had time to contemplate important things in our lives besides fat cutthroats with hot pink gill plates and twin scarlet slashes beneath their jaws. Yes, there are other things. To begin with, a successful fishing trip needs to balance the right amount of companionship with the right amount of solitude. For companionship, you need one old fishing buddy, one young fishing buddy and one canine fishing buddy who knows enough not to jump in the water until he's given permission. We had all that.

Next, you need to find an Alpine lake you can claim all to yourselves. We found that, too. In fact, we found two of those lakes in one day. It's not that we resent strangers. It's just that solitude, at times, can have a healing effect, refilling your reservoirs of patience and determination for the week ahead.

There are other things that elevate a fishing trip above the ordinary. Some of them are little things. Like sitting back on the heels of your boots and glissading down a steep snow field on the way to the lake. Then discovering you can use your aluminum fly rod tube like a rudder. Stopping along the way, we popped some dog tooth violet blossoms into our mouths, and I wondered how long I could survive on a steady diet of sweet yet tart little yellow flowers. Not for long. It was a distinct bonus to watch an osprey screech over a lake where we had never seen an osprey before.

It's always worth a giggle to watch the dog roll on his back in a rotten old snowdrift and squirm in sheer delight.

Even a passing hail storm can be a source of amusement. We huddled at the edge of the forest and watched the surface of the lake erupt into a million little geysers.

It was nothing short of sublime to watch my son make a cast so nearly perfect that I knew it exceeded any cast I will ever make. And it was perplexing to wonder how he learned to do that. It was just as sublime to watch the same man/child lie down next to a stream no wider than a snowboard and attempt to tickle a trout's belly to lull it to sleep in a vain attempt to snatch it from the current. That brings us back to the fishing. Between hail storms, the fish went on a feeding frenzy -- at any given moment, there might have been a dozen fish boiling within a short cast of the bank. More times than I could count, a trout would break the surface closer to me than my rod tip. And we could not catch them.

At times like these, it's difficult to maintain your composure. Your hands tremble as you attempt to thread your tippet through the eye of the hook -- the hook attached to the tenth fly pattern you've turned to in your eagerness to fool the fish. I tried flies I was certain would match the hatch and solve the riddle. The cutthroats rose all around my offering, never giving it a glance.

Finally, the old fishing buddy stopped casting and stared into the water until he succeeded in observing a trout darting out of its way to snack on large, tan midge emergers.

I rummaged through the fly box one more time, found something close and offered it to the young fishing buddy. On the third cast, he connected. Just as suddenly as the puzzle was solved, the feeding frenzy began to die down, and the surface of the lake went quiet.

I took it as a sign from the fishing gods that it was time for us to return to the real world and contemplate the lessons we had been given. We all caught gorgeous trout Sunday and kept them just long enough to admire their bold spots and coloration before releasing them. As we slogged back up the snow field, I thought to myself, "There's a good deal more to fishing than merely catching fish."

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