I fish for trout and pan fish. My gear includes a lightweight fly rod, artificial flies for bait, and fish line that breaks with a tug from a fish larger than two pounds. I want to give my fish a fighting chance. So, when I hooked a musky that was significantly larger and heavier than a pan fish, my fly rod pointed in the direction of his retreat. Like an alligator, he slid past me. His green back glowed in the afternoon sun. My fish line broke when he plunged into deeper water.
“Oh, no, I lost him!” I shouted into the silence.
“Heck you did. You didn’t loose him. You never had him,” Dad’s reply echoed back from a memory of another time.
Dad was right. We can’t loose something we never possessed. My real loss was the hand tied, artificial fly that I fixed to my line ten minutes earlier and lost with the musky.
I was fly fishing for bluegills, perch, or crappies that hid in shallow water beneath a pier on Teal Lake in northern Wisconsin. My bait was a wet fly that Doug hand tied. He called the fly a black gnat. Doug was my brother in-law, an avid fly fisher, conservationist, and a former member of Trout Unlimited, Wisconsin Chapter.
Before he died, Doug spent Saturday mornings in trout streams where he placed logs and branches to create nests for trout to hide and reproduce. He fished Saturday afternoons when insects hatched, dropped into the stream, and became an evening meal for hungry trout. While he fished, Doug noticed which insects generated the greatest feeding frenzy. He brought specimens of these bugs home and hand tied replicas in his workshop. Such was the origin of the black gnat.
Black gnat is not listed in an Orvis catalog of artificial wet flies nor will other fly fishers know the characteristics of a black gnat. But Doug knew trout dynamite and he produced a limited supply for his use and to share with family and friends. Fortunately for me, the black gnat was also pan fish dynamite!
I’m a catch and release fisher. After my tenth fish, I hooked a larger than normal bluegill. He swam circles as I gently coaxed him toward me. Bam! A musky exploded from under the pier. The bluegill disappeared into the musky’s gaping mouth. As he devoured his prey, the muskellunge’s flat, lumpy head vanished as quickly as it appeared.
My fly rod vibrated “fish on” arcing toward the musky’s retreat. I let the line go slack and the musky ran. Within seconds the line broke. The muskellunge was gone. He escaped with his unlucky bluegill. The musky did not practice catch and release. My black gnat disappeared with him!
Loss of the musky was tough, but there are more muskies in Teal Lake. Sacrifice of the black gnat to the bluegill that became the musky’s lunch, however, was a different feeling. I felt the tug of Doug’s presence depart along with the Musky.
Doug left this life on a Saturday morning years earlier. He placed his trout nests as usual. On his way home, Doug drove his truck into a ditch. A heart attack ended his day.
I dropped my fly rod and ran to check my tackle. How many black gnats were left? Was this the last one? Relieved, I found six more in my tackle box. Each black gnat became infinitely more valuable than before my loss.
All that is permanent is our memories and the connection we feel with the objects we encounter. The rest flows away.
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Life Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
Richard Wilberg is a coach, musician, photographer, and former business leader who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.