I’ve always contended that weed and nature, or rather, weed in nature are harmonious. Perhaps the best case for marijuana not being roped in with other “drugs” is its uncanny ability to slow the senses while opening your mind to using them more….at the same time. But to truly appreciate the latter, I must tip my hat to the truth of the former, and the paradox it presents in nature. How can I maximize the experience of my senses outdoors, if I haven’t taken it in with the sharpness intended? Balance must exist if that harmony is to be reached. I’d like to share how I achieve some of it, and the peace that comes with. For me, balance is a line. And that line is attached to a fish.
When you think of fly fishing in Colorado, you think of the last light of summer. A string of men standing in a wide, shallow stream, whipping graceful casts through the buzzing insects they seek to emulate. While catching a fish in these conditions makes me smile even now, just typing about it, that is not the picture I am painting today.
At 6:01 AM, on the morning of Christmas Eve, I started my car to go fishing. The temperature was -4 degrees. I’m not a cold person, per se. Frankly, I could live in a sauna. Today, however, I deemed it worth it. As I drove in the dark for a couple of hours, I listened to music without lyrics. This is typical for me on a day of fishing. These days are not meant for human voices. I thought about my destination, somewhere new for me: Deckers. Deckers is essentially a strip mall located 40 miles from anywhere, with no cell reception, no services on Sunday, and an official population of 0. As I met my two friends, we began gearing up in silence.
Here is where the balance begins. If this were snowboarding, or disc golfing, for instance, casual banter would ensue over some fine cannabis to warm up the company and body to the day’s endeavors. Yet no one spoke, and no one smoked. As they finished in front of me, they strode, one at a time, across the street to read the river. When I approached, we moved as one in silence through the shadows. The small canyon we were in would not be penetrated by the first rays of sun for an hour still.
After a short but slightly sketchy traverse across the Platte, we arrived at our spot. A massive boulder, a solid fifteen feet above the deepest pool I’d seen on this river. Though the temperature had not yet crossed 10, and with no sun in sight, we began to fish.
But first, I closed my eyes, and asked for the river to show me favor, with a promise to return any generosity received in kind. I do this because trout here, you see, are smart. They cannot be fooled by shiny objects spinning rapidly or grubby rubber bouncing wildly. To catch one here, you must imitate a tiny bug. It has to be one of the few tiny bugs that they are expecting to see, and on top of that, the one they are in the mood for. If you’ve achieved all of this, you must emulate the drift of a tiny bug as it would naturally float through the water, if it weren’t attached to your line. Now, if by some miracle you fool the fish, and get it to bite, you have to recognize this in time to pull the line, and set your hook. You get about a quarter second to do this before the trout recognizes it as a fake and spits it out. You are allowed just the one hook, with no barb. This must be tugged into the lip of the fish in such a way as to not lose him during the subsequent fight.
Today’s version of this task was made more difficult for a couple reasons. The first being that we were fifteen feet up on a boulder, standing inches from each other. No pretty casts back and forth, just the simple and ugly rolling of our lines over the same stretch of water, time and time again. Second of course was the potential for entanglement with one another from this technique, and the inevitable snags and snarls resulting from trying to avoid said entanglements. But in reality, we were just working a rhythm out, since until the sun hit the water, and the temperature rose nothing was likely to bite anyway.
And so I bring us back to balance. Why, in such miserable conditions, after such an arduous journey and an hour away from the real chance to catch a fish, did I not smoke? The nature, stark and freezing though it was, was beautiful. And I can say with 100% certainty it would have been more beautiful had I been slightly more relaxed and heady. I guess I would say, if I wanted to experience nature, I could go for a hike. While catching fish isn’t essential to have a good time fishing, it IS why I do it. Though an average fly fisherman, I seldom get skunked. I spent years fishing shamefully intoxicated on alcohol, with seemingly no benefit or detriment to my performance. It brought me no additional joy, and may have taken some. But I do believe in Karma. Marijuana on the river is wonderful, but my experience fishing now is more cathartic. So to answer I would say the reason I hadn’t smoked yet, and asked the river for favor, is that this place, these fish, deserved my A-Game.
I could not tell you how long it was before I caught one. Well after sunrise for sure. And the frozen fingers, the new water, and many missed takes had certainly taken their toll. But from the moment I yelled “fish on!” to five minutes later when I was helping him swim away, each and every one of my senses exploded to life. I remembered why I went through what I did for those five minutes, for that 12” Rainbow, I remembered what this day should be. And then, only then, was it time to find out what this day COULD be.
First today was my AeroPro pen with a Berry Sherbet Cartridge. As I slowly exhaled the terpenes through my nostrils I smiled. Now I could see where I was, in addition to what I was doing. I took in my surroundings in whole, as one. There were Lodgepole Pines, yes, but Bristlecone too, and dwarf juniper. The cliffs on either side seemed to beckon to the eye, as if a Bighorn or Lion might peer over at any moment. There was an otter Holt, one of several I’d seen over the last year, with mud trails fresh enough to have been used within the week.
As I took my second hit, I watched the other two fish. For them, “the bite was on,” and nothing I could do or offer other than man the net would distract them. That made me smile too. For half an hour or so I watched and smiled. I looked at the green and white fingers of lichen on the rocks. I looked the water down the river. I felt the wind on my cheek. I listened to birds I couldn’t see, and I smelled the pine mixed with my own weed in the air and the trout on my hand.
When finally my friends had landed enough or a big enough fish to warrant a break for a proper bowl, we shared and smiled and laughed. The banter was there, and the warmth. Then I returned to fishing. No matter how the rest of the day played out, I felt at one with the river. The tension was gone, the expectations, the solemnity. And as I have found from my experiences combining marijuana and fishing, it is in these moments when you want fortune to strike.
For I had never landed a truly big fish doing this type of fishing. Not from this height, not with this roll casting or with such a task of walking down to river level to land a fish in the winter. Truth be told, I’m glad it wasn’t my first fish that day. Or my second. I’m glad I got to feel my senses awaken, and then settle, and then balance first. Because when I tugged, and felt that true weight, I didn’t panic. I didn’t think about not losing the fish, only that I was glad to have him on the line. I didn’t rush, or scrabble down the hill, or exhibit any of my other bad habits that typically come out when I have a monster on the line. As I said, I’m only an average fly fisherman. Today, however, I got more than what I asked in my pact with the river. I got to land the biggest and prettiest Rainbow Trout I had landed to date on a fly rod. And as we resuscitated him, I did take a hit, because in that moment, slower was better. I exhaled as he swam away.
I didn’t catch another fish that Christmas Eve. Nor did I stay as long as the others. Had I hiked this canyon high, with no intent to fish, I would have had a good day. Had I fished but not smoked, I would have caught my fill as well. For years I forsook balance. Now, where I can, I try to find it between things I love. And that day, the harmony existed, and I was part of it.