At a certain point in my life, I realized that disappointment and I would be spending a lot of time together. Personally, I had no interest in disappointment. But disappointment was very interested in me. In time, it—like my preference for the Palomar knot and treestands in double-trunked trees—became a habit. So you may understand my alarm when three good things ambushed me at the same time. One was that I found a physical therapist who fixed my back. I also handed in the manuscript of the book I had thought would take, at most, six months to complete. That was in 2007. Third, Michelle—the smart, pretty peach of a woman who lowered her standards to date me—and I just hit the two-year mark as a couple. And she has yet to even mention a restraining order.
To a man who habitually expects the worst, a boatload of good news like this is somewhat, well, frightening. (Spare me any letters pointing out how screwed up this is. I know it’s screwed up.) Fortunately, any time I feel the need to renew my ties to disappointment, I know just what to do. I take up flyfishing again.
Flyfishing is like the knowledge that you’re going to die. No matter how good the party gets, it’s always there in the background to remind you what awaits: tangled line, wind knots, snagged vegetation, broken leaders, and the very real possibility that by the time you do make a decent cast, your own eyeball will be attached to the hook. I have been flyfishing on and off for 35 years, during which period I have progressed from beginner to advanced beginner. With continued practice, I fully expect to be an intermediate just three or four years following my death.
Standing in a river as I cast and curse, curse and cast, I feel as if I’m waving the flag of a people so dumb that their national banner is a fat piece of string. I say this because men picking up aluminum cans along the shore, many of them wearing clothing woven from leaves and bark, sometimes stop and salute me as one of their own. My flagpole is a 9-foot, 4-weight Orvis Zero G rod, made—this is true—of the same thermonuclear resin as the rotor blades of Blackhawk helicopters. I always feel guilty when I think of this. I picture a squad of U.S. soldiers pinned down on some lunar landscape in Afghanistan and calling for air support, only to be told that “it’s going to be a while because a certain Mr. Bill Heavey is using one of the chopper rotors to work out some personal issues.”
Actually, I have a compelling reason to take up the long rod. By the time you read this, I will be in Wyoming, fishing for trout with genius illustrator Jack Unruh. Jack’s particular genius is his ability to turn in an illustration of me looking like a walking advertisement for compulsory sex-offender registration, which the editors will decide is perfect. The next month, he somehow makes me look even more depraved. And the editors will decide that one is also perfect. Jack and I once flyfished on a bass lake in Texas. I remember only that he was a pretty competent flyfisherman and that after suggesting I tie on a frog popper, he lent me an 8-weight rod with sinking-tip line that took that frog south like a damn cinder block. I’m practicing hard and intend to turn the tables on this trip.
So it’s off to the backyard I go. Yesterday’s practice went perfectly in the sense that it was pure frustration. I tried an exercise in rod-tip control recommended by Lefty Kreh where you lay down a 60-foot rope and, standing behind the middle with your rod tip extending 2 feet past the rope, use a brief forearm motion to flick the line to the left and right. As long as the tip stays on the far side of the rope the entire time, you get tight loops and a line that falls parallel to the rope. In theory. I couldn’t do that to save my life. Then something clicked and I actually did it right for a few moments. I’m not saying I’ll be able to transfer this concept to an actual stream. But I’m taking my rope to Wyoming. If there are any trout in the grass, those guys are toast. And that’s when I’ll turn to Jack and say, “Draw this, $&+#@%.” And a week later he’ll send in something that makes me look like one of those guys who has a basement full of illegal immigrants chained to a radiator. And the editors will decide that it’s perfect.
From the September 2012 issue of Field & Stream magazine.
Illustration by Jack Unruh