The heat has come at last. The sun presses down, dispels the last pockets of cold, in the shadows of the forest, in the marrow of my bones, in my soul. I have stripped down; just one layer of clothing between the lake and my skin. The south wind is strong and warm. It careens off the mountain and shoulders into the lake. The waves roll; the light dazzles.
I cast big flies, and strip them in. Cast and strip, over and over. I cover a long curving shoreline. If the lake is a closed book, this is the turning of its pages, one by one, to see what stories it holds. Fish flash and swirl in the swells, chasing the fly, and missing. Each one is a surprise, each one a delight.
I reach the place I will beach the float tube, stand and stretch and rest for a time from my labors. On the last cast into the shoreline I find the one. I know this one all too well: the one that got away.
He does not strike the fly, he simply takes it. He knows instantly something is not right. He tugs tentatively, shakes his head at the unaccustomed pressure, then stops. There is no panic. It is as though he has a plan as he slowly, slowly moves past me into deeper water. Then he goes down and away. I feel his weight and his strength, increasing rapidly as he bears down. The rod flexes and bends, I marvel at the force, and the fly pulls out. I sit stunned.
On land I replay the events in my mind, muttering to myself and shaking my head.
I launch, turn away from the scene of my loss, and make my way on up the shoreline, still casting and stripping. More fish chase the fly, and miss. It doesn't matter. I know what I must do.
After a time I turn and go back. I change flies and troll on the way. I bring the first fish of the day to net.
At the place I lost the fish I tie a big fly back on and go looking for him again. Some things are better left in the past; some things can be redeemed. I cast and strip, cast and strip, and a fish takes the fly. I net him.
Is it the one? It doesn't seem so. I know that it is the way of fishermen to exaggerate the size and strength and intelligence of the one that got away. It is highly possible that this fish, even though it isn't what I imagine it to be, is the one that got away. I caught it in the same place, it's of good size, it has weight, it appears to be a wily old-timer with its gnarled lip and torn dorsal and pectoral fins.
I finally give up the search, if not the dream, and start across to the other side to cast there for big fish.
On the way rises bloom in the blue sheen of the lake's calm. I succumb, and, remembering the flying ants I had seen earlier, tie on an ant pattern.
The fish come to it, and I am comforted by their willingness to be caught.
I'm ready to leave and look out over the indigo lake, still thinking about the one that got away. I see a rise ripple the reflection of Venus in the water. It's a big, deep rise. It must be a good fish. I resolve to stay later next time and be ready for him. It just might be the one that got away.