----The Golden Missile----
I had been looking forward to the summer of 2016 for quite some time. For the same reason, the women in my life were both anxious and nauseous as they dreadfully imagined what was to come. I had been excitedly, if not impatiently, awaiting their arrival, tracking their progress and scouring the internet for sightings as they started to emerge from their double lives underground.
The shell casings of their former selves abandoned on every tree big enough to have seen a couple decades. Their awkward, uncoordinated flight like a tiny drone flown by a drunken pilot. The deafening chorus of chirps. It was music to my ears. From the time the first spring peeper sang its tune, all I could think about was their arrival.
It had been 17 years since the last time they made an appearance. I was 9 years old and had not yet found the love for fly fishing that was making this a totally different experience. The last time they had emerged, the 17-year and 13-year varieties overlapped for a hatch that was like no other. I can remember the old maple at my parents alive with an army of tiny soldiers as they defected from their posts underground in mass as they were driven to find what we all are after. Love.
At that time, all they were to me was a little hollow carcass to collect, dissect, and inspect. But this time was different. This time they were a delectable, delicious morsel. A meal fit for a king. I salivated as I thought about them. Not for me, of course, but for all of my finned, aquatic friends that consume me and would soon consume them.
The time had finally come, and the cicadas were here. Every time one of my friends posted online about how much they hated them, I smiled inside. Actually, I’m pretty sure I smiled outside, too. My days at work grew longer and longer as I sat and thought about the onslaught of fishing that was to come. I was ready.
I had been tying big black and orange foam flies all winter long, and it was time to put them to use. I had varieties tied from size 6 to 10, with various wing styles of synthetic fibers, hair, and plastic. Each was adorned with orange and black rubber legs and accented with hues of orange and green to match whatever was to emerge. And those eyes. I’m not sure how much difference it makes to the fish, but you just can’t tie a cicada without those beady, devilish red eyes.
I had fished some on the lake I call home from the first signs of their arrival. I managed to catch a few bucket mouths, but nothing to brag about. I saw some grassies roaming the shallows and catfish hidden in the shadows under docks ready to pounce. None of them were willing to eat when the big slabs of foam, rubber, and hair were careened onto their dinner plates with a splash. They were my target. I looked at the cicadas not just as a forage for the bass, panfish, or trout I was accustomed to, but as an opportunity to tackle some new species on the fly. I had heard tales of carp and cats leaving their realms in the deep to come to the surface for an easy meal. I had seen several opportunities, gotten that rush of adrenaline as I readied to launch the fly, plopped the fly in front of the fish, waited anxiously for the take, and been denied time and time again. Utter disappointment.
As I paddled around on my board and eyed the waters for willing takers, I noticed one thing was missing. The cicadas. Although I could hear their instantly identifiable sound and see them around all over the place ashore, there were none making that unmistakable commotion of dancing concentric rings oscillating on the surface of the water. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but it was now brutally evident that there were no trees overhanging the lake.
After what felt like an eternity, but was in reality just a few days, I was finally able to take my flies, which I affectionately dubbed the black plague, and float my favorite local stream. From the time my paddleboard was on the water, I was into fish. Smallie after smallie, ranging from 11 to 15 inches attacked the flies as soon as they made their not-so-graceful landings on the water. It wasn’t even lunch time yet, and I was already happily suffering from my favorite ailment, bass thumb.
Then, I saw it. No, wait, I saw them. Two of them. About 25 yards downstream. Two big dorsal fins waking the surface of the water, swimming in zig-zag fashion. They were on a mission. Every so often I’d see a big golden-orange head emerge from the water and that rubbery, meaty mouth, moving like an awkward teenager experiencing his first kiss. Some might find that repulsive, but me? I wanted to be on the receiving end of that kiss.
My heart raced as I stripped out some line and readied for a long cast. I made a few false casts as the fly got nearer and nearer to its target. 15 feet. 10 feet. 5 feet. Splat! I landed the fly out front of the oncoming golden missile, and it got her attention. She made a bee line for the fly. It happened so fast, but it was all in slow motion for me. The wake approached the fly, growing as it inched closer. The head emerged from the water. Those big, beautiful lips that would make Angelina Jolie jealous opened up and inhaled, and the fly was gone. I lifted the rod with all that I had and stripped in line with my left hand.
As I felt the line race away through my fingers and the rod buckle all the way to the handle, it was all I could do to hold in my elation. Oh wait, did I say hold it in? Yeah, that didn’t happen. I let out a big, resounding, “Yesss!!!” like I had just scored the winning goal in extra time of the World Cup final. Because for me, that is what had just happened. Sometimes when you look forward to something so much and work so hard towards it, the end product can be a major let down. This was not one of those times.
The fish raced from bank to bank, up and down the stream, looking for somewhere to tangle my line and shake the hook. Several times, it almost succeeded in the former. My paddleboard was being towed against my will, and it was as hectic and frantic as it was exciting. I grasped the shaft of the paddle with one hand and braced the handle against my forearm, trying to propel myself away from some submerged logs as I held on to the rod with the other. To add to the chaos, my wrist began vibrating, and I looked down at my Apple watch to see my mom was calling. Mothers seem to have a way of calling at the most inconvenient times, don’t they? I was desperate to share my elation with someone, so I swiped across the screen and said “Hello!”
She began to talk, but I interrupted her. “I’ve got a big carp on the line. I finally hooked one,” I said in a groan that you may only hear otherwise had I answered the phone while sitting in the men’s room. She stayed on the line and giggled aloud at me as I excitedly gave her blow by blow details of the fight. And when I finally got the fish near enough to make a stab at her with my laughably undersized trout net, I was only able to get her head in the basket. But it was enough. I was able to control her from there as I hauled her on board with me. I was overtaken with joy, satisfaction, and relief.
I hung up the call from my watch, so I could handle my golden princess. I had to use my hemostats to gently cajole the hook from her thick, meaty lips. I grabbed for my phone to snap a few prom pictures with my date. As I readied it for the shot, the screen would not turn on. All I got was black. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought. Thankfully, I remembered I had my waterproof camera clipped to my pack and was able to snap a couple very poor photos before releasing her safely back to the depths. They were no glamour shots and didn’t do her justice, but it was ok. I had my proof that I had succeeded, and she was home safe before curfew. I cradled her back into the water and gave her a farewell pat on the hind end, and she disappeared into the emerald green abyss.
After the release, I took a moment, knelt on my paddleboard, to take it all in and be grateful for the experience. It was everything I had hoped for and anticipated and I wanted to savor every last second of it. As I got my bearings back and was ready to set forth after another, I staggered to my feet. I bent down to grab the paddle. Nothing. I looked around the back of the board, the front of the board, and in the water all around me. Nothing. Being the fine lady she was, she made sure I would not be moving on to find any others. She made sure I would not forget her so easily. And I never will.
So I relieved my buff of its duty protecting my neck from the sweltering sun and gave it a new job. I felt like MacGyver as I fashioned it around the basket of the trout net for a makeshift paddle. I was on my knees, paddling to the nearest take out. I had bass thumb. My skin had been gently kissed by the sun. My arms were tired and shaky from the battling and the paddling. And I was happy.