We make the same mistake in our fishing that we do in our faith: we think we can earn it. We believe that if we know enough, that if we pick the right fly and make the right cast, that we deserve a fish. I've caught too many fish while doing boneheaded things to believe that's how it works, but I still do.
On Saturday I made a nearly perfect-for-film cast, sidearm under an overhanging branch without snagging the trees behind me to the troutiest spot I'd seen all day. I had the right fly on and I got a perfect drift, the line landing with just enough slack in it to prevent that nearer, faster current from tugging the fly. And nothing happened. I had done it right and nothing happened. I spent an hour that morning fishing respectably with no luck.
(We'll ignore the fact that for my first couple casts, I didn't realize I had missed a guide while stringing my line or that it took me what felt like most of the morning to get a nail knot I was satisfied with.)
Much of the time fishing works the way we expect. We do the right thing at the right time, and our reward is a fish, a fish we earned and deserved. Then there are days when it doesn't, and I'm thankful for them.
Were fishing mechanical, it would lose it's magic; it would be a puzzle be to solved and not a grace to be received. And, after all, it's all grace: that flash of fish, that tightening of line. The treasures offered up unexpectedly and undeserved from someplace to which we're only granted fleeting access by something bigger than our own cunning.
I hiked back to the parking lot. At the very worst, I'd spent a short morning in the mountains, but I knew I had a little time to fish downstream from the bridge. I made my way far enough to feel like I'd reach my own patch, throwing quick casts into a few little spots only out of routine. When I found the pool, I threw my line out, looking less for fish than for whatever release comes with the Blue Ridge spring. The fly went under and my line went tight.