I arrived at the boat ramp as mist spiraled away from dawn's first rays. The lake's surface was as calm as glass as I launched my boat. No one else was yet stirring on the water, which appeared as untouched as a virgin snowfall.
I turned the key and the motor cranked. Soon I had the boat on plane, running flat out toward the dam. It was mid October in Texas, and the weather was perfect. Bass were feeding heavily before winter, and it would be another two months before we had our first frost. The sun, now lazy, would warm the day into the mid-seventies.
I was on my own today, a rarity in my life. As a father and husband, taking a fishing trip alone was never an option for me. Now finally, I had my wish. A day on my own. No limits, no schedules, and no responsibilities.
At this stage in my life I had not yet taken up the cult of the fly rod. My weapons this day would be baitcast reels and spinnerbaits.
After a twenty minute run up the lake, I began fishing near docks and other structure that abounded in this arm of the lake. I picked up a few respectable fish here and there. I saw few anglers on the lake this day. Archery season was open for deer, thinning the numbers a bit on the water.
Helios drove his chariot across the sky, and soon lunch time was upon me. I used my trolling motor to slowly glide down the lake banks. Using an underhand cast which keeps the lure on a low trajectory, I was able to drop the spinnerbait on target with very little splash. I targeted a corner of a cement wall, thinking that the water there might still be warm from the solar rays it absorbed yesterday. In the cool of early fall, maybe it would be a comfortable place for a big bass to hang out.
And it was. The strike felt like I hooked a big bunch of moss. There was no head shake, just a dull resistance on the line. Then the line began to move off, and I knew I was into a large fish.
The battle was brief, and a seven pound largemouth was in the live well. It was definitely a high point of the day, but I had no witnesses. I headed down the lake once more, captain of my own destiny.
As the day wore on, I realized for the first time in my life that I had no reason to be home at a certain time. My house was empty; the kids were spending the weekend at their mom's new apartment. I still hadn't adjusted to a house without the sounds of my kids in it, and the thought of returning to a silent home that normally bustled with life held no joy for me.
So I fished until sunlight left the sky. Darkness fell, and still I fished, but there was no longer the enjoyment that there once was. Instead of being a hobby I pursued with passion, fishing became a crutch to fend off the crushing loneliness that waited at home.
A recently divorced man, I felt socially as awkward as a new born calf. Old friends were uncomfortable around me, and I them. I felt out of place everywhere except when alone on the water. The thing I longed for when life wouldn't allow it, time alone on the water, became a curse rather than a blessing; a reminder that I was a adrift.
Time passed, and life went on. Sometimes it seemed to go on without me, and other times I was able to catch up. I learned to fly fish, and with that new found skill found a whole new group of friends who were willing to share tips, flies, and pools on their favorite rivers.
Fly fishing, especially among those who prefer to fly fish for trout, is often eschewed as a quiet sport, best enjoyed in solitude along mountain streams. Certainly that can be the case. But I discovered my greatest enjoyment in fly fishing comes from the people that it brings me in contact with. We often start the day together but split up to fish certain sections of the river alone, perhaps to rejoin at the truck at noon. Sometimes we fish the entire day together, and both situations suit me just fine.
I have the opportunity this year to fish a place in Colorado on my own. No family will accompany me. My friends, though they will be nearby, will be hunting elk instead of fishing. As I contemplate the opportunity, I am waffling like John Kerry in a goose blind. I know that I will be fishing completely alone, perhaps for several days while camping in the San Juan mountains. It sounds like bliss one moment, and in the next brings back the pangs of loneliness from that earlier time in my life.
Are trophies caught and new sights observed as rewarding when not shared? For me the colors of such trophies and the grandeur of sweeping vistas may be muted when consumed alone. I submit that a life not shared is a life without flavor; it may nourish, but it does not enthrall.
Will I go it alone? Say tuned gentle reader, I haven't yet decided. But a line from an old country song echoes in my head; alone is much better together.