I am not a hard-core fly fisher when it comes to the weather. I generally fish when the air temperature is at least 60 degrees, which limits my fly fishing season in the Northeast to the months of April through September. When planning a trip to the river, I always check the weather and I will cancel a fly fishing excursion if the sky is too gray or storms are imminent.
I suppose that my willingness to stay home rather than take a chance on getting rained out came from a fly fishing excursion five years ago. When living in Brooklyn, New York, I traveled to the Connetquot River on Long Island a few times each summer. One time after an hour drive and a half hour hike to the river, I arrived to find the stream high and muddy. Then it began to rain. I stood there frustrated, wondering why I had come so far only to be rained out. I packed my things and left.
Five years later, the memory of the rainy fishing experience still with me, I contemplated an afternoon of fishing. That day, Hurricane Hanna was supposed to make its way up to the Northeast. It always gives me pause when a hurricane, so dangerous and powerful in New Orleans, Texas or North Carolina, arrives in Connecticut and all we get is a few inches of rain.
As I gathered my fishing gear, I knew that the forecast was bleak. But I needed to fish that day, the same way that a baseball player needs to swing a bat or Michael Phelps needs to be in the pool. Life was pretty hectic, and my very sense of well-being demanded some time away from the stresses of work and everyday life, time spent in the solitude and beauty of nature.
It was sprinkling when I walked from my car to the river. As I began to cast, it began to pour. There I was, standing in a river with a hat and waders up to my chest, and I was getting soaked. At that moment, I could have thought about how I would not catch any fish in the rain and how I would have to go home early. Instead, I stood there watching the drops hitting the water and feeling the warm 80 degree rain on my neck.
As the rain fell, I was surrounded by water on all sides, from above and below. I was reminded of the Creation story in Genesis. In the very beginning, the earth was unformed and chaotic, and a wind from God swept over the primeval water. On the second day of the world, God shaped that initial body of water by forming an expanse, separating the waters above from the waters below. Waist deep in a river with thick drops of rain falling everywhere, I felt myself a part of the waters above and the waters below.
There was something deeply cleansing about that moment in the rain. In Judaism, the mikvah, ritual bath, provides a similar sort of experience. A mikvah is a small pool of water located indoors. The water used in the ritual bath must be very pure, and can come from a spring fed-river or collected rain water.
When a person converts to Judaism, they go to a mikvah. The man or woman removes all clothing and jewelry. With a rabbi, friends and family outside the room but within earshot, the convert dunks in the water three times and now has become a Jew. Many converts tell me that dunking in the mikvah is powerful, and they come out of the water feeling cleansed and purified. Standing in the stream in the summer rain, I too felt as if I had entered a higher state of being, with all material concerns washed away by the living waters.
After a few minutes of hard rain, it got cold and I went back to the car. On the drive home, I tried to reflect on why I enjoyed this trip in the rain and my excursion five years ago in Long Island left me feeling so frustrated. There were the practical reasons. When it began to pour, I was only twenty minutes from home, not a half hour hike and one hour drive. This time, I also caught and released an eight-inch brown trout right before the rain became too strong. But there was more.
Fly fishing in the summer rain was an experience. It was a moment when I felt truly grateful, for the river, the warm rain and the fish. The best memories of fly fishing trips do not always center on large trout brought to the net. The times that I will always cherish are those when I appreciate nature all around me, and I give thanks for time spent on the water and a warm summer rain.