Outlaw Reflections: “Old Eyes"
The following is another wonderful story by Oleh Lysiak about fly-fishing, a passion, suggesting that old age (and faltering eyesight) stop mattering when there is fresh-caught trout frying in a pan.
“Goddamn these old eyes,” he mutters over and over. He lost his best #16 Royal Wulff, right along with the entire 6X tippet first cast.
An unmistakable rise along the cut bank where the river makes a turn after the shallows has his attention, a big, sweeping lefthander of a crushing turn with snowmelt-smoothed rock sculpted eddies and swirling breaks for fish to feed in.
Takes a while for him to work his way down the center of the river where rocks obstruct the soft flow in beshadowed evening shallows. The neoprene and steel knee brace holds solid, providing him with an aging man’s hopeful sense of security. The knee will take no more operations, sounds like a garbage can full of spare parts, worn out in the exuberance of his youth.
Finally, he has to take his time, unable to power over or through whatever’s in his way. Balance is precarious but familiar. Worn felt soles of his outdated rubber waders feel for secure footing in the light play of the current and arrhythmic patterns of the river’s bed.
He unhooks the #16 Royal Wulff he so carefully tied onto the 6X tippet at home from the ring on the split bamboo rod. Two false casts and the fly touches down in the riffles above the chute where the fish feed between rocks. The white-winged imitation floats gingerly on riffle tips. He feels the jolt as a trout furiously slams the fly, then nothing but slack line. The fly and tippet are snapped off, embedded in the trout’s jaw.
He curses sullenly as he ties another tippet on in the twilight. No more small Royal Wulffs in his selection. He can’t see well enough to tie another on anyway. When the fly is far enough away so he can see it, the hole in the shank, along with the tippet become a blur.
“The hell with this,” he whispers to nobody but himself, the river and the fading light. There is another Royal Wulff in the flybox, a #12, big enough to see. With luck he clinches the knot, ginks the Royal Wulff and casts again to the same spot. Nothing doing, that fish is long gone but others rise in the pool around him.
Cast after cast he feels jolts, hooks fish. Some shake the hook off with explosive tail dancing routines on the river’s scarlet and orange-tinged wavy molten gold surface. Others he nets and lets go, plenty of time to catch some for dinner.
Nearly dark when he looks upriver and works his way to the north bank. He moves slowly, feeling his way, teetering as his waders slip on a mossy rock, one more pool before he’s to the gravel road where the truck is parked.
He casts. Another hit, another dance of tortured leaps and insane gyrations. He nets the fish and whomps it flat in one smooth motion. He slips the fish in a front pocket of his vest. One more for dinner and it’s time to climb out and hike up to the truck.
The final vestiges of sunset glow in the distance along the deepening purple sky behind the LaSal Mountains to the west as he crests Norwood Hill.
The blackened cast iron skillet sizzles with the slap of salt and pepper-spiced gutted trout. A cloud of smoke rises as fish curl in the pan. The smell of trout frying fills the room. The aroma of fresh-cut lime quarters awaits.
His creased, weather-furrowed face breaks into a smile, smoothing years off in a chuckle.
“Goddamn these old, decrepit eyes,” he laughs.
Editor’s note about Oleh:
I am reminded of the man every day. A talented sculptor, one of his mobiles sits on the coffee table in our living room. But I had not seen or heard from Oleh Lysiak for over 20 years. Ah, the wonders of social media. We rediscovered each other a few months ago, which was when I also discovered the artist is also a writer – at least nowadays – though making marks on paper is only one among a very long list of talents, some slightly sketchy.
O.Z. Lysiak has from time to time worked as a reporter, editor, columnist, photographer, public affairs officer, restaurateur, festival booth owner-operator, ski technician, carpenter, sailor, smuggler, tree planter, fishing guide, truck driver, river guide, cook, wood-cutter, trash collector, marine gravity operator, reclaimed wood broker and sculptor. He has written for The Ukrainian Weekly, The Oregonian, and closer to home, The Aspen Daily News, The Aspen Times, The Crested Butte Pilot, The San Miguel Basin Forum – and The Telluride Daily Planet. Oleh’s poetry has been widely published and his is author of several books, including “Neighborhood of Strangers”; “Art, Crime & Lithium”; “Scars In Progress”; “Geezer Rumba.”
Given his street cred and the fact he wrote extensively locally in the bad old days, I asked Oleh if he would mine his files for past columns that might be of interest to our readers. I am thankful the man said “yes.”
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