First of February.

I’m ready for the robins’ return. Last time I was here, there were thousands up in the trees eating sugarberries and on the ground rifling through fallen leaves. They’ll be on their way soon enough; the velvet brown buds of pawpaw are swelling along the stream.

I took it easy in the morning and didn’t get there til 10:30, surprised I had the place to myself on a sunny Sunday with air temperatures touching sixty. The fishing must suck, I thought. The water’s still low, though it must’ve gone up sometime since my last trip, green tops of scouring rush are bent and matted along the bank.

I worked upstream on the usual beat, hit the usual spots with the usual flies, without so much as a bite. I snagged and broke off on a branch across the creek, sat down on the gravel and opened a beer. It’d be interesting to walk the same beat, plucking flies and Panther Martins from the brush. You’d mostly find parachute Adamses and pheasant tail nymphs, sure- but perhaps with careful study, more subtle patterns would come to light. Maybe after decades our investigator could suss out the tells of the flies’ makers, the way a ceramicist can look at bits of pot a thousand years old and identify an individual, unnamed craftsman. Maybe, after years of gathering and cataloging, our investigator could reverse-engineer the boxes of a whole cohort of anglers, unknown to each other, who fished a stream over the course of a lifetime.

A splash a dozen feet away snaps me out of my daydream. A trout, for sure, slashing at something small and drab. I look through my box and tie on a dancing caddis, dun gray with a green body, size sixteen. I don’t know the latin name of the bug it imitates, only that six weeks from now it’ll be depositing chartreuse masses of eggs at the waterline of your waders if you stand too long in swift water. I cast to the tail of the riffle and the fish rockets out of the water.

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