But nothing could dampen my enthusiasm, and no sooner had I untangled my line than I got another bite. I got the fish to shore, but when instructor Jody Erickson went to unhook it, the fish swallowed the fly, and she had to cut the line to free it. I felt bad for the fish. I imagined it dying a slow, horrible death. But Erickson said that often the hook works itself free, or the acid in the fish's stomach dissolves the metal. Yikes. This was supposed to make me feel better? I realized I'd had enough fishing for one day.
After lunch we headed for the river for a demonstration. Erickson, sporting a snazzy pair of neoprene waders and boots, went up to her chest in the water to show us different casting techniques. Obviously, fishing in a stocked pond is like taking batting practice in a cage. Watching the instructor standing in the rushing water, you realize how much there is to deal with—the currents, uneven footing, overhanging branches, and, of course, the possibility that there simply may be no fish in the area.
On the last day of class the sun finally broke through the clouds. I chose a spot on the pond just over a little footbridge and tried several different flies—but no luck. As the day got warmer, the fish started to appear. It was 20 minutes before I felt the by now familiar tug. But I forgot to lift my rod tip, and the fish escaped. Within moments of recasting with a different fly, I felt another fish bite. I lifted my line, this time too quickly, and the fish came out of the water only to let go and swim off.
I suddenly realized that that was O.K. I was enjoying just being outside, with nothing else on my mind except the possibility of a good chase.
After class we posed for a group photo. I proudly tucked my new framed diploma under my arm and got back into my rental car for the 220-mile return trip to Manhattan. I had just one last stop to make, at the Orvis retail store. I bought a faded blue baseball cap with an embroidered trout, into which I stuck the fly I had used to catch my last fish.
The next day at work a colleague took one look at the fly and exclaimed, "Eeew! Is that real?"
I just shook my head. City slicker.