Graham spread his hands still wider, rolled his eyes and formed his lips into a silent whistle.
I couldn't even see the fish; there was no way in the world I could reach it. The distance was beyond my range. To complicate matters further, I would have to cast between two reeds sticking out of the water about a dozen feet apart. It would be about like kicking a field goal from your own 10-yard line. However, nothing was to be lost by trying.
My first cast fell short. I expected that. What pleased me and encouraged me to try again was how little short it fell. My second cast was the best of my life, right between those two reeds, lighting in the innermost of the rings left by the fish on its last rise. So amazed was I at the cast I'd made I forgot my reason for making it and thus almost didn't strike back when the fish struck. A conditioned reflex took over for me, and I was fast to one of the biggest, maybe the biggest, surely the fightingest fish of my life.
Either it had been hooked many times before or else it was hooked now for the first time ever. The memory of fear or the awful, unaccountable novelty of it: Either could have explained the fish's explosive rush to escape. There was no restraining its first upstream run that emptied the reel of line down to the backing. I held the rod with both hands above my head and let it run, the farther the better. The expenditure of such energy would soon enough exhaust it.
As the fish rested from its initial run, I surveyed our battlefield. The advantages were the fish's; one was overwhelmingly so. The drought had lowered the water level so that the thick weeds rose to the very surface, lush as the growth in a greenhouse. Upon such headlong runs as the fish's first I would have to depend, for should our fight last long, the fish would take to the weeds as surely as a fox to earth and I would be unable to budge it for fear of breaking my leader.
Never had I known a fish so game. Downstream and upstream, again and again it charged, and rather than tiring, it seemed to gain mettle. Joined as we were by the taut, throbbing line, the fish telegraphed to me its every impulse, almost its every thought. Mortal enemies we were, but lovers could hardly have been more closely coupled. Thus I knew when, having tried and failed to free itself by running, it resorted to another dodge. I felt its rise begin in time to lower my rod and give slack to the line. It broke the surface and climbed into the air, threshing, showering spray. A rainbow it was—my first. It was the phosphorescent red line down its length that told me unmistakably what it was. It stood upon the water like an exclamation point. A fish of four, maybe five, pounds—decidedly the biggest I'd ever hooked.
Having tried running and leaping only to find itself still hooked, the fish wasn't long in doing the thing I dreaded. It dove for the weeds. I waded to it (easier said than done) and made a pass with the landing net but succeeded only in scooping up weeds. The fish bolted, then sounded again. How many times this happened I don't know. Sometimes there wasn't water enough to cover the fish's back, and then it slithered over the weeds like a snake. Always it fought with undiminished resistance. I thought to deceive it into thinking it was now free and venturing out of the weeds on its own by slackening the line. This worked just once; the fish learned fast.
Our fight had taken us steadily upstream. Graham had followed, snapping away. He was counting on a successful outcome, a picture of me holding up my trophy. To disappoint him would double my own disappointment. But I was growing apprehensive. This must not be allowed to continue. By now the leader was surely fraying and might soon break; the hook would have worn a tear in the fish's jaw and might soon slip out, or else might straighten. To prepare Graham for the worst, I yelled, "I may lose this fellow."
For now the end, one way or the other, had come. Just below the bridge the fish had half buried itself in the tangle of growth on a cable stretched there across the river. It couldn't free itself. I would have to do it. I closed in.
There was no way to get the net under the fish and I knew that even now, spent as it was, it still retained a last reserve of power to call upon, a reserve that it didn't know it had but that the touch of my hand would spark. But a fish that brave I meant to put back anyway, after getting a picture of it; genes like those were a treasure to its kind, and the fish was drowning by the moment. I grabbed it and, sure enough, got what felt like an electric shock. The fish was gone, taking with it my fly. When I rose, defeated, I realized how tired I was.