All of my fly fishing and tying recently came to a screeching halt.
I consider myself an avid fly fisherman and seemingly constant fly tyer, and I've often said my time on the water is my church.
However, a double meniscus and ACL tear and the surgery to repair it can slow down even the most enthusiastic angler.
For those who don't know, this entails arthroscopic surgery to the knee; in my case, the damaged ACL was replaced with a cadaver ligament. Thank you to the unselfish donor who in essence gave me the ability to navigate more freely on two legs again.
This bend in the stream of life has changed my perspective on many things I used to take for granted and the little changes that affect our day-to-day lives.
Like many of us, my tying materials reside in my man-cave, AKA the basement.
A full set of stairs was impossible for me to navigate.
After surgery I recruited my kids to take photos of my fly tying area with my smartphone. I would then send them back downstairs to bring up materials and tools from the photos that I would need to keep tying.
This was pretty entertaining and my children now know material names and uses better than the average fly tyer.
Problem solved, I'd be able to sit at the dining room table with my vise and tie for hours on end!
Or so I thought.
In the beginning I could only tie for thirty minutes or so before the pain would win over.
I worked tirelessly for weeks to improve my own well-being at physical therapy. Daily exercises and stretches were my routine, then trying to tie faster and longer each day.
I eventually gained enough strength to navigate the basement stairs. A milestone so it seemed, for something I took for granted prior to this debacle.
As the weeks turned into a month, I began to dream more and more about time on the water.
It was certain that wading was impossible due to weakness and the fact that putting on shoes was a challenge. Any slip or twist on uneven ground could potentially set me back even farther.
I assure you I wasn't ready mentally or physically.
Once I was cleared to drive again, I found myself scoping out local water, even if it was to look from a distance.
Eventually I remembered a nearby stream that had a handicapped access. I remember telling myself that if someone was fishing there, I would just politely watch from a distance.
Amazingly, the spot was free. With trembling hands, I gingerly walked to the access spot, sat on the bench, and rigged up my gear. It was surreal to think such a simple thing could bring such a mental level of accomplishment.
Slowly, I began fishing the pool.
Eventually a passerby inquired about the fishing.
"Slow," I replied.
He watched and we were talking for a few minutes, when my indicator stopped and I set the hook into a beefy Great Lake tributary run brown trout.
The fish came unhooked and I sat down as adrenaline coursed through me. I can't even describe the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment over a lost fish.
I didn't fish much longer after that since I was happy with the small accomplishment.
It wasn't but a couple days later that I found myself at the same handicapped access. This time I was joined by an older gentleman angler. We exchanged casual conversation.
It wasn't long before he landed a small stocked brown trout. I commented that it was better than a skunk.
Eventually my indicator dropped and I locked into a solid steelhead as the water surface thrashed.
My fellow angler shared in my excitement and watched the battle unfold.
He asked if I had a net, to which I replied, "no".
He went to his vehicle and reappeared with a net.
I was locked in an epic battle to keep the chrome steelhead contained in the pool. I knew full well that if this fish went lake-bound, I wouldn't unable to pursue beyond my limited confines.
Everything fell into place and my newfound angling buddy scooped the five-pound steelhead into the net.
We exchanged congratulations and thanks. He quickly took a picture for me and I returned the greatest fish in the world to the water.
I sat down, sunglasses hiding my tears of accomplishment. I commented to my fellow angler how incredible that fish was to me. He inquired as to why and I explained my recovery from surgery.
He smiled knowingly and lifted his pant leg to show an elaborate ankle stabilizer. He had been struggling for close to two years to try and get mobile.
From there we shared stories and laughs. I encouraged him to fish the entire pool as I was completely overwhelmed with such a tremendous feeling of joy.
I soon departed knowing that no other fish would surpass what I had just experienced and shared. I've returned a couple of times since then and have even encountered my fellow angler who assisted in netting my fish again.
No other fish have come to hand for me, but I replay that day over and over. It was more than a fish. It was a shared experience and a sign that healing comes in many forms.
I am truly grateful for the park that installed the access and the people who share it.
As for my recovery, it will take several months before I'm able to safely wade the rivers I desire. With that said, I'm content fishing the edges.
No matter what lays around the next bend in the river, take every day that comes as a new adventure and never give up on those things you hold sacred.
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About VERN-O Burm:
LeVern "VERN-O" Burm has been fly fishing for 15+ years, and fly tying for nearly as long. He's lived in the Upstate New York area his entire life and fishes the Finger Lakes, Great Lakes, Catskills, Adirondacks, and all the waterways in between. Fly tying soon developed from a hobby to a passion, and eventually into a side business, Custom Flies By VERN-O. He's been tying commercially for 5+ years. His love of tying comes from a background in science and art. He puts his heart and creativity into his fly tying, and what he produces at the vise is an extension of what drives him from inside. VERN-O enjoys tying soft hackle flies and fishable spey flies, but also dabbles outside these realms as well. He has a fondness for chasing steelhead and fish that swim. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.