I woke up that morning in the apartment that my wife and I rented in downtown Florence. The noises of the nuns bustling about in the courtyard below were the first reminders that I wasn’t home. After getting everything prepped – train tickets, extra pants and socks, a wad of Euros to pay and tip my guide – I headed across the city to the rail station.
It was a surreal scene to be in an ancient city before it wakes up. I was excited to go fishing, but there was a part of me that also would have liked to stay and explore. My wife had a day of gelato, art, relaxation, and more gelato planned out. There was a twinge of regret that we’d be apart, too.
But like with any day fishing, all of the sleepiness and discomfort is quickly shaken when the reality of a day fishing sinks in. At the train station, sipping my coffee, it hit me that I was about to drive into the mountains of Italy to catch trout.
This was perfect.
Fast forward six hours, and I was watching my guide cast to rising fish.
This wasn’t perfect.
“Oh yes, there should be a big one here!”
“Oh, yes.” I thought. “There is a big something there, but it isn’t the fish.”
Like I’ve said, this whole time I’m reminding myself that I’m in another land with other customs and potentially other expectations for a guided fly fishing trip. Maybe this is all normal. Maybe he’s doing his best to identify what “the big ones” are keying in on. Maybe I’ve somehow inadvertently asked for this?
No. This is dumb. And it is going to keep being dumb.
So I resolved to make the best of it. I kept fishing. I went over and asked for a few flies. He casted one more time, gave me the “one second” finger, and then popped open an overstuffed box of bugs that he just thrust at me. I grabbed a few little dries and a streamer. I said thanks, and headed back downstream. Not a word from him.
In a passive-aggressive action of deliberate defiance, I walked out of his view. I didn’t want his inconsiderate activity to ruin these last few hours of my fishing.
I found a nice little run. I couldn’t see the hatchery. I couldn’t see my guide. I couldn’t hear his posse loudly telling dirty jokes in Italian. I could just fish.
There were a few nice brown trout rising. I caught a smallish one at the tail of the pool. Holding it in the current, I thought that this wasn’t all that bad. Sure, it is a stocked trout. But it is a trout, and I’m fly fishing.
Tonight I’ll have a delicious meal with my wife in a piazza of a stunning Renaissance-era cathedral. Tomorrow, we’ll continue to explore and visit some more museums. Our Italian vacation had just gotten started, there was no reason to let a few hours with a squirrely guide put me in a bad mood.
After only one or two more casts I saw a rise under an overhanging limb. The riseform was beautiful. A small, dimpled sip with a swell behind it. The kind of rise that a trout of a certain size makes. I had to get closer to be able to angle the cast such that the fly would land upstream of the branch. In doing so, I could see the fish laying up and watching the surface.
It wasn’t some leviathan, but it was a big trout. Probably around 20 inches or so, the most striking feature was the red hue that characterized its coloration. And it was feeding. If you’ve ever seen a kid with poor parenting at a Chucky Cheese, you know that frantic back-and-forth wildness. Look at this, look at that, eat this, rise to that, swim over there, take a break for a second. This was a catchable fish.
My first cast didn’t quite get there. “Stupid stiff rod.”
The second landed with some vigor, and the fish rushed over but then bailed back to his feeding position. “Stupid thick leader.”
The next cast was right on the money. It took a natural floating right in front of my fly. “Stupid nature.”
But this was good. The trout was not put off by my inefficiency or ramshackle Italian equipment. I don’t think, at that moment, that the previous few hours’ irritations were anywhere close to the forefront of my mind. Then…
“Oh, yes! Oh, yes! Matthew come quick!”
Running in hip boots, through the creek, was my guide. You know the jig-like gate that one has when quickly moving through current while carrying a rod above the water? Usually there is a leprechaun quality to it, but in this fish-ruining moment it was purely impish. In his other hand he had a net, and in said net was a fish. How far had this guy run down the stream with this trout up in the net?
“Quick, hold the fish and I will take a picture.”
“No. I didn’t catch it.” I was irate. Obviously, my big brown had been put down in the ruckus. Plus, the whole idea of getting my picture taken with the personification (fishsonification?) of my day’s frustration was inconceivable.
“Oh, yes. Here you go.” He grabbed the thing like it was a loaf of bread and shoved it in my hands. I had to drop his fly rod to catch the stunned trout.
Guess which pictures from the day came out well.
I’d love to share one on the site. The look on my face is of utter disdain for the situation. A member of PETA would probably look less put-off if photographed in the same situation. Maybe one day I will, but I don’t want to throw this guide completely under the bus. Because, of course, the picture is still on his website.
The drive back to the train was a little tense. I was content to make small talk about Italy, but wasn’t too keen on talking about the day or fishing in general. Even the Formula-1 style driving was fine, as it presumably would get me back quicker.
Once we arrived, I gave him his money and a tip… because I guess that is what one does. I gave a quick “grazie.” Hopefully my American accent covered the feigned gratitude. Off we went, our separate ways.
I’d go fishing in Italy again in a heartbeat. I’d roll the dice in another country, as well. Like anything else, you’re taking a chance. I’ve had bad guides in the States, so this isn’t any sort of condemnation of the Italian or international guide scene. This guy was either having a bad day, or was great at fooling me via email.
As they (might?) say in Italy: “È quello che è!” It is what it is. I met my wife that night at our little restaurant in Florence. The veal osso buco was delicious. I didn’t ask if the calf in question was native or wild, but I was over parsing distinctions at that moment. We talked about our day, and I shared some of the peculiarities of my experience.
Walking back to our apartment, crossing the Arno River I saw some people fishing for rough fish. They looked happy. And authentic. I wonder how many Euros they’d need to put me on some catfish in urban Tuscany…