The one need not be big or rare, just timely.
The clutch fish turns the day around. The clutch fish improves your subsequent casts, unfurls your leader, betters your drift, lets you carom flies off trees and leaves and onto the holding lie; it lets you laugh full-throated at missed strikes, makes you feel smarter than you actually are.
Today’s one was my first fish of 2012, and she came from way up a feeder creek that was running clear while the main branch was becoming higher, cloudier, and colder as the sun melted snow off the bluffs miles upriver. Crawling over old elms downed in last year’s flood, tiptoeing through ankle-deep water on flat cobbles that looked like they were hovering under rippling air, casting upstream to every broken top deeper than my boot. In the trough of a long riffle the drift brought up the fish that would have busted the slump and I missed the take, but when I made the cast again she came back – a little nosy blip and a flash of wormy olive and the weight was there, fighting to gain what passed as deep safety in that austere March stream. When she was close enough to net I saw she was a spec, a brookie, a streamborn native and that my year on the water was starting auspiciously. The hook was fair in her left maxilla; her right pectoral fin was torn along one of the rays. She rested in my cupped cold fingers for a while and breathed water and then pushed back into the creek and turned invisible again. And as I sit at home with a glass of beer and a picture I hope this hard winter is coming to an end, and I hope she ate a big fucking dinner of stonefly tonight.