I’m standing knee-deep in a quiet river in Middle-of-Nowhere, Colorado. I shout to get my girlfriend’s attention and wave her over my way. She takes a few steps in my direction then stops and begins casting. I yell and wave again with a bit more urgency. I really wish she’d hurry up. It was a long drive to get here and I can hardly believe I made it without ruining the surprise. She finally arrives and is a bit vexed with my impatience. I ask Claudia to stand a few yards in front of where I have the tripod set up. Nervously, I press the shutter on my camera and start the longest 10-second timer in the history of the world.
This story began a couple of years ago. I was dating a pretty girl and things started to get a little serious. Serious enough that I found myself spending more time in the city than on the water. It was at this point, for somewhat selfish reasons, that I decided it was time to get a fly rod in her hand. Deep down, I hoped that she’d love it but I knew that at the very worst, at least we’d get to spend some time standing in a river.
The first couple of days were full of all the requisite tangles, snags and other rookie mishaps you could imagine. Although she was having a tough time with some parts of it, I noticed an intensity in her eyes as she watched her fly drift by a feeding trout with no response. I recognized this look because I get it, too, every time I’m dealing with a stubborn fish. I knew at this point she was hooked.
As those first few trips slowly grew into the next two seasons, we spent lots of time on the river together. We untangled knots together, we climbed trees to free snagged flies together, and slowly but surely, we started to catch a lot of fish—together. Before I knew it, she was the one finding new places to go fishing, she was the one who wanted to stay on the water long after the sun had set, and much to my ego’s chagrin, she was the one who routinely caught all the big fish.
I start counting down from ten in my head so I don’t mistime the shot. My heart feels like it’s lodged somewhere in the middle of my throat and I’m physically shaking with anticipation. I shuffle around the tripod and take a few steps toward Claudia, trying hard not to fall into the river. The out-of-body experience I’d always heard about is beginning. As though I’m a passerby, I watch as my hand reaches into my pocket and pulls out a little blue box. I drop to my knee and the camera flashes as I ask a question that will begin the first chapter of the rest of our lives. She says yes, we pop a couple of mini bottles of Korbel and sit on the bank together and watch as the water flows by.
After a few minutes of enjoying the moment, she breaks the silence: “Oh, I think I see one over there,” she says, holding a hand above her eyes to block the sun. Using her rod, she points out a dark shadow hovering in an eddy near the far bank.
“This one’s all yours,” I say, still sitting on a streamside rock. I look on as my new fiancé catches a two-foot rainbow with the poise of an old pro. I smile and take another drink of warm champagne.
Born and raised in the Midwest, Mark Rauschenberger honed his writing skills at The Ohio State University while simultaneously honing his fly fishing skills chasing smallmouth on the Scioto River. He moved west nearly a decade ago and now works as a contributing writer to a number of fly fishing and ski publications. When he’s not hunched over his laptop with a cup of espresso, you’ll likely find Mark with his fiancé, Claudia, exploring new water throughout Colorado and Wyoming on their never-ending pursuit of the next greatest destination.