Everything was too loud this week. Sometimes it feels like I wasn’t built to be around people, and the simple interactions with others, even with my own family, stack and pile on top of me. My jumbled thoughts and endless worry needed to go away for a while, and I’ve learned that a long day of fishing in the right place can reset that too-many-people-and-too-many-thoughts gauge back to a baseline. The right river has done this for me countless times, and yesterday the perpetually flowing waters renewed me once again.
I arrived just after dawn. And I was alone.
Two cars in the lot, but both were from cyclists. The stickers on their vehicles read: Cannondale, Trek, and “Share the Road.” Good. Not the fishy type. So I walked down through wet morning brush and fished the lower island. I returned to the truck at noon to refill my water bottle, and even the cyclists were gone from the midday haze and heat. There’s nothing like knowing you’re the only one on the water in a place like this, and I had unlimited hours ahead.
Half a day later, I would return at dark through a violent and brilliant thunderstorm, drenched again from the heavy rain and wind, still alone and still wonderful. Through all the years, I cannot recall another day when I had this water to myself. I have intense memories of full days, fishing the upper section in the winter, my boot tracks and the border collie’s paw prints, marking our solitary partnership in the new fallen snow. But never have I had such privacy on the lower half of my favorite river.
I worked all the islands. The fishing was mostly slow, but I didn’t care. I enjoyed working hard for the fish I did catch and was willing to accept the price for such time alone: high heat, hot sun and low water. No matter. Wet wading kept me cool as I changed dry fly and nymphing rigs, trying to dial something in.
Early on, I approached a favorite spot, where during the cicadas craziness six years ago, I lost the largest fish I’ve ever hooked on this river. When I didn’t move a trout with the go-to patterns, I held my ground, because on this day I had unlimited time and patience. So I tied on a Soft Hackle Wooly with a heavy load of shot in front. It sank quickly into the head of the run, and I short stripped once ….. WHAM. I was hooked up with a large brown for about a minute until it popped off. Three casts later, and the same thing — another big brown hooked and played with another long distance release. By myself, with unlimited river upstream and down, I shrugged and moved on.
At the bottom of the next island I landed a sizable stinky bass, and I thought of Sawyer. Ugly thing made my net slimy.
Five large browns jumped off my line yesterday. It’s the way things go sometimes, and that’s OK. I had the camera, and maybe I was playing the fish differently, wanting too much to get them in the net and set up a good picture. My usual strategy is to put the screws to big fish, using hard and constant side pressure while never giving them a rest. Maybe I was to cautious.
By late afternoon things turned on. I’m not sure if it was pattern, water type or the fish just started eating. But like most things in fishing, I figure the answer is somewhere in the mess of all that. I discovered that feeding fish were not in the deep holes. They were found in swift water above those holes, and the best fish were in fast runs about a foot deep — standard summer stuff, really. They also wanted the shade, they really wanted the Green Weenie, and they seemed to want it with no other flies on the rig. Fair enough. Once I found the combination of water type and pattern, I had a few hours of constant action.
It was the kind of day where I was blissfully unaware of passing time, as I shared the wild space with blue herons and bald eagles. I was surprised by the darkness that came halfway up the third island. I first noticed the fading light and thought is was only dark clouds moving in. But when my eyes struggled to pick up the line, I conceded to the signals and checked my watch for the first time since dawn.
8:45 pm. The top of the third island would be my last stand. I caught one more fish in the near-dark as big raindrops blew in.
Big weather came quickly, and I started my return. On the forest path I walked for a half-hour through a monster thunderstorm. Cold air and colder rain washed away any residual grumblings in my soul that were still with me, and the cleansing of my thoughts and exhausted body was complete.
I needed nothing else but the river.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N