We slipped our way down the muddy trail in a controlled stumble, just on the edge of going ass-over-teacups into the drink at the end of the line. The line was a well worn path Dad and I have been down many times before, leading to the top end of a favorite island on a favorite river. We came through the brush to once again meet this water on its own terms.
Not dirty, stained, cloudy, murky or any other of the various terms fishermen use to describe the stages of suspended particles in the flow. Muddy — the worst of the descriptors on the list. Visibility about six inches, at best.
We’ve been through this before. I’d estimate that a full seventy-five percent of our camping trips on this river have been blow-outs. That’s no joke. We’ve been doing this for ten years, and it almost always rains for this trip … a lot. Often the river gets destroyed the day we get there and starts clearing as we leave. Again, this is not hyperbole. We’ve just not been lucky with river conditions there.
So we’ve learned to deal with what we’re given. We find places and ways to fish because Dad is stubborn enough to stick with a plan, and I am (of course) exactly the same way. I like to think of this trait as tenacious, persistent, dedicated conviction. But at its worst we become what wives in our family call obstinate and cranky. Either way, sometimes perseverance pays off . . .
The first day of the trip we traveled over an hour from camp to take a chance on another river. I knew the water was high, but I thought it would be more fishable there. And it was. We enjoyed good action for a hot summer day, with alternating thunderstorms and sunny skies, mostly catching wild trout on nymphs, and usually on the edges of faster currents.
In recent years, the muddy creek hasn’t mattered all that much. Because, for part of the trip, I bring my boys to the mountain for a couple days. And while they love to fish, they enjoy the other things that happen at camp even more, like hiking through ferns, mushroom hunting, flashlight games and campfires. You never can predict what will make the biggest imprint in a young boy’s mind. This time it was tailgate rides on Pappy’s truck.
It’s quiet out there. When the truck has stopped and the voices are calmed, the silence in the trees is stunning. Not many moments among the din of modern life come with such a pure absence of commotion. No buzz. No hum of electricity. The nothingness will fill up your soul if you let it.
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And so, after returning the boys to the civilized world, I found myself sliding down that muddy trail with my Dad — two hours of daylight left on the third day of Summer Camp 2015.
The sun came off the water about a half hour in, and the fish stirred a bit. I was still fishing streamers, not only because they matched the water type, but because I’m hip to the strip; because I’m totally committed. Because I’m all in. I’m really tough and really trendy. Because my streamer is bigger than yours, and because we all know the only way to catch large trout is on large streamers. Just kidding.
Actually, I’m mostly a nymph fisherman, but sometimes I keep fishing streamers because I’m stubborn . . . and there it is again.
Things started to happen. I moved two really nice trout — the kind of fish that makes you yell four-letter words as the opportunity vanishes — and I picked up a couple average sized browns. I went over to visit with Dad, and I plopped a few casts next to the bank across from him. He was at the top of the river-left side of the island. I walked across to the far side and waded through the high water by myself, into position to fish a place that’s a little special to the Troutbitten guys. I moved a small fish, then chucked the next cast as close to the water-logged tree stump as I dared. Strip … drift … strip, strip … drift… strip … BAM!
Momentum carried him to the top of the brown water, and I saw the fish I’ve been waiting for. He swam hard to the tree stump, but with strong 2X I changed his mind. These are the moments fishermen live for. It was the culmination of a new streamer pattern, a new rig that Burke showed me, and relentless hope against forceful, muddy water.
He took a couple of runs, but considering his size, the fight was short. I surprised him with the net, aided by the cover of muddy water.
It was the best fish I’ve caught since New Year’s Eve.
I sat and watched the moving water grow darker, until the moon reflected across the muddy surface.
I love the water.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N