**NOTE** This Troutbitten story is from early winter, 2017
My waders are leaking again. I noticed it around noon today, when icy water saturated a leg seam. It seeped through the breathable membrane and soaked past three layers of polyester fleece (or whatever other synthetic fibers are stitched into my wading pants). I was waist deep in the river when I felt it, and I just kind of shrugged. I’d already lost multiple studs from my boots, and I’d fallen face first in the river, chasing downstream after a spool of tippet I’d dropped. What more? Who cares? I was fishing, and I was happy. Shit happens.
The leak came on my fifth consecutive day on the water. The holidays provided some opportunities that don’t come to me very often — so I took them. I’m a dad and husband with a job and a list of home improvements getting longer, so five days in a row don’t come around like they did in my single, childless, college student, table-waiting, pre-mortgage years.
On some of these five days I only fished for a couple hours, but I’m still counting them. Yesterday I made about a hundred casts on a walk with my boys. But I was in my leaky waders, carrying the boys across side channels in turn, so that one counts too.
Not every day was a dawn-to-dusk affair, but the best of them was . . .
I caught up with some long lost friends in the snow. We traded fishing lies and swapped opinions on streamer strategy. We ate smoked meats and cheeses, leftover from a family Christmas buffet and we floated down a river. We cast and stripped feathers, polyester craft fur and whatever the synthetic hell EP fibers are made from. We snagged trees and rocks, and we caught a few big trout in the miles of flowing water. We added to the memories of a year gone by. A gray winter day with little sun and a lot of wind provided the last page in a final chapter — the last casts of 2016. And we watched daylight race the river downstream.
The best thing about a float is seeing miles of water as if in one frame. It’s like a filmstrip that you can take out and hold in your mind for a while. If you’ve done this long enough, then every rock around every bend carries a memory. The best island channels hold a group of those stories and offer them up as you float by. It’s a photo album. The river is a flowing film of your best and worst times on the water — moment by moment passing by. And if you’re lucky, you might create a new highlight for the reel.
— — — — — —
The day before, I’d snuck away for the last hour of daylight just to wade fish a couple spots that I couldn’t get out of my mind. I don’t always like short trips, but lately I haven’t been passing them up either. Give me a chance to put the waders on, and I’ll take it. The first spot turned up nothing, but the second had some surprises.
Winter trips on marginal water have a way of putting an angler to sleep. It was peaceful. And it didn’t take me long to get into a happy rhythm of going through the motions. That isn’t to say I was fishing poorly. No. I was methodically probing the channels with patient retrieves and deep drifts, changing flies just enough to keep me honest, but not enough to distract myself with knots and rigging.
I was in the zone when I caught the first fish, and a few casts later I noticed the unfastened buckle on my vest. With the flies soaked in mid-drift, I tucked the rod under my arm and buckled the vest in a few short seconds. Not short enough. When I looked up, my line was under. I pulled the rod back and stripped all the length I could manage in one long rip. But I only felt a meager bump at the very end — not a good hook set. I whipped the rod forward and stripped more line. The fish rolled my way, from the darkness of the run into the light shade of the shallows, and I saw another wild brown trout that could have been looking for a name. Then he easily slid right off the hook and back into his place in the darkness.
— — — — — —
My last trip of five was another full day affair. I spent the time in and out of drizzling rain and snowflakes. The river was big and the fish were few. The space was lonely — just the way I like it.
— — — — — —
I finished the wader patch, and my wife walked in just as I put the cap on the Aquaseal. She hates the scent of acetone and toluene.
“They leak again?” She said it more as a statement than a question.
“Yes.” I said.
She shook her head. “Don’t they make a pair of waders that won’t leak?”
I thought about that one for a while.
“No. No they don’t.”
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N