**NOTE** Entering the holiday season and visiting family over Thanksgiving reminded me of a special stretch of fishing trips a few years back. Here’s the story of those last days of 2016.
My waders are leaking again. I noticed it around noon today, when cold water saturated a leg seam. They seeped through the breathable membrane and soaked three layers of polyester fleece (or whatever other synthetic fibers make up 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 off 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 of fishing. 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 to do, so five days in a row don’t come around like they once did in my single, childless, college student, table-waiting, pre-mortgage years.
On some of these five days I only got on the water for a couple hours, but I’m still counting them. Yesterday I made only 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 some family Christmas buffet tray, 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 fish 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.
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The day before, I’d snuck away for the last hour of daylight just to wade fish a couple spots 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 the angler to sleep. It’s peaceful, really, and it hadn’t taken 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.
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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.
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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