Rich had cancer, and it was spreading fast. We both knew this was our last trip together and that a dear friendship was coming to a close.
We fished a long morning, and eventually, I worked upstream toward my friend. From thirty yards, I could see the exhaustion in his face. Rich stood where a long riffle dumped into his favorite glassy pool. He breathed a long breath and gazed at the cloudy sky. Reeling in his line and breaking down his rod, he looked at me, and we smiled. We each knew we were at the end of something.
I was fishing a large parachute ant, moving quickly and covering a lot of water, as was my habit on Clover Run in those days. And in the right months it was a tactic that brought at least one chance to catch and release a really good fish. But on that morning I hadn’t caught much of anything, so I threw a couple careless, hopeless casts into the glide ahead of me as I waded the last thirty yards toward my friend.
“Put a few casts to that bank,” Rich said, and he gestured toward a shallow piece of side water next to the riffle where he was standing.
With not much cover on the bank for a trout, and with the sun poking through the clouds at midday, I didn’t have any hope. But I obliged and diverted my course a few feet. I stripped out some fly line and cast to the bank while Rich stood and watched my line draw narrow, artistic loops through the air.
Two casts. That was all. Something with a big mouth swirled and engulfed my fly, and I set the hook hard. Rich howled in approval!
In the shallow water, with no glare against the surface, I could clearly see the long trout before he ran into deeper water — and I knew something was different. The fish fought weakly against the pressure of my rod tip, and I was surprised how easily I brought the trout upstream and into Rich’s waiting net.
It was a twenty-two inch wild brown trout. But it was long and slender, with a head as wide as its body. It looked tired.
Rich and I made eye contact and kept smiling. The symbolism was enough, and words were never spoken. Not only was it a top-tier fish on the last cast — and in the last water that Rich and I would ever fish together — but he’d shown me where to find it. Even more startling was the parallel of Rich with the trout itself. The fish was clearly in its last days. It was either sick or dying from old age, and it was weak.
We shook hands, embraced and kept smiling as we waded to the bank and walked the narrow path back home.
— — — — — —
A few months later I found myself in my waders on the same river, but with no fly rod in hand or vest on my back. With Rich’s best friend at my side (my father-in-law) in his own waders, we slipped quietly through the clear water to the top of what we now call Rich’s Pool. And in the same spot where Rich netted that last fish for me . . . we scattered his ashes in the current.
Rich sent a letter to me before he died. At the end he wrote, “Dom, I’ll meet you upstream.”
I look forward to that.
“The fisherman is eternally hopeful.” — Rich Alsippi
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N