My ten-year-old son stumbled across the river. With each step he seemed on the brink of falling forward into the flow. Wide eyed and stiff-faced, Joey battled through the current, expecting all the while to fall in, but hoping and struggling against it. It seemed like he was trying to win a race, thinking he might outdistance the impending accident if he just moved fast enough.
Joey glanced up to me as I stood relaxed, in the bank-side ankle-deep water. Then I held my arms over my head. Stretched toward Joey, my open palms signaled a stop. And for a moment, his rushed and splashing course halted. The calming water circled around him, and he seemed thankful for the pause.
Now I cupped my hands to my mouth, to amplify a familiar message.
“It’s wading, not walking!” I hollered. Then I turned both hands back to my son and signaled thumbs up.
Joey nodded, dropped his tensed shoulders and relaxed, Then he looked into the river and took one step at a time.
— — — — — —
Nothing in nature crosses the river like a fisherman in a hurry. We look so out of place, bumbling around in waders trying to find a foothold and fighting a battle with the river. The current is a foreign thing to many anglers — because how many of us fish as often as we like? And even for those lucky enough to fish frequently, our mistake is the same. We all get rushed and forget that navigating a river is not walking — it’s wading.
I’ve said this to my guided clients a hundred times by now. And no matter the level of river experience, it helps to remember that wading really isn’t much like walking.
Yes, wading is one foot in front of the other, but the back foot doesn’t lift until the front foot is solid. Take a step. Settle that foot and find your balance. And — only then — pick up the other foot to take the next step. Simple, right? Done this way, you’ll never be surprised by shifting rocks or sand. That’s the idea — to always feel the center of gravity underneath at least one of your feet. And when your lifting foot swings into an unexpected rock under the water, that’s alright, because the front foot is set and secure.
By contrast, a walking gate has some pace to it, enabled by our trust that the next piece of ground is stable. We see the path ahead of us on dry ground, and there’s no current sweeping away our balance from underneath.
Good wading looks a lot like walking. And that’s what confused Joey at first. Once, when he was about seven years old, I realized that I’d never made this point with him. And he was trying to emulate my walk through the river. But now, after his tenth birthday, he finally gets it. And his first foot is stable before the other one gives up its spot.
It’s wading, not walking.
But I’ll fall in again too. Because I’ll forget. And I’ll flail against the current and search for my balance as I go down among the bottom rocks and tree parts. I’ll clutch the cork of the fly rod when I slip. And I’ll worry about what “water resistant” really means for the smart phone in my pocket. And when I finally get my feet beneath me, I’ll rise tall above the surface again, dripping creek water from my arms and feeling the cold rush down my legs to the toes in my boots. I’ll shake my head as I wade to the bank to dry off. Because I’ll know why I fell, and I know I’ll make the same mistake again. Just give me time.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N