The Walkout

by | Oct 24, 2018 | 18 comments

The bank at the outside bend had briers and stiff brush at its border, and it took some time to poke my rod and leader through the maze. Tippet, forceps, nippers and more dangled from my vest and reached for the nearest branch, so I hugged them close to my chest, trying to make myself skinny. I ducked under a thick oak limb that had broken and fallen from its parent and was now suspended four feet from the leafy ground by the solid underbrush.

These hearty plants grip wet rocks and dirt with their tangled roots. When the floods come they lean into the raging water and stand their ground, or they’re washed away. The strongest survive.

Navigating the network for ten more yards, I crawled through the last stretch until finally I broke free.

The patch of forest beyond was more open than I remembered, and I walked easily through tall spruce and dying ferns, chasing the last remaining shade-line sideways until it disappeared. Silence soaked in with the shade. With the fading light, I felt the cool earth of the forest reach up and take over what the fleeting sun had left behind.

These changes of light and season happen both suddenly and gradually, depending on your own perspective and movement in time. Sit still for a while and watch the daylight fade into blackness, and it takes hours. But walk among the trees at dusk, across a soft bed of spruce needles after a long day on the river, and time speeds up. The pace of the trees, the perspective of the forest takes hold within you, and a good long look into the future looks a lot like the past, with the days and nights rolling into each other, turning in concentric circles, day to night, season to season, through a window of time both small and wide all at once — all of it happening both here and somewhere else concurrently, though you can’t be sure.

As I walked, I admitted that the fall season had finally blown in, and with it had come a change in the weather pattern. The rains ended. For three months I’d seen nothing but daily showers and high rivers, but now with the windy cold front, the mountains had lost their green sparkle. And over the span of three connected days on this water, I’d watched the vibrance of the hills fade into a new saturation: reds, oranges and yellows began to spread from the valleys to the mountaintops. Next, the leaves will be gone, I thought. It will happen soon. It happens in circles.

The river was still full here, uncrossable in all but the widest parts, even for the boldest and strongest angler who is full of piss and vinegar. He’d wash away in the mid-current, lifted from underneath by water up to his armpits, because no amount of will or determination can fight the buoyancy of the human body. Alive and full of air and water, we float — eventually — even against the weight of a packed fishing vest.

The pace of the trees, the perspective of the forest takes hold within you, and a good long look into the future looks a lot like the past . . .

And so I took the long way around, setting my course inward of the bank-side brush but well within earshot of the riffling water. I knew that when the rumble faded to a whisper I’d be adjacent to the widest tailout for miles upstream or down. There I would find my way from rock to rock and across the chutes, surrounded by Blue Winged Olive spinners falling in parallel with the oak leaves, fluttering down until they lay spent and dying. I’d watch the noses of occasional wild brown trout poke a ring through the glassy slick just before the lip of the tailout, plucking size twenty mayflies between the crispy, dry oak leaves that float and drown in the surface, all of it in the half light of the fading day. So much beauty.

Until then, I walked through the forest as my grandfather had shown me when I was a boy.

“More patience, son,” he’d said. “Walk slower and you’ll see more.”

And that’s how I did it. I scanned the hillside and saw scurrying squirrels wrapping up their daily gathering and storing of chestnuts. I spotted a bloom of oyster mushrooms on fallen logs around a spring hole. Browning and past their expiration date, I left them attached and walked past. Striding through the tall stand of spruce, I found my path easily, planning ahead for the coming obstacles while living fully in the moments around me, looking forward and being present in one space all at once.

I caught the faint scent of death just before I saw it. A small deer, this year’s fawn, was trapped between the crook of two oak limbs at my eye level, five feet off the ground. I saw the ghost of white spots on its wet and matted fur when I approached. Its eyes were gone, pecked out by birds or insects. Who knows which? But the whole of the young deer was remarkably intact. I’ve seen this before. Flood waters pick up unsuspecting deer, usually young. No amount of will or determination can fight the natural buoyancy, and it’s carried away, tossed in the current and drowned until it’s eventually lodged between two limbs below the high water mark, alone until I find it. And then I pass on.

The river faded to a whisper — just what I was waiting for. I walked to the water’s edge, and the floodplain graciously met the river at a gradual slope. Across the sandbar, and over the limestone rocks, I met the oak leaves and the Blue Winged Olives, just as expected. I saw fewer trout making a meal of them than I’d imagined, but otherwise my revery was complete.

Then I stopped midstream, a solitary man ankle deep on a limestone perch in the center of an enormous desolate valley. I stared upstream across the pool and into the woodsy bend already in darkness. I waited forever — or for only a moment. Who knows which? As alone as I could ever be, I breathed deep: silent but for the sound of the river downstream; standing still but for the swaying of the currents around me.

Alive and fulfilled, I stood and watched until the stars twinkled to life.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 600 articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers
Your support is greatly appreciated

– Explore These Post Tags –

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

More from this Category

Canyon Caddis

Canyon Caddis

Some of these caddis were swamped by the current or damaged by their acrobatic and reckless tumbling. And the broken ones didn’t last long. Large slurps from underneath signaled the feeding of the biggest trout, keying in on the opportunity for an easy meal.

Smith and I shared a smile at the sheer number of good chances. Trout often ignore caddis, because the emerging insects spend very little time on the surface, and trout don’t like to chase too often. But with a blanket hatch like this, the odds stack up, and trout were taking notice . . .

Natural vs Attractive Presentations

Natural vs Attractive Presentations

. . . Let’s call it natural if the fly is doing something the trout are used to seeing. If the fly looks like what a trout watches day after day and hour after hour — if the fly is doing something expected — that’s a natural presentation.

By contrast, let’s call it attractive if the fly deviates from the expected norm. Like any other animal in the wild, trout know their environment. They understand what the aquatic insects and the baitfish around them are capable of. They know the habits of mayflies and midges, of caddis, stones, black nosed dace and sculpins. And just as an eagle realizes that a woodland rabbit will never fly, a trout knows that a sculpin cannot hover near the top of the water column with its nose into heavy current . . .

Cicadas, Sawyer and the Clinic

Cicadas, Sawyer and the Clinic

Just as the Cicada settled again, with its deer hair wing coming to rest and its rubber legs still quivering, the pool boss came to finish what he started. His big head engulfed the fly, and my patience finally released into a sharp hookset on 3X. The stout hook buried itself against the weight of a big trout . . .

You Need Contact

You Need Contact

Success in fly fishing really comes down to one or two things. It’s a few key principles repeated over and over, across styles, across water types and across continents. The same stuff catches trout everywhere. And one of those things . . . is contact.

. . . No matter what adaptations are made to the rig at hand, the game is about being in touch with the fly. And in some rivers, contact continues by touching the bottom with something, whether that be a fly or a split shot. Without contact, none of this works. Contact is the tangible component between success and failure.

Find Your Rabbit Hole

Find Your Rabbit Hole

Understanding the ideas of other anglers through the decades is how I learn. It’s how we all learn. The names change, but the process remains. We build a framework from others. Then we fit together the pieces of who we are as an angler . . .

One Last Change

One Last Change

Every angler goes fishing to get away from things — and most times that means getting away from people too. So whether they be friends or strangers on the water, going around the bend and walking off gives you back what you were probably looking for in the first place . . .

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.

18 Comments

  1. I think that’s the best thing I’ve read that you have written. It’s beautiful.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Emmett.

      Reply
  2. Awesome piece of literature !

    Reply
    • Thanks, man.

      Reply
  3. Speechless…..

    Reply
  4. Felt like I was right there walking alongside you.

    Reply
    • That works.

      Reply
  5. I wear the same ragg wool gloves when it’s damp and cold but what’s up with the rubber bands?

    Reply
  6. I love your writing and the photography, thanks!

    Reply
    • Cheers. Thanks you.

      Reply
  7. Beautiful story! Can’t wait to hike through the bluffs and streams of SE MN tomorrow! This story makes me want to be there right now!

    Reply
    • Nice. Email me some pics of your trip tomorrow.

      Reply
  8. That reading was a wonderful way to start my day! Nicely done!

    Reply
    • Cheers. Thanks a lot, Jim.

      Reply
  9. Reminds me of Annie Dillard’s,”Pilgrim at Tinkers Creek”

    Reply
    • Good stuff.

      Reply
    • Indeed! Sprigs of hyssop! Well written, Dom, nice reference, Jeff. The water was pellucid today on Muddy Creek, York Co, PA

      Reply
  10. Your prose has the sweet and musty smell of creekside woods.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

Pin It on Pinterest