Right on time, Smith’s signature worn-out ball cap crested the hill on the north side of the gravel pull off. When his full frame came into view, I motioned to the propane grill and smiled with a nod. It was preheated. Resting on a large chunk of limestone, I had the portable grill ready for meat. When Smith approached, I handed my friend a beer without a word. Glass chimed and we nodded again.
This is what I like about Smith: We planned for noon, and he’s so reliable that I knew it was worth lighting the propane at 11:50. He’s always on time — a few minutes early, in fact. And that kind of dependability is easy to make plans around. All good fishing buddies have this same simple character trait — they’re on time. Because wasting another guy’s river hours gets old real fast.
I walked to the cooler and pulled out a one-pound Ziploc bag of marinated chicken. Then I spaced out sliced hunks of white meat, thin enough to cook in minutes. They sizzled, and I closed the rusted lid before turning to Smith. Then we spoke for the first time since dawn.
“Did you cover it all?” I asked.
“Pretty much,” Smith said, as he gestured beyond the hill with his beer hand. “I walked upstream, damn near a mile, this morning, before ever casting a line. Then I fished streamers like we talked about, all the way back to here.”
“Which action did they like best?” I asked.
“Slow slide, no doubt.” Smith smiled. “I got a lot of looks and chases, but . . . “
“That’s streamer fishing, “ I interjected. And I walked over to turn the chicken.
“Yeah,” Smith agreed. “But a bunch of them ate the fly too. I landed about a dozen fish. A few were high-teens.”
Kneeling by the grill, I glanced skeptically over my glasses at Smith.
“One was twenty-one inches, Dom,” my friend insisted.
As Smith opened his arms to show the length of a trout wider than his barrel chest, I smirked.
“Did you measure it?” I asked. “Because if you’re claiming anything in the Whiskey range . . .”
“Yes!” Smith cut me off and jammed a photo in my face from his iPhone. Then he scrolled through all the other big fish from his successful morning.
“Man,” I said. “No kidding, dude. Good stuff.”
Smith is no artist. He takes pictures to record an event, not for sharing with anyone but maybe me and another mutual friend or two. He’s pretty private about the large trout he catches, and he’s secretive about rivers too. That’s another reason I like him.
Five minutes and a few flips after the chicken hit the grill, I was ready for a piece of cheese and two slices of bread. What we call Jeff’s Chicken is an easy lunch. The way it brings people together and invites camaraderie with a few shared fishing stories is well worth the effort. Something about a riverside lunch, dinner or even an after-dark nightcap of warm food completes the trip. Cooking, eating and drinking within earshot of a rolling river makes average things special. And that’s a fact.
Smith dug into the cooler for a second beer. But I declined his offer for another when he held one toward me. The first one is good. The second one slows me down and takes away my will to fish hard. That’s my reality. Smith could probably finish every beverage in that cooler and still fish hard. That’s his reality. But he also carries about a hundred pounds more than me, and most of it is muscle.
One time, on our drive to the river, down narrow and rocky dirt roads, we rounded a bend to find a fallen tree blocking our way. Without hesitation, Smith opened the passenger door before I’d brought the truck to a stop. He walked ten yards forward, then bent down and moved the tree with a series of squats and lifts, sliding it to the side of the dirt road, just enough so we could pass. When he plopped back into the seat across from me, I looked over and stared at Smith.
“You look winded,” I trolled him. “I think you broke a sweat there.” I motioned to his forehead, below the brim of his dirty ball cap.
“Maybe,” Smith said. “Now let’s go fishing.”
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