Thirty minutes following the morning alarm, an hour-and-fifteen on the winding roads, ten under the hatch of the 4-Runner, and twenty more minutes hiking through a dawn drizzle that taps on the hood of your raincoat, the atmosphere feels soft here — and still. It’s cold for a fall morning. As you climb the hill through a stand of oaks, headed for the far valley, puffs of warm air escape your lungs and billow forward. You outpace your own breath. Even as progress slows with the steepening hill ahead, your breath trails behind. And you push forward through the dissipating fog of your own carbon dioxide.
“Keep walking, keep moving up the hill. Make it there before the sun crests,” you whisper to yourself. There’s no point in getting up at 4:30 if you can’t get in an hour of fishing before sunlight changes the game. At the top of the mountain, you pause, seemingly for the first time since the alarm clock — not to catch your breath but as a reminder that all of this is not a race. It’s an adventure. And a good wanderer stops to look around once in a while.
The ferns are dying. They are half brown and withered. Here on the rocky ridge, the exposed limestone grows moss — green still, but faded from the summer’s peak saturation. Oaks and maples have dropped their colors on the forest floor to mingle with moss and ferns. It happens suddenly each season, when greens are no longer the vivid, winning colors to the eye. Through its process of death, autumn brings a new life to the forest. You think about all of this, standing there still, and now surrounded by the cloud of your own breath. You lower your hood when you notice that the rain has stopped. Trapped steam escapes and radiates skyward, and you look up into the half light.
In this crisp morning there is a stillness. It’s why you walked the extra mile. No one else will venture to this place today. You’d bet on it. And at the bottom of the far valley, the wild trout are waking up too, stirred again into a daylight rhythm. You imagine them, holding in a foot-wide seam against a broken tree, lined up nose to tail and feeding on drifting nymphs that have yet to settle back to the riverbed. Like you, the trout are opportunistic and efficient. They know the habits of a river by instinct and experience. You know the water through intuition, through long river hours and knowledge grown from an obsession, because the trout take you to places like this over and over, into early mornings and directly into moments like this one.
Climbing onto the mossy limestone, and now perched atop the narrow ridge, you peer down through a growing light toward your destination. Enough leaves have fallen to reveal the valley. And through the glowing grays of daybreak you can just barely make out the broken tree. It’s still there, as it has been for ten years and more. It was there the first time you walked this course a decade earlier. And it will remain, until a great flood finally lifts the sodden wood and floats it downstream.
Today, you will catch wild trout in the seam next to the tree. You’re as sure of it as anything. And this will be another day to remember, another day and another journey that motivates and urges you on for the next trip, for the next alarm, the next walk in.
At the top of the ridge, standing on the limestone, you absorb one last panoramic view through the forest and across the valley. You listen to the silence again, because the sound of roaring water in the narrow valley is unrelenting once you are there. Because this moment, still twenty minutes from your first cast, is the one you will carry forever, the one that will never fade. This perspective from above is a preface, a look forward upon the chapters to follow. This is the moment that rushes in and shakes you to an awakening — a pure flash of presence. No matter how many trout come to hand, no matter the size or the stats of the fishing at the end of the day, it’s these seconds, alone among the wild woods, that make the deepest imprint.
Then, climbing down from the limestone ridge, you descend swiftly and sink into the far valley.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N