I’m not a tourist. I’m not a passenger or a passerby to these waters. On this river, I’m more than local and more than occasional. I’m here so often that the water stays with me.
My wading boots haven’t dried out for five months, and they get one day off a week, at most. Sometimes none. The rubber mid-soles are spongy now. I keep a usage tally for boots and waders, and it’s been one-hundred-and-seven days on the water for these wading boots. A while back, the welded support seams began to surrender to osmosis. I like wearing down good gear.
As a full time guide, the rivers are my home. Some call it an office, but it’s more personal than that for me. I’m part of these rivers. I limit my guided trips to one hundred days each year, and I do them in two seasons: mid March into July and late September to Christmas. So during guide season, I’m on the water every weekday. And on the weekends, I get up and go fishing by myself or with one of my sons.
I thrive on the routine. I’m in the habit of fishing, and skipping a day seems odd. Like missing the morning coffee, a day without water around my legs feels deficient. It’s empty. Going too long without the wash of whitewater feels exhausting. Busy voices and thoughts clutter and collect in my head. I need the rush of a river to clean the slate. I long for the reset, for the rest once again.
To know a river deeply is a special privilege that most never experience. The lucky few who find time combined with the motivation to get out there pursue a boundless knowledge of their waters. The extra creek-time gives rise to both fresh puzzles and an innate awareness of the complex systems that tie together a river and its surroundings.
We know where the water flows deepest because we’ve seen it wind, bend and change course, season after season. We understand the bare-banked undercut because we remember the tree that built it. Now fallen and washed a half-mile downstream, the massive sycamore trunk dams the right channel of an island, enough to waterlog the interior, until it’s poised to give up a chunk of land upon the next major flood. It’ll happen.
We’ve seen the river suffer through droughts, and we’ve walked the marshy floodplains after weeks of unrelenting rains, locating trout around the swirls of wet roots meant to be dry.
We watch the colors change from stark browns and whites of winter staring across large expanses of black water into the wooded bank — far enough until grey limbs form a wall. That wide perimeter narrows in the spring, as the leaves come on. And then, at mid-summer, the grass and streamside vegetation are so tall that the margins tighten. The river spaces are private.
I flushed a fawn yesterday. It was in the grass again, bedded near the same log where it slept on a foggy morning earlier in the week. I forgot, or I would have gone around. The bald eagle expects me now, and it accepts my presence, hunting instead of watching my every move. I’ve seen it feed twice. Even the mink and herons seem to linger a while, perhaps considering my presence a part of the environment. And that’s how I feel — not like an intruder or a visitor, but regular enough to blend in, with my own fixed place in this natural, watery world.
For those who fish daily, the routine resonates. We are part of the pattern, not mere observers of the design.
We bond with the river. And the lifeblood exists after we walk away. We sense this. Ever-present in mind, the water is part of our territory. Like a wolf, pacing a perimeter and returning to all parts of its range, this is the habit of a daily angler.
We have time to learn and grow, to breathe deep and sigh with satisfaction. We’ve the time to stand tall, to rise from the constant crouch and the intensity of a fisherman, to take in the surroundings, not once in awhile, but regularly. It’s the ferns, the sun and the rain, the trout in the water and the birds on the wind. It’s everything.
We are no longer visitors. We’re part of the river.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N