Smith and I hopped the guardrail as traffic whizzed by at sixty miles an hour. Smith went first, with his rod tip trailing behind, and he sliced through the brush like a hunter. I followed with probably too much gear for a three hour trip and a puppy in my arms. River is our family’s eleven-week-old Australian Shepherd, and with a name like that, he has no choice but to become a great fishing dog. Time on the water will do it.
With rows of steel posts and asphalt behind me, I glanced back at the passing driver in a black Jeep. It had dried mud in the wheel wells. I heard the driver take his foot off the accelerator and saw his beat up ball cap peer over the steering wheel, as he followed our progress down the narrow dirt trail.
“I hate that,” I yelled over the road noise toward Smith.
“Yeah,” my friend turned and hollered back. “I saw him too. I always feel like we’re giving away secrets by parking up there.”
“Same,” I replied. I shifted River in my arms and ducked under the low limbs. “Especially with fly rods in our hands,” I finished.
I’ve been this way for decades. I’d rather keep my activities low key and inconspicuous. Some anglers plaster their vehicles with stickers. They mount a pair of rod vaults to the roof and order a custom license plate that reads IFLY4FSH.
That’s fine. It really is. But the longer you’re in this game, the more you realize that others are too. And I don’t know any dedicated angler who would rather fish shoulder to shoulder than have the river all to himself. So a little subtlety and discretion goes a long way.
Smith met the water’s edge and paused to release his streamer from the hook keeper. Before his boots touched the water he fired off two casts to the shallow bankside riffle, a dark edge that would surely produce if we had a little more water or a little less sun.
I’ve seen this region under low water before, but perhaps not for this long. Last week, the skies mercifully delivered nearly an inch of the wet stuff in about a day. Right before the rain hit, a friend who’s new to fly fishing and even newer to the the game of watching the river gauges, texted me:
“It’s about time! This rain will fill the rivers again. Can’t wait!”
I texted back:
But I knew better.
The creeks bumped up for a day and came right back down. I wasn’t surprised. It’ll take a solid week of rain to bring the aquifers back to their average base level. Because in this limestone spring region, it’s the base flow that matters. We’re blessed to have the consistency of flows. And the trout here feed under almost any river condition.
Smith was now halfway to the small middle island, casting a single streamer in rhythm. Strip, jerk, strip, jerk, cast, repeat. I knelt to put River’s four paws in the dry mud and yelled over to Smith:
“Are you fishing for reaction strikes?” I asked. Smith nodded.
I rigged up my own rod with a dry line and a Harvey leader paired with a small CDC caddis. I too was looking for reaction strikes. On a clear day with low water like this, there are two strategies: Either set up in the deepest, greenest stuff you can find, or cover a ton of water and hit every hidey hole and shady structure you can find. Either will produce if you stick with it and you’re careful not to scare the fish.
River waded tentatively toward Smith and the small island. He chose a shallow path that kept the water level below his belly, tiptoeing through the riffle and aiming for every dry rock he could find. My Aussie still wades like a summer vacationer with a farmer’s tan. He’ll get it. And his caution around water is a good thing for a river dog. My border collie, Dylan, was the same. It’s a shepherd thing. Far different from the lab that bounds through water playfully to no end, most shepherds wade when it’s part of the job. I taught Dylan to stay downstream of my casting or up on the bank. He crossed when I told him, but mostly stayed out of the river. Except for summertime, when he’d find a nice piece of water with medium flow and lay belly down to cool off, lapping up an occasional drink. I love fishing with a dog.
Smith’s odds of putting a trout in the net were low. With that streamer and this skinny water, he knew he wasn’t using the best setup. But he’s on the water often enough that fishing has become of an exploration of tactics and methods more than a fish-counting endeavor. I think every angler gets to that point eventually. We know what works. Now let’s find out what won’t work. When you’ve nothing left to prove to yourself, you have nothing to lose on a fishing trip.
With my dry line rigged and ready, I walked over to River. He’d found an instream log to rest against, and he looked a little unsure about braving the deeper and swifter currents beyond. I knelt beside him for a moment and scratched his wet chest. He reached up and licked my face with a soft whine signaling his request for a little help from a friend. A few months from now, it’ll be time to encourage him forward into the flow. But for now, I’m happy to pick up this sweet puppy and carry him the rest of the way.
I love fishing with a dog.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N