Somewhere along the line, our luck ran out. Our string of success, of willing trout, good size and numbers, simply ended. The weather turned foul and filled the creeks with mud. With runoff from spring fields, those soils, loose and uprooted, gave up enough earth to send streams of color — brown lines from ditches that merged and mixed with the main stem — until far enough downstream the next ditch already matched the river’s flow.
Dad and I were just a few days into our annual spring camping trip. Back then — all those years ago — we stayed for a week. Dad took vacation. And before my kids were born, a less complicated life permitted these extended stays. We camped in the same spot, high atop a mountain, year after year. Then, early each morning, we’d drive down the east side or the west. Either way, both rocky roads met the same meandering river, tucked away into state forest land as it wound and barreled downstream around multiple U-turns along its course.
With two days of hard rain, the fish turned off. Being springtime on a popular river, there were enough anglers out there in the beginning. At first, short conversations with fly fishers remained positive, hopeful even, that the added flow would stir the already feeding trout into a frenzy, maybe making a good thing even better. That didn’t happen. And after two days, with the river now bank-full, the out-of-state plates went home, or they stayed at camp.
With the river at its peak, Dad and I spent a drizzly day fishing together, with no one in sight at any hour, early or late. Alone against the odds, we landed the occasional fish accidentally. Yes, we targeted the backwaters. Sure, we fished deer hair sculpins, worm patterns and chartreuse things. But such are the measures suggested by those who peddle wishful thinking more than experience. Nothing was consistent in those roiling waters.
Regardless, Dad and I fished. And we hoped.
We were waiting on luck.
We fished the tribs the day before Dad had to leave, and that was great exploration — good to be back to some favorite haunts and watch the Border Collie run and hurdle gracefully at full speed through the woods of fallen timber. His athletic form leaped and bounded across, up and over broken hemlocks. He cut through tangles of branches with ease, eyes forward, never a misstep, as though he had radar or some sixth sense. The way that dog ran through the woods was a marvel. And I think we chose the far valley as much for his pleasure than for our own fishing — which was slow.
We reminisced about a trip from decades ago, when once we built a road of dead tree branches to help lend the truck enough traction to pull the camper from the mud and slop, because days of rain showers had done it again. Yes, many of my trips with Dad have stories about rain. But these were spring trips after all. And early on, we camped near the water, until we found our paradise spot on top of a mountain.
Dad and I broke camp on a sunny morning — the kind that burned dew from the ferns, turning it into a quick, steamy fog before being absorbed into air dry enough to provide a new spirit to open hearts.
“Good weather for packing up camp,” Dad said.
“Even better for fishing receding water in the braids above the cabin,” I told him.
And that’s what I did.
I followed Dad and the camper off the mountain and flashed my headlights with a goodbye. Then I turned right and traveled the winding road beside the tributary until it led to the big river and a dead-end gravel lot. I met another angler there who was returning with his hopes dashed, just as the others from days ago.
“They wouldn’t bite,” he said, “no matter what I threw at them.”
We spoke as I geared up, and my dog nosed the man’s waders. The man patted Dylan on the head before we walked off, and he wished us good luck.
“I’m waiting on it,” I replied with a wave.
Fish hard, friends.
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