I was turning sixteen that summer, and the fishing had slowed — again. It always did. When the sun climbed higher and my freestone waters grew clearer with their summer flows, the minnows that I’d learned to fish so well just stopped catching trout. It happened every year, but I was old enough to be aware of the shift this time.
For months now, I’ve spent my limited opportunities on the water fishing progressively more remote locations. Turning down offers to float and cast over abundant wild brown trout on our major rivers, I thought I was looking for solitude. What I’ve found is a companion so powerful it cannot be passed off as simple memory. It’s my own history, and I’ve felt it so presently that it seems at times my flat shadow may take form and rise from the leafy ground to start a conversation.
I’ve returned to the waters where I’ve been, to revisit not the fish, but the places in time. These memories are eminently tangible out there, without the clutter of accumulated things in my home, the garage or the grocery store to get in the way. A trout stream, miles removed from hard roads, and sunken into a valley beyond the distance of average effort, offers a peaceful reward and a natural, blank slate for anyone willing to seek it. And when thirty years have passed between visits, the reflections I’ve found in these old, familiar waters are astonishing.
We fished a long morning, and eventually, I worked upstream toward my friend. From thirty yards, I could see the exhaustion in his face. Rich stood where a long riffle dumped into his favorite glassy pool. He breathed a long breath and gazed at the cloudy sky. Reeling in his line and breaking down his rod, he looked at me, and we smiled. We each knew we were at the end of something.
I was fishing a large parachute ant, moving quickly and covering a lot of water, as was my habit on Clover Run in those days. And in the right months it was a tactic that brought at least one chance to catch and release a really good fish. But on that morning I hadn't caught much of anything, so I threw a couple careless, hopeless casts into the glide ahead of me as I waded the last thirty yards toward my friend.
"Put a few casts to that bank," Rich said, and he gestured toward a shallow piece of side water next to the riffle where he was standing.
With not much cover on the bank for a trout, and with the sun poking through the clouds at midday, I didn't have any hope.