Austin graduated from Penn State a few days before our trip last week, and he’s moving to North Carolina next week. And while many farewells are accompanied by a sincere “I’ll be back soon,” neither of us were willing to tell each other that lie. Sure, life may bring Austin back sooner than later, or ten years from now I may be talking about a good friend whom I miss and haven’t seen for a decade. It’s hard to predict.
I like that. A good life is unpredictable. If you have enough lines in the water, something unexpected is bound to happen. We might label those events good or bad, but I for one am happy for the variety. I’m glad this life is full of surprises.
Some people hike the Appalachian trail. Others take a year after school to travel across Canada or maybe backpack through Europe, if you have that kind of money. Jeff just wanted to fish the hell out of Central Pennsylvania and be a trout bum for once. So that’s what we did.
At the time, my own lifestyle was pretty flexible. I’d already spent five or six years exploring Central and North-Central Pennsylvania during the day and playing music in clubs and bars at night. Gas was cheap then, and it was nothing for me to wake at dawn and travel north for a hundred miles.
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.
But we fish together to share our experiences, to learn from one another, to catch up with old friends and make new ones. We choose to fish together because the bonds formed on a river are like none other, and because flowing water and shared moments can heal friendships and mend grievances.