There’s a river up there he loved to fish so much it could have had his name on it. It doesn’t, but it should. He knew every run, every riffle, every rock where the fish held. And he had named some of the water. One particular stretch he named, ‘Good Times’ – a place he liked to fish only in the afternoon. Going downstream in the morning, he’d pass by this favorite spot only to come back in the afternoon around 3:30, or 4:00, depending on the progress of the season. He liked that time then, when the sun had just started to touch the ridge and change the light, the water growing dark, and the slanting rays glowing in the ‘quakies’ on the far side.
I fish it that way, too, in the late afternoons, using his favorite pattern, a Silver Hilton.
Wading out to the edge of the shadows I like to throw a long cast across the current into a watery seam caused by a boulder just below the surface. I’ll flip an upstream mend in the line to let the fly sink and drift closer to the bottom. More often than not, there’s a big swirl in the water with a flash of silver and a strong pull bending my flyrod, followed by the song of running line peeling off the reel.
At the tail out the river breaks over a stoney ledge to descend into a series rough water riffles. Knowing this, as I’m fighting to hold the strong, red-sided trout, and I have to apply enough drag to stop the steelhead and turn it at the bottom of the hole. And I must play it skillfully, tiring the fish but not exhausting it until, finally, I can net the ‘steelie’ and remove the fly from its jaw to release my prize back into the water. ‘Good Times’ has never failed to reward me.
Even on those days when there are no fish, I might see a brown bear fishing on the opposite bank, its fur capturing the golden sunlight. Or watch a moose, nose deep in the shallows, browsing for watercress. And in those moments, I remember what my old fishing partner would say:
‘Take what the river gives you.’
Backing out of the water and lumbering up the bank, I always pause at the top of the trail to stand next to the white birch with the initials and date carved into its trunk, and after a few moments, I’ll snip the Silver Hilton off the tippet and stick it into bark next to the others I’ve put there for the last five years.
So many seasons here. The memories never fail to bring a smile. Good times. Finally, with a nod to the river, I begin the long hike through the forest in the falling light, upstream and back to camp.
For Gary Eblen, and Bunkie.