Spring bleeds into summer, sometimes impatiently as the days continue to lengthen. Along with the heat and humidity, we temporarily lose the solitude the river provides this time of year and must share it with others. Kayakers, innertubes, and swimmers have their place on the river, too.
Usually, by early evening, the river gets some needed respite from the summer traffic and offers a chance for me to squeeze in my own time there. Even the local wildlife understands the solace that the approaching sunset provides. On this particular evening, a brief thunderstorm has scattered the visitors and I’m alone, except for the creatures that call this place home.
On every river, there is that special place where the river kindly lends us a few fish on every outing. Maybe because we know it intimately, or it’s just plain luck. Never abuse the rivers’ generosity but nurture this special place with reverence. Out of respect, I quietly slip through the woods, no real path here, just local knowledge, and ease down the riverbank to my secret access point.
I stand on the riverbank listening and observing. It’s been a year since I have been back to my favorite spot. I’ve thought of it often but couldn’t make the journey. As I near the river, I can hear the water cascading over rocks and emptying into plunge pools; scenes I’ve re-lived on many occasions.
There is something special in the rivers’ solitude at dusk. Standing along the river edge in knee-deep, cold flowing water, my sense of awareness begins to dominate. I look for little things that repetition and experience have taught me. I had decided to wet wade instead of donning waders, hoping to put me in closer touch with the river I love. I have been here before, hundreds of times over the years. This place is just a fishing magnet that keeps pulling me back.
My resting rock never moves. Sticking just high enough from the water, I can stand and lean back against it to help remain motionless but still roll cast. Despite the monsoons, floods, and heavy rains that have changed the river bottom creating new pools and riffles, this rock remains steadfast. It’s hard to ponder this river section without thinking about this rock. I occasionally look over my shoulder to make sure a creature with no legs isn’t trying to share my rock space, or is it sharing its’ space with me?
Looking up between the treetops I notice stoneflies flittering against the gray sky. A good indication of water quality. The shrill call from a startled pair of wood ducks heading to roost breaks the moment. I must have spooked them as they made the right turn to follow the river path from above and saw me standing here.
Caddisflies, with their tent-shaped wings, skitter against the foam line along a river seam of polished rocks, leaving a wake as they dry their wings before flight. It’s a concert dance, especially choreographed for me. I never get tired or bored watching a river reveal its community. And not a single fish is feeding on them.
I’m also happy to see my favorite little yellow mayfly. During this time of year, they have never disappointed, emerging from their nymphal shucks on the river bottom, swimming to the surface to display their soft yellow outfits.
Trout like to greet them also. But the mayflies’ abundance has always outweighed the meals they provide the fish. With darkness approaching I decide to fish only dry flies on the surface. With the fading light also goes my fading eyesight. After I tie on a fly, I test the knot for strength. Later, the fading light will prevent me from threading another hook eye should I break off or get tangled.
A deep pool against the far bank was always the gathering point of several nice runs. The river seemed to channel itself into this pool and it was there my success reigned during years gone by. My rock was the perfect observation point. Despite the forces of nature, my little section of the river withstood the beating.
A small splash fades quickly in the head of the run and, had I not been looking in that direction, I would have probably missed it. A good sign of things to come. Another rise below the first one.
An eruption in the pool where the current begins to slow. A dainty little mayfly survives and flutters up and off. And so it begins.
I don’t cast yet as I am still absorbing the river in its majestic entirety. I just continue to watch and make memories. Several more fish rise but nothing like the earlier explosion. As the insect hatch continues with more frequency, wily trout begin looking up and enjoying the meal the river provides.
I roll cast across, throw an upriver mend and my fly floats delicately among the naturals. A splash and I lift the rod tip up and a nice, wild brown dives and thrashes among the connecting currents. The old cane rod feels perfect in hand. Its sensitivity vibrates the rod tip halfway down as the fish turns, twists, and pulls against the current. The English-made Hardy Princess reel drag clicks loudly a few notes and I succumb to this nostalgic moment. The beautiful brown is brought to hand and gently released.
It’s almost dark now and I decide to lean back again on “my rock,” inhale and hold my breath, hoping to stop time for a few brief moments. It doesn’t work but I have this all pictured in my mind to file and bring up another day.
At dark, wading down the river is tricky, so I stay close to the edge. It’s a hundred yards to the fallen hemlock facing downriver underneath an old stump, which props the tree up just high enough to allow me to crawl under. I find my path and it’s easy to follow.
The flashlight should probably be turned on as I meander back to the truck but then again, it would take away from the light show. Like a magic wand waving brilliant yellow sparkles, thousands of fireflies illuminate the woods showing me the way. It’s a wonderful ending to a great date with the river. I consider myself lucky to have been a participant in this outdoor theater.
There is truly more to fishing than the fish itself.