My Special River
Every angler has their favorite piece of water where they can find solace in the familiar runs and pools that give the stream character. The knowledge gained after spending years studying the current seams, nuanced holding water, and the resident trout that volley between cooperative and stubborn allows the angler to fully immerse themselves into the river and their surroundings. This short story was written by Mike Watts of Rivers and Feathers. His website hosts many authors and fly fishing enthusiasts who share their experiences on the water to both teach and entertain. Be sure to check out more of Mike's Fly Fishing Adventures across the United States.
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
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 visitor in this outdoor theater.
There is truly more to fishing than the fish itself.