I should have known better– given the first sign of wetness on the legs after fishing in Virginia, I should have read the writing on the porous wall. The end had come for my one-year-old Field & Stream waders. And yet, on a cold day of a recent weekend, I saw a good-looking landlocked salmon/brown trout river (full-flowing and slightly turbid) and waded right in. The air temp was 36 degrees Fahrenheit, and the water filling my wader legs felt only slightly warmer. When I quit fishing two hours later, I looked at a frozen foot and noted its resemblance to a blood-drawn turnip.
Good God, I thought, is it mine?
For two hours of casting, I felt like a sinking canoe, with perforated waist-highs letting in cold water. I was only somewhat disappointed, though, since the year-old waders had served me pretty well. I know, it doesn’t sound as though they lasted long enough, but I got at least a hundred rugged outings out of them, and even if I had paid double their cost for a pair of deluxe Simms, I doubt I could have done much better. I’m pretty rough on my equipment.
I should have seen more fish than I did, considering the recent flush of river water, but I didn’t find them till about the time I nearly turned to ice, and maybe I didn’t see them right away because of the water’s sudden depth and darkness.
Is that my foot down there, or is it a spawning brown?
A heavy salmon took off downstream, turned broadside in the rapids and broke away. It was probably foul-hooked and, to console myself, I figured it would have shook itself free, regardless. I saw a fin wave goodbye as the body sank from sight.
The fin’s wave was like a handkerchief dancing from the window of a departing train. See ya later, buddy. Come back when your feet are thawed, when you’re sick and tired of living where each passing day is like Reality Television…
I couldn’t believe I was listening to a fish that wasn’t there.
“Why don’t you write about fish that you’ve caught?” it asked. “Something your readers can relate to, something like the bear tracks, maybe, the fresh tracks you just found along the edges of your yard… ”
“Hold on,” I said to the long-gone salmon. “You can’t be this mean-spirited. I was only fishing. You’re part of the karmic-record, and I’ll write about you if I want, and about those bear tracks in the snow, as well!”
I thanked the salmon for calling my waders “roadkill.” I thanked it for suggesting that I order a new pair from Cabela’s (I did!). I like supporting local fly shops, but when you live two hours from the closest shop and you need to feed your habit regularly, you might do as I did, and place an online order.
Before I know it, I’ll be back fishing in the cold December snow, complaining about my foolishness like a bear caught wandering around the premises in the chill of a dying year, thankful just to be here, like a Beatles song regenerating in my ears, a paraphrased, “Everywhere it’s Christmas/ at the end of every year.”
And now (ahem!) my annual pitch for… literature, or shall we say…. books of rivertop nature? Sure. It would warm these winter bones if one of my lonesome titles (I have plenty here) got channeled to a friendly fireside other than my own. If you haven’t yet considered it, or checked one out, I know that the Great Spirit of Buying and Giving would be grateful for your help in keeping a cottage industry alive!
Here’s an excerpt from River’s Edge:
“…A greenhorn angler out to educate himself at Oak Orchard will discover the ultimate classroom. Like a Daniel in a lion’s den of waters, he’ll be in for sink-or-swim casting, chuck-the-line-or-be-chucked-at fishing. The experience can be brutal or exciting or both, and a far cry from classic salmon fishing in the Northwest or in North Atlantic tributaries. But the fishery does provide the average angler an excellent chance to hook up with the specimen of a lifetime…”
And since I began this post with an anecdote about leaky waders and sarcastic landlocked salmon, here’s a paragraph from Beautiful Like a Mayfly:
“… So, again the world was on a hell-bound train and I was going fishing. I’d been catching Pacific salmon of the Great Lakes region every autumn for years, but a two-year quest for Finger Lake landlockeds hadn’t been fulfilled. If I could catch one landlocked salmon on a fly, the broken world would get repaired– or so I fantasized…”