"Why did I wear white....what the hell was I thinking?" Jay scolded himself.
"Don't know...but you hadn't had coffee yet."
"True. But I've got to get over this, I'm not in the military anymore. There aren't going to be snipers at the top of the canyon...I'll live."
"Yeah…I hope we both will."
Because really, we didn't know what was going to happen that day. There could be snipers at the top of the canyon. There could be. Was it a probability? No. But a possibility? Of course. All things are possibilities. Especially, when in unknown territory – which we were.
The plan had been incubating for several weeks, and now it was time, it’s fall -- caddis are hatching. Both Jay and I had fished the river from the North and from the South before. But there was this section in the middle that we hadn't been able to get to. Yet. Because of The Narrows, as they'd come to be called. Impassible except for during low water flows (although, we didn’t know this before setting out, and hadn’t checked the flows that day. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. For, had we gone one day earlier, we wouldn’t have made it through. But then again, there’s always that possibility that we might have…).
Thus, there was this one stretch we'd never fished and which, we postulated, few others had. It was nearing Eden-like fantasies in my imagination by the time we started out that morning. It would be perfect. Untouched water, and trout that hadn’t seen a fly in perhaps, their whole life. They’d have little suspicion that what they were being fed were lies.
And so we schemed -- we’d drop off a car at one end, and drive to the other. Like a reverse float, except we’d be wading. So really it wasn’t like it at all, I guess. But that’s how I thought about it at the time.
What started as small rainbows – small enough to catch on a back-cast, and throw at your fishing partner’s head, all before you knew what was happening (and yes, this did happen) – turned into better and better fish around each bend. The pools got bigger and deeper, and their holdings grew along with them. Here, you could actually feel when you had a fish on. And soon, Jay pulled out a brown -- I knew he’d be there, he said.
I stepped out onto a small ledge on a large square boulder which probably broke off the canyon’s wall eons ago. Who knows for how long it has been hiding trout here in secret. I like thinking about these things – about rocks as protectors – and that not only do you have to outwit the fish, but you have to get past the rock too. Jay said that the pool looked juicy, “you just know there are big fish in there.” I did, but also hoped -- against a fisherman’s nature -- that the trout not be too big. I was standing on the definition of precarious.
But I threw out a few casts anyway – tired, and sloppy – and in what looked like slow motion, my dry fly sank. Huh, must need more floatant. Or, a snag on my dropper? Or maybe…..just the trout I’d been hoping against.
I don’t remember what I said that alerted Jay to my situation at hand. But from behind my shoulder I heard, “A double header!” He had a big fish on too, “Damn…now this is when a net would be nice.”
“Yeah, maybe we should start bringing one?” I questioned.
“Nah, this is more adventurous.”
He’s right, of course.
“Just…..um…hold on to him. I’ve got to get mine off first.” Jay yelled.
So I let my trout swim, tire, get angry, and fight -- and in his fighting, I saw him – it is in these situations that you really see people (and fish for that matter), as they truly are – in fighting, in anger, and in sorrow. A lot can be hid under a smile. It’s an amazing thing, the first time a trout breaks the surface. Before that, it’s like fighting someone in the dark. And sometimes when the light is turned on, you find that their fight was larger than their size. But in this instance, that wasn’t the case. This trout matched his fight.
How exactly I swung around, I don’t remember. But I managed to.
“Don’t let him go down those rapids, Erin! You’ll lose him…..”
Yet even had I lost, fighting him would have been enough. In fact, that might have been a more fitting end. But I didn’t let him go down the rapids. I won. And by luck, my 6x tippet didn’t break.
“Well played, Erin….well played.”
My hands were still shaking. “Now you try a cast in that pool.”
So Jay climbed onto that same precarious ledge, made a cast, and I saw the familiar bend in the rod.
Now autumn light was urging us to pick up speed towards home – urging, that is, once we noticed her; like geese, finally heeding migration, and even when they don’t want to leave just yet, they must. Plus, we didn’t know how far we had to go yet. Foolishly, even though I know that the distance between two points on a map can be deceiving and is seldom ever short, I hadn’t checked the mileage. It looked walkable, and that was good enough. At least, that morning it had been good enough. Now, I wished I knew if it really was walkable.
I must have appeared worried because Jay looked back over his shoulder and winked. “Remember, we’re on an adventure.” I smiled. That’s right. We were. Whenever we go out together, for some reason we never go fishing -- we go adventuring. “Want to go adventuring tomorrow?” I know he means fishing, and my answer is always yes. It’s that mindset of come what may, you keep on keepin’ on. Even, through The Narrows. When you’re in doubt, Jay tells me, the best thing to do more often than not, is charge ahead. When your mind tells you that you can’t make it up that boulder or across that river; that your grip won’t hold, or that all of your 120 lbs. isn’t any match for the current --- really, you can do it. Your mind lies, showing you something that is false. Just like a fisherman to a fish. So I kept on, and took Jay’s offered hand… just in case I couldn’t, in fact, do it. I didn't entirely believe his optimism, but I trusted him. These can be two completely different things, believing and trusting.
And as the sun was setting, silhouetting pines against a grey-blue-sea sky, we finally got back to the car dropped off that morning. A full circle. We’d made it, white t-shirt and all. There were no snipers, or men with shotguns protecting their makeshift panning operation -- but there was evidence of such.
The car ride was silent. My mother always says that this is evidence of a good day -- when everyone is either too tired, or too deep in thought to talk. We got home after nightfall with legs full of a day's bruises. And here I’ll add that’s evidence of a good day too, leg-fulls of bruises.
“Had to work hard for those fish today…had to work for them.” Jay said.
“Yep…and it was an adventure…it always is…”