A Day On The Water
The hum of the tires is noticeable as we drive in silence, not yet coming to agreement on the music selection. I’m with my 19-year-old son, home for the summer from school in Bozeman. He’s feeling a little country. I’m feeling a little rock and roll.
We’re on our way to pick up his college roommate, another Michigander drawn west. We finally settle on what could best be described as Southern Rock, each taking solace in a perceived victory.
Today will be my first chance to fish or spend any real time with him at all since coming home. He’s been busy. Working 12-hour days with bills to pay. But today is our time. I’m excited. We’ve loaded up the raft and the cooler and cleared the schedule.
Today is about fishing and laughing and taking our time and soaking it up.
Collin is ready when we pull in and we quickly get back on the road. I’m quiet, listening to them share their college stories. These two have grown close over this year in school and fish together any time they have a break in classes – although I secretly suspect a few classes have been sacrificed in the name of trout. I keep my thoughts to myself and let them carry on.
The bank to the river is steep and we take a look. It’s still cool and the sun is going in and out of the clouds creating a dispersed light that provides a familiar comfort. Small sippers are dotting the surface and there are a decent number of Caddis bouncing along the water in a ritual as old as time. Satisfied, we carry the raft down to the river and finish loading the gear.
I’m first shift on the oars and I hold us in the heavy water the best I can while the boys, eager for first fish, cast to the small risers. No dice, but we have miles of water ahead. The oars find their rhythm as we meld with the current, picking out fish as we go. There are a few other boats up on this stretch so we quickly fish our way through, eager to find clean water.
We settle on a long run we like but the trout seem to have shut off for the moment. The boys switch to streamers and move a few so we drop the anchor and work the hole. I grab my thermos and listen to the water as it moves past the boat. The sun is starting to warm. I can hear the line overhead as they make their casts – each trying to outdo the other in a silent but acknowledged competition among friends that fish together.
Warmed by the sun and the coffee, I peel off a layer, weigh anchor and continue to row, pulling with intention across the big water to put us on fish. We have the river to ourselves, save for one other drift boat with a solo passenger. He doesn’t seem to be fishing, though it’s clear by his set up he does frequently. He watches the water and us, then moves downriver to the next run. We fish and move down as he slides to the inside.
He gives a quick wave and I nod back. There’s something on his mind; he rows close. “White with a little brown has been hot”, he tosses a couple into our raft and quietly floats on down.
We decide to make a switch and Collin takes over in the middle seat while I move to the front. I pull out the eight weight, rig up with twelve-pound mono and tie on one of the new streamers. I test it in the water and like the movement.
We work down to a new run with a fast inside seam and a little back eddy that looks fishy. It’s on the right side so the casting isn’t as easy but I manage one into the dark water and give a little twitch. Before I can even start to strip there’s a flash and my line goes tight. I know immediately that this is a good fish. Everything else in the boat stops.
He’s running now, but I can tell he’s hooked well. There’s a nervous energy. I try to muscle him toward the boat, but he’s not ready, peeling off more line as he runs and parks in a heavy current. My son is anxious, “let him run”. But I’m back on the reel as Collin grabs the net. I work him closer but he’s running again. I think he’s starting to tire. I finally work him close enough for the scoop. He’s strong to the end, but the line holds.
The net hangs heavily into the water alongside the boat. I’m shaking but play off the excitement, my voice betraying me a little. I hold him up and the fishermen guesses begin, “he’s at least twenty, maybe twenty-two”. We celebrate and snap a few quick pictures before sending him back. He swims off slowly, in that sullen way bigger fish often do. I need a minute.
I’m back on the sticks and the boys continue to fish as we each make those expected comments about quality over quantity. The sun is going down now and more and more bugs are in the air. We take our time, waiting, we say, on a spinner fall that never materializes but knowing that more than anything we just aren’t ready for the day to end.
I quietly take in the moment; there’s a lightness to it, but the undertones are weighty. The river. My son. The fish. The kindness of a stranger. The silence, other than the steady flow of the water moving ever forward just like our short time together. The coolness is now returning to the air and I shiver a little as I slowly row to our take out.