I thought I would be more insightful. That maybe I would find a pause, or a moment that would send me to a space of deep reflection… But every good angler knows you never leave the river with what you expected to find there, nor do you leave the river feeling the same as when you arrived.
I expect to catch fish, but I simultaneously plan all week leading up to a fishing trip that it will be the time for me to really hash out my life problems and plans. It’s almost as if I have left part of me out there and every time I make my way back to the river, I look for her and those memories we have had together. Like Peter Pan searching for his shadow, I’m searching for a certain part of myself I seem to only find out there. I was hoping when I found her this time she would maybe tell me how to ‘do adult better’ or give me some ideas about the bigger life-changing decisions I am making. But what I find every time, is that I do meet with her and together we get absolutely nothing accomplished in my mind. She’s always right though, it’s the best thing in the world for my struggling problem-solving mind: to just be playful and focus on stalking fish. I transition into a child-like state of being with not an inch of depth nor hint of introspection anywhere in my mind. All of that to just simply say:
Part 1: The river is my playground…
This was going to be my last couple of days fishing on the Owyhee river in Oregon with my great friend, Meagan (of whom I am leaving to move to North Idaho…;(). So, like any child would, I shove my way past an old man in Safeway and cut off a lady in line in order to get in the car and headed out to the river. I was spastically racing through the store, because I had dropped the kids off and knew the evening hatch was going to be on…. no time for courtesy or pleasantry.
We get to the river and instead of setting up our tent like any adult would, I make up some excuse that it’s too hot and we high step it to the river. We take the water’s temp and once Meagan has caught her first brown trout, we think it’s a funny idea to take its temperature too. We let it go quickly after it’s check up and make concrete observations based on scientific knowledge that the water is indeed cool enough and the fish are not sick (hehe, oh come on you hard-core people, we did practice catch and release).
We were using tiny trico flies the rest of the evening and I set the hook on a huge brown trout on an emerger, but then lost it when it was about three feet from my net and darted out again unexpectedly. I yelled down the river like a child ‘ahhhh why did you do that’!!!! And maybe a couple other words that weren’t so childish under my breath. Terrible. Ah, we’ll call it a SDL (short distance release) but it still made me sick. After you lose a fish, there is definately no time for deep thoughts, its all about what you should switch to, what kind of tippet you should use and watching the water like a hawk.
The child-state continued into the evening as we did our share of laughing. We walked through an ant’s nest that caused us to do a bit of dancing, then Meagan thought the black birds swooping the river in the evening were just cute birds and when I informed her that they were bats she did her share of yelling at them. I heard, “what should I do, they are after me!” And I was yelling, “They use echo location” and she would yell, “So what does that mean?” and I yelled, “I have no idea!” And she would yell things like, ‘are they rabid’ and I would yell, ‘I dont know that either’. Before we left, I busted out this strange fly that emulated an animal swimming on the top water…a brown trout attacked it but did not get hooked. I wanted to try a mouse pattern, but the bats were coming in thick so we decided to head back to base camp before a rabid bat was stuck in our hair or Meagan woke up the entire river with her yelling.
We couldn’t find the tent pole in her car so we had to go with the tiny (she calls it big) tent. We were afraid to pee in the bushes because of the ant-infested trees we experienced, so we decided to use the dirt road as a spot and that is where Meagan stepped into a black beetle nest as her footprint unleashed a small colony. We get back to the tent after picking some tricos out of our drinks, hearing something rather large splashing through the river in the dark, and then realize that it is so hot, we can barely even breath in the HUGE tent. We weighed the pros and cons of finding our way through the ant village to the sea-weeded water and decide to cool off is our only chance at rest. Meagan turns into a wild animal and dunks her head into the water while chanting something like, ‘I don’t even care, I’m so hot’. I feel like a teenager that has snuck out of my parent’s house, I’m out here in my bra in the river at night, fish are jumping around and I forget that I am an adult for a bit. Meagan’s dog, Zu, follows us wherever we go, giving us that look of ‘what are you guys doing now, this is a bad idea’. I’m glad we have one parent with us.
The cool water helped….the tent was cozy…the dog was laying right on my leg. Meagan told me a story about how people die from flash floods in the desert and just as she was excited to find out those cute bird were bats, I was really thankful for learning about flash floods. I prayed for my family in my mind and my eyes were drooping. Then I head something… ‘Is that a car? Is that a flash flood…Its 1am.’ We wait…then it hits us, a dusty wind shoves the tent down and then lets up briefly. We wait for about a minute and it happens again, only this time the really giant tent is thrown over our tent so we are both pushing the tent out. It came in waves, and with every gust, I could hold my flashlight up to see dust filing in the tent…. We giggled at first, how crazy a dust storm hitting us in the middle of the night. Every few gusts we would say, ‘should we just drive home, we will never sleep like this’. ‘what do you think’, IDK ‘what do you think’. ‘Should we go?’ ‘IDK should we go’. Finally we made the grown up decision, after remembering that we are getting old and sleep is important for a fun fish day at our age (34 yrs). We packed up camp, broke down the fly rods, shoved everything in the car and did the long one hour drive to my home with my wet wading socks on the wind shield wipers and Zu nervously eating snacks she found on the floor the whole way home…. To bed around 4 am, the kids got up at 7…. I knew I wasn’t ready to ‘do adult’ yet so after we slept for a while longer, we snuck back to car, picked up some more flies, an iced late, and made the long drive back to the river…. to do some more play-time before my world got crazy with packing/moving time…
Part 2: One Last Cast
The day was much more of the same simple minded thoughts while switching flies over 100 times to get the exact one…along with a few very awkward moments. I was trying to find my friend Rhonda and scared the crap out of lady resting in her car as I pretty much got in her car all loud and jovial saying ‘hey where is Rhonda?’ …woops. Then my second cast into the day, I foul hooked a big 20 inch brown trout on the back (what happens when you have a dropper and don’t de-barb your hooks because you are in a hurry and selfish) so had to walk it down stream about 20 yards and have a fellow angler named steve net it for me….right in that moment the brown darted between my legs and steve and I ended up wound up while my friend Rhonda caught my net that was bobbing downstream. I held on to Steve to keep him from going in the water and he netted my big brown finally. It was a circus show for sure and I so wish someone had video taped that moment. He kindly measured the trout and we chatted for a bit about foul hooked fish and people we knew.
We went downstream with another friend, Sonja, and was able to help her net her first fish on the fly ever. I love seeing people catch their first fish on the fly. Meagan and I separated from the group to find some shaded water. She turned on Ludacris and we thought it would be funny to drive by the serious fishermen real slow and yell things like, ‘nice cast’, but we only had one victim and he looked like it would ruin his day so we just laughed at the lyrics and the ironic moment of 2 moms listening to rap music in the desert. The other gals met up with us and fished for a bit, but they were on their way home so we got this awesome river selfie, like teenagers:
Meagan and I ended up on a ripe stretch of water near sun down. We only had one fly that seemed to be the ticket and only one left. I caught a few nice ones and one of my favorite catches ever then clipped it off and gave the mangled fly for her to try….so beautiful.
And since it was one of my last Owyhee Browns for a while, I gave it a real smooch on the trout lips (after I called Meagan down stream to come look at my fish like a kid yelling ‘mom, look!‘)
We were both so tired, but the fish were jumping. I said, ‘Should we go, Im ready whenever you are.’ She said, ‘ya lets go’. I kept saying, ‘one more cast’ or, ‘ill cast my way to the car’…but then after about an hour of that we finally decided to call it. We took our flies off and reeled in our line to make it half way to the car when I found another golden fly in my shirt pocket…and decided we should probably give it a few more casts…. I felt like ‘just five more minutes mom’… I looked over at Zu and she was staring at me like, ok you guys are being ridiculous. So like curious kid, I tied on a leggy frog pattern that skidded its way across the water. My third cast out, I was raking that thing in when it felt like the lochness monster chomped down on it hard…like almost wet my pants scary attack mode…it took me about five minutes to get that thing in, which after about two min I realized it was either a giant or it was fowl hooked. I had de-barbed the hook to my best efforts before i used it, but it still managed to stick. I took it out and the decent size brown swam off. I was done. My arm was so tired and my pride from 2 foul hooked fish in one day was bruised.
Walking away from that river sort of felt like leaving a really good friend, but I was even more troubled when I had to leave the human friend too. I’m not sure how these seasons of life come and go, I just know that I have to roll with it and hope the playful river shadow comes with me and helps me see life’s changes as an adventure and an opportunity to learn. I sure hope I can find more river-sisters to play with me too, cause I’m really going to miss this bat charmer friend of mine. 🙂
“Do adult” comes from a friend, Ezeikiel Willard, whom is always trying to find a way to do less adult and do more river. For the record, I think he is on to something huge.
Also, check out the art project I did with all of the seaweed that was stuck to my boots…Mom, look, mom, look, mom, look…..