One Last Fishing Trip

By: Steve Brandle

michigan stream fishingHer comment snapped me like a willow branch to the cheek. (I was rumbling about my lack of time to fish). “Be happy you got to go as much as you did,” my wife said.

Man, did that sting. I don’t recall placing that first foot in the grave. Sure, a sweat-stained cap has replaced my head’s natural sun screen. And I’ll pull that cap down over my eye’s at midday too. Yes, the heart attack a few years ago got my attention, but “did”? Am I that far gone?

Standing there rubbing my welt, it started to sink in. Unknowingly, she had shown me her view of my spirit. (or how she thought it should act) It was a terrible thing to realize that my coltish thoughts didn’t match the forty-three year old body. Things had changed. A lack of gas money wasn’t preventing a run to the stream.

My shoulders lowered to layers of years spent away from a beloved stream and native brookies. The annual promise to return left unfulfilled. How does this happen? The daily barrage of duties displaces action with memories. To their credit, I’ve been sustained many summers, remembering.

Stream fishing. Odd combinations burning permanent impressions deep. It’s the only place a whiff of rubber waders can mingle with the scent of cedar boughs. Sixteen inches is big. Overflowing water, calms. A half-raw meal is sufficient. An empty creel hanging on the shoulder at day’s end satisfies. Is it still there? That spec of earth, the spot. Twenty years silently passed without a visit. A riverside campsite animated thousands of times in my mind. I dread having the memories of how it was, replaced with how it is. But, I need to know. How big have the rooted cedars grown? Does a loyal generation of whip-poor-wills sing to vacant nights? How many speckled descendents fin behind rocks that never abandoned the stream?

I decided to see, but it would take time to untangle myself from work. Maybe a week. Seven days lost to gain one. This is the curse of security, sacrifice freedom for responsibility. I began to undo each knot with the satisfaction of a mom.

The revolution dragged on for two weeks. Finally, Thursday became the day. No matter what, I was going. The victory would not be just a day spent fishing, it would be knowing it still could be done.

I’ve wadded through the years dreaming of trips to Alaska and safaris in Africa. Didn’t need to have specific plans, just thoughts of someday. It’s the little trick sportsmen play on themselves to get through the tedious bulk of working for a living.

It troubles me to start a list of things I once enjoyed. It casts doubt on the dreams of things undone. As the years slip by, it becomes easier to say “I can’t”. How can Africa be hunted by a man unable to escape one day to wet a line?

I started rounding up my gear the night before and it was so good to handle it once more. The two sections of my fly rod have not been joined in years, but it’s condition shows hard use. It has a darkly stained cork handle of cheap vintage. The crude reel does it’s job, but nothing more. The line on the spool is faded to dull green. On it’s end in an ancient leader of unknown strength which has ushered as many worms to the water as flies.

In the predawn darkness I point my truck north and up the highway. There is a line of headlights coming south into town. Normally, I would be among them, but I am not conforming today. I’m grateful to be going against the grain.

The first hour of driving passes as I mentally sort and pile work related problems for the next day. That’s as close to them as I’ll get. My attention becomes focused on watching for the sign labeling Goose Creek

Road, my turn-off to the stream. In a heartbeat it appears in my headlights and I pass it like a stranger. In that instant I chose to never return. It will remain in my mind forever as it existed long ago.

I decided to try another place on a different stream. The anticipation and urgency to arrive had been strangely missing until the moment I changed my mind. Now it was felt. I was heading for new water and new memories, good or bad.

Sliding down the road, a daydream takes me back twenty years to a place where brook trout could be caught among the cedars. I’m sure happy I got to go there as much as I did.

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