It Might Have Been You
The sun was pushing the tops of the trees on the western
horizon as I eased my car through the pines down the
narrow sandy road. The road is seldom traveled, and grass,
sweet ferns, and huckleberry bushes nearly obscured the
faint track that lead to a small clearing on a high bench
above the river. Too far from any access site and far from
any road, and in the evenings it was devoid of other anglers.
The narrow track that leads to the clearing where I parked
my car is unknown except to a very small number of people;
most of them now too old to still fish the river. From this
point it is about three miles upstream to first public access
point, and about five miles downstream to the next one. Between
the two points the river runs through a low, swampy area filled
with bog holes, alder thickets, and dense stands of cedar. There
are no roads and only a few trails that allow access to the
river on foot. When I desired solitude I could always find
By Neil M. Travis, Montana
There is a faint trail down the bluff, and through an alder
swamp to the river. In the fading light of a mid-July evening
it is tough to follow, and even more difficult to negotiate
in the beam of flashlight. More than once I have found myself
wandering around through the alders despite my familiarity
with the trail. On this evening I maneuvered the trail with
no difficulty, and arrived at the waters edge just as setting
sun touched the western horizon.
This stretch of the river consists of a long flat that is
overhung with cedar sweepers providing excellent cover for
the fine population of resident brown trout. During the
daylight hours they rarely venture out into open water,
but under the cover of darkness they slide out to feed
at the end of the sweepers. If a heavy spinner fall
occurs the entire flat could be pockmarked with rising
On this July evening I settled down on my favorite log
to plot my strategy for the evening. There was an
occasional rise, but from experience I knew that it
would be nearly dark before the bigger fish would begin
to move out to feed. From somewhere back in the forest
a robin began to sing his night song, and the first bats
began to skitter through the gathering gloom. By looking
up though toward the glow from the setting sun I could
see clouds of mayflies and midges dancing near the tree
tops. In the gathering darkness all I could do was wait
until they began to drop down to the stream. There
certainly are less enjoyable ways to spend a summer evening.
As I sat watching the water the slightest motion at the
edge of my peripheral vision caught my attention. Upstream,
at the top of the flat, I could make out another person
walking along the obscure game trail that meanders along
the bank. As I watched he stepped out into the stream,
and then waded over to a large rock and sat down. This
was the first time I had ever encountered anyone else
of this stretch of stream at this time of the day. I
wondered to myself where he had come from, and if he
had found my secret road through the woods.
The gathering darkness made it impossible to see my
visitor very distinctly, but as I looked upstream to
where he was sitting I could see the flare of a
lighter or match as he lit a cigarette, and when the
light went out I could see the tip glowing in the
darkness. A whippoorwill started to call from somewhere
in the piney woods, and the first trout made a tentative
rise just upstream from where I was seated. My visitor
was promptly forgotten as more trout began to rise and
the issue at hand became my prime focus. Soon nothing
occupied my thoughts but casting to the rising fish.
In such moments time is irrelevant, and exactly how much
time passed before the action stopped I was unable to tell,
but gradually the spinner fall ceased, the trout retreated
beneath the cedars, and once again the flat was silent.
Suddenly I realize how tired I was from pushing against
the current, and I turned to reclaim my seat on the log
before I made the trek back through the alder bog to my car.
As I settled back on the log I could hear someone approaching
along the shore, and I abruptly remembered that I had not been
alone on this stretch of river.
"Mind if I join you?" came a voice out of the darkness, a
deep, low voice that was unfamiliar to my ears.
"No" I replied, "there is plenty of room."
"Cigarette?" he asked as he settled down on the end of the log.
"No thanks, I don't smoke."
The sudden flare of his lighter briefly lit up his
face, but too brief for me to see him with any
discernable detail. I could see that he wore a
western-style hat, and that he appeared to be clean
shaven. In the glow of his cigarette I could make out
little more so he still remained a stranger; a fellow
angler sharing the exhilaration of an evening spent on
a beautiful trout stream.
"It was a good night" I said. "Did you get in on that
He took a long drag on his cigarette and slowly exhaled
the smoke. I wondered if he had heard me, and I was about
to rephrase my question when he spoke.
"It was an excellent spinner fall, just as I remembered them."
"Been a while since you have been here?" I replied.
He took another drag on his cigarette then flipped it out
into the stream. The glowing butt sailed through the air
and blinked out as it hit the water.
"Oh yes, a long time, a very, very long time. My father and
I used to come here back before the war. We would usually
canoe down from the bridge and camp up on the high ground,
but occasionally we would hike in like I did tonight. Sometimes
we would spend several days here, camping and fishing. My
favorite time to fish this flat was always just a dark when
the spinners would begin to drop down, and the big browns
would ease out from beneath the cedars. Yes, tonight was
almost like I remembered it. "
His words trailed off into the silence of the night, and he
lit another cigarette. We sat in silence for several minutes
while I thought about his words. When folks spoke about 'the
war' they were normally referring to World War II, but that
had been nearly 50 years ago.
"Well," he said, "I have a ways to walk and I'm not as fast
as I was years ago. Perhaps I will see you again some evening."
"I would like that," I said. "Can I give you a ride? It's a
long walk to the road."
"Thanks but no I quite enjoy the walk."
He plodded away into the darkness and I sat looking upstream
as his footsteps grew fainter and fainter. At the top of the
flat I saw the flair of his lighter as he lit another cigarette.
Looking upstream I could see the glow of the tip, and then it
Over time I returned to that spot many times but I never again
encountered anyone else during my nighttime escapades. Who was
that stranger? Perhaps it was you. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
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