Readers Cast

Stone River

By Michael Hanvey - June 29, 2009

He couldn't take much more of this bitter temperature, especially with the rain. "You need to stop river fishing alone. It's too dangerous, Dad!" His son's words echoed in his mind. Just one more cast... nothing; it wasn't to be, not today. As he took up line in his spool Fred inched his way to the shore. His day of fly fishing was over, but he couldn't figure why he was so cold.

Darkness swallowed him as he walked up the trail toward the cabin. He didn't need a light; the path was memorized to the last twig, branch and stone. His knees were old and tired so he took each step purposely and steadily. Fifteen minutes later, he was at the back porch of the old cabin. Gripping the cedar railing to keep steady he stepped up the ten inches onto the creaky wooden porch. He lovingly hung the bamboo rod on its hooks outside the door, and then took a big breath smelling the rich east Texas pine. He was finally back to the comfort of his old cabin and walked over to the fire place to start a fire. After he lit a kerosene lamp he kindled a fire in the small wood stove, and put on some coffee.

Now to get out of the waders; nowadays it was necessary for him to sit down to accomplish this feat. He remembered a time when he could kick them off with ease one foot at a time, but he could no longer balance. He thought of his son and how he jumped in and out of his waders... youthful schmuck he laughed under his breath. As he pulled the waders down to his waist, he saw the problem. He was water-logged, the waders had a leak. Water had been seeping in around his hips and down his legs. No wonder he was so cold.

As quickly as he could, he stepped from the waders and fishing pants, and hung the pants by the fireplace to dry. He turned the waders inside out and laid them carefully on a chair placed next to the fireplace. By the time this was accomplished, the cabin was beginning to smell like fresh coffee as the percolator began to rattle. It was still pretty cool in the cabin, but he fire crackled as he walked over to the log table. He lit two more kerosene lamps, and carried one into the kitchen area.

While in the kitchen he prepared a little meal for the evening. A can of Spam, sliced and fried would make nice sandwiches. Some for tonight, and some for tomorrow; he would also slice up a few tomatoes for the sandwiches and extra to eat with salt and pepper.

The quiet of the cabin always did him good since his wife was gone; her heart had given out after fifty-one years of marriage. "She was a good 'un," tears welled up in his eyes as he thought of his high school sweetheart turned wife. He still missed her, even after these five years of her being gone, but he knew he'd be with her again someday... someday when the Lord saw fit. Yep... she was a good 'un.

As he put the sandwiches together, he remembered her youthful exuberance and willingness to try anything he tried. She even learned how to fly fish, and came with him to this little cabin with no electricity, living out of an ice chest. What a gal!

The percolator stopped and he poured a cup, and then took one and a half sandwiches to the table. Eating wasn't much pleasure anymore. It was so easy to get choked. He had to take small bites and chew forever just to swallow the little tidbit. His throat didn't work like it was supposed to. Gosh it's a bother to grow old, can't walk fast, can't stand up and change clothes and can't eat. What's this world coming to?

With dinner over, he washed his plate and knife, poured another cup of coffee, and then went to check out his waders. Yep... there's a hole there alright; time to fix this thing, at least temporarily until I can get another pair. He walked over to the cabinet and got out a piece of three inch square carpet tape, took it over to the fireplace and warmed it by the fire getting the glue all sticky. Then he returned to the waders and stuck it directly over the tear. "That'll do it," he said, "I'll see you in the morning."

He finished his cup of coffee and went to bed.

Fred woke up about an hour before dawn, stoked the fire in the fireplace and then the stove. Next he went to the outhouse. Man, was it frigid! The water was frozen over in the washtubs under the metal eave of the front porch. When he got back inside he was glad when his bare feet felt the throw rug, but he wished he'd put on some shoes for the short trip. He sat down by the fire and warmed his feet. At least it had quit raining, and there was a full moon lighting things up. After warming his feet he went and got the sandwiches left over from last night, ate the half sandwich and packed the other into his gear. He almost decided to stay in the warmth of the cabin instead of going fishing, but no, this was a fishing trip.

He dressed, put on his coat and vest, and walked out the back door. This was what fishing was all about, getting out before the world was awake and witnessing its arousal first hand. He turned and got his rod from the back of the cabin, and with eager anticipation took that step down from the porch without even steadying himself with the porch railing. His breath formed thick clouds of fog. He was off down the trail to the river in a flash, working his way by memory and moonlight to the best bass river in Texas. He was ready for the morning.

When he reached the edge of the water, he looked upstream and then downstream. Which way today? He decided to turn downstream. After ten careful steps, he took out his wading staff and worked his way about twenty yards to a large boulder in the middle of the river. The water was quiet, moving strong and slow around the rock. He put up his staff and steadied himself against the firm object. Then he tied on his first fly of the day, a streamer, a sparse Clouser minnow in green and white. Now he waited for the first hint of daylight, just a little bit to show the outline of the hills around him.

Life began to awaken around him. Birds fluttered in the shrubbery, chirping to their mates. He heard an armadillo rooting nearby, several squirrels waking up in the trees and a hoot owl talking to turkeys. Then the silhouettes of the hills formed in the sky and the river was visible with a light fog on the surface. he put his line into motion, feeding it out as he false casted until he had about forty feet in the air; he placed the fly across the stream near a log with some brush growing up nearby and began stripping. He felt a bump, and then a tug and he set the hook. The fight was on! The bass broke the surface wagging trying to throw the hook but he kept tension on the line... the fish changed directions and he countered with rod pressure. The reel drag was singing a high pitch and he gritted his teeth and smiled at the fight the monster bass was giving. Then he chuckled.

The fish broke surface again this time sixty feet away - wagging - still trying to throw the hook, but he kept the line tight the best he could and the fish went under once more running, changing directions, fighting, turning, jumping - now ninety feet away. He laughed out loud with nervous anticipation. He had fought the fish into the backing of the reel and it was looking like the fish might find some way to get loose. He began to worry, and decided to follow the fish, winding the reel when he could, listening to the drag sing when he couldn't. The current was strong, the river bottom slick and treacherous. The fish was at least one hundred feet away jumping again in seeming triumph over the angler when he stumbled in the current and fell face down into the water.

Freezing water rushed into his waders, sucking the breath from his chest. His heart pounded. He felt the frigid water rush down to his legs and feet. His head under water, he wanted desperately to inhale but struggled to get his feet under him. Holding firmly to his rod he finally relaxed and floated downstream with the reel singing until he felt a rock with his left foot, the icy water biting into his body. He caught the rock with his free hand and began to work his way to the surface. He took a breath and then put his numbing feet down and caught his balance. Still steadying himself while gasping for air, he pulled out his wading staff and planted it into the river bottom then leaned into it. He was momentarily safe again, frozen and shaken but safe.

Finally, he started gaining line again on the big Bass with icy water dripping from his clothing. The fish leapt once more, this time not wagging so much, just to show he was still fighting. He kept reeling and realized the fish was weakening, slowing down, giving in to the reel. Then he started stripping line in because the reel wasn't fast enough, and finally there the bass was, a mere five feet away from him looking back at him, surrendering to the fisherman. He pulled him close, reached out and placed a hand under his belly lifting him gently. This fish must weigh over six pounds, and in a river! Wow! Fred marveled over the size and coloring of the fish, as he measured its girth, and length, and slipped the hook from its mouth. Then he held him gently in the current until he was revived, and let him go. "What a privilege to hold such a fish," he said to himself while still trying to catch his breath. He'd forgotten how cold he was, and how precarious a position he was in with the wading staff. He watched the scaled creature swim slowly away.

The elements began to come back to him, the cold, and the river. He steadied himself the best he could and reeled in his line. It was amazing... all of this had happened with one cast, and in a time span of about six minutes, but it had seemed like an hour. It looks like my son is right; I need to stop river fishing alone. After securing his line, he took his staff and began a long and strenuous, trembling walk through the current to the riverbank.

This trip was great, if he could just tell about it without the part about falling down. He knew he couldn't do that, it made the story all that much better, because he fell and still caught the fish. Yes... I must stop river fishing alone.

But... for an eighty two year old man, this was a great last trip! He smiled.

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