I hear the river before I can see it. Mist is rising off the water, reaching into the dense riparian vegetation. As I descend the trail, I feel the cool, damp air on my nose and cheeks. My smile widens. The mountain laurel and spice bush are dense along the stream bank, obscuring the view of the full width of the river, even as leaf out is not quite complete. I bend my neck and lower my head to pass under the branches. Slow moving water laps against the cobbles at the edge of the river as the main current pushes down the center of the channel.
My first step into the river is a familiar one, but I don’t know it by heart any longer. I’ve fished here many times, but I can’t remember the last time I was here. I take a few deep breaths and look downstream and then upstream along the corridor. The fallen tree that bisected the deep run has washed away, out of sight. There always seemed to be a good-sized trout feeding off the end of that log. My first cast will have to have another target.
I know the fish are throughout the reach, but working off of memory and old habits is unlikely to produce fish quickly. The river is ancient, but also brand new. My time with the river is a mere fraction of its history but it has left an imprint on my fishing life. I need my lessons from the past, my observations in the present, and my predictions of the future to match the challenge of the river.
Spring is a season of promises. The promise of spring is new life. The promise of Easter is everlasting life. What does the river promise?
In 2019, Domenick Swentosky published a wonderful story, The River Doesn’t Owe You Anything, in which he states “the river gives you what you earn.” I go back and read this story often, it provides me inspiration and a reminder to maintain my learning mindset.
The lessons taught to me by the river are not discreet progressions along a path. Things I have learned yesterday do not always apply today and are never guaranteed to work tomorrow. A checklist of knowledge for the river can never be complete. Knowledge is shared and published for hundreds of years with relatively minor changes but there is always more to learn. Instruction provided by G.E.M. Skues in his 1921 book, The Way of a Trout with a Fly, form the basis of a large percentage of the fishing techniques I employ. Without being carried by new voices and felt in new experiences, time on the river can become a dusty book on a shelf or the faded image of a fallen tree in a run.
The river provides the promise to be evidence of the past, an unapologetic expression of the present, and wonder for the future. If you are willing to spend time on the water you can be repaid with constant growth and an incredibly rewarding challenge.