Driving along Route 22 in Central Pennsylvania is a complete transformation for me. The Juniata River, full from heavy April rains, flows along the road toward the Susquehanna and then to the Chesapeake Bay. Lime green buds overtake the browns and gray along Jacks Mountain Ridge as spring takes hold. Splotches of light purple buds from Red Buds highlight the lowland areas like easter eggs peeking through the grass. Stress evaporates and memories of fishing trips sprout in my mind. 

A Beautiful Place to Spend the Afternoon

Four years ago, I made this same drive to spend three days fishing the streams of the region. One of the days was spent on a guided trip with Domenick Swentosky of Troutbitten. On that day, many seeds of learning were planted within me, which produced lessons to learn to this day. 

Throughout the morning of that trip, I was learning to see the river in a new way. My habits and ego of my ability to read a river as a scientist limited my development as an angler. He helped me discover intricate details of water depth and velocity to see where trout feed and where they do not. He stressed that managing weight and drag were critical to getting flies to the fish, but first we had to get to the spot to make the cast. Strong wading can be the difference between catching the best fish of the day and a “maybe next time” longing of missed opportunities. 

As the day progressed, I tried to find good feeding water without instruction. I wanted to be self-sufficient and perceived as a competent angler. I found my moment; the memory is very clear to me.

“That spot on the far bank looks good.” I offered.

“I’ll bet you there is a good one in there.” Dom confirmed. 

“Think I can wade there?” I looked for some outside confidence.

“Do you?” Dom followed with a Yoda-like reply. 

I hesitated and looked back to the river. A deeper, faster chute of water was the obstacle preventing me from reaching the prime spot. Two to three steps would be a challenge, with depths above my waist at a pushing flow. I wanted to meet the challenge, but I didn’t want to tumble into the cold, rocky river for the pursuit of ego. 

“I’ll follow you if you want to go.” Dom broke the silence. “You’re a strong wader.”

That was all I needed. I saw a large boulder I could wade next to and use the wake of the cross the gap, avoiding the full force of the flow.  

With strategy, strength, and confidence I waded through the deeper water and moved into an advantageous position. On the second or third cast, I caught my fish of the day. More importantly, I built confidence in reading water and wading safely through challenging water. 

At the time, I was running and going to the gym regularly and had a strong level of fitness. Since then, my healthy habits have declined. Recent injuries to my hip, feet and knees have generated all the excuses I needed to skip the gym. Busy work schedules led to meals of convenience and too much time behind a computer. If I waded into that chute today, the result would likely be a very wet end to the day.

Over the past few weeks, heavy rains have filled many streams. Looking through USGS gages and scouring fishing reports, I found a location where flows had receded to the high side of safe, fishable levels. Arriving at the creek, the water appeared high, but I felt confident I could find some spots to fish. I would need to avoid the steeper sections and stick mainly to the edges, but it was doable. 

Still Trucking!

It was a fun day on the water, but I struggled. Sticking to the stream edges, I had multiple back casts and uncontrolled line situations that ended up with flies in trees. To avoid fast water areas, I scrambled up stream banks with narrow paths in sharp brambles. I tore clothing and lost flies on the way to catching two fish. I spent about fifteen minutes getting untangled from a dense blackberry patch to move 50 feet through the floodplain. My inability to wade in similar conditions to my ability four years ago reduced my time fishing. 

The scrappy voice of Joe Humphreys echoed in my head. Over 90 years old, Joe still wades and fishes in Central Pennsylvania streams. He discusses the importance of exercise and lifting weights, or as he says, “pumping iron”, to stay fit for being on the river. 

Aging has turned a bit of my hair gray, diminished my vision and hearing, and stolen some of my strength and flexibility. Without facing the challenge of protecting my body as I age, I will be limited in my life, especially with my time on the river. 

Lifting weight has not been something I have focused on in the past. Running and martial arts have been my previous fitness activities. I want to feel safe wading for the foreseeable future and for that I need improved strength, stamina, and balance. I want to be able to play with my future grandchildren (hopefully way in the future).  

Looks like more time in the gym can produce more time on the river. As we age it is important to stay healthy and strong. Core and lower body stability are critical to maintain balance and ballast while wading. Shoulder and wrist strength and mobility aid in casting and line control. Exercises focusing on these attributes will keep me in the water and prevent me from being tuck in the brambles, or worse stuck in front of the television.  

Keep mending…

One Reply to “Moving Through Water While Moving Through Life”

  1. Your fishing trip sounds like a treat on a spring day! You recognized the beauty around you!
    Ah, getting older! Can be a bummer or a reminder to take care!
    I am sure you will move forward to take care! I am cheering you on!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *