We weren’t in much of a hurry Saturday, so we stood at the tailgate of Nate’s truck and retold the highlights of seven years worth of fly fishing trips. Whenever we’ve been together lately it’s been like this. Our memories are told with increased vigor and embellishment as my move nears.
Thousands of days (and dollars) ago, we enhanced the off-the-clock part of our lives by becoming consistent fly fisherman. It might seem funny that our stories rarely involve fish, but while that is a good part of the point, the good stories require more chaos than catch.
Good stories need things like goose attacks. Good stories require forgetting sleeping bags, fly reels, fly boxes, nets, tent poles, or food. Good stories need a tattooed dude freshly released from prison wanting to learn how to fish, then waiting by the only exit from the otherwise empty campground for you to drive by because he wants a ride into town to get money.
Good stories need face-plants, broken rods, holes in waders, broken waders, flooded waders, exploding chili cans, exploding apples, raccoons stealing marshmallows, sudden and dramatic bowel movements, shellfish food poisoning and obnoxious songs on repeat. Good stories require Jeeps to be head-butted.
I sometimes take notes about river flows, time of day and patterns used on my trips, but I can’t tell you how many fish I’ve caught or how big all of them were. Sure there have been some monster California browns and rainbows, but really, who cares? If you’re reading, or have been reading this column, it’s been because of the circumstances, not the results.
After close to an hour of rigging and retelling, the three of us finally went to the water. There used to be a little brown trout that lived behind a rock by our favorite spot, but one opening day, it was gone. Maybe thin water forced it to relocate. Maybe big water flushed it down river. Maybe it got too big for that spot and moved. That was years ago, and that spot hasn’t really fished well lately anyway, so we walked up river instead.
Since Nate and Brad were nymphing, they split our new favorite spot and I threw dry flies on the opposite side. A few minutes in, I hooked a decent rainbow just as the fly started to swing. I brought it in, held it up and took a picture that made it look like the trout was going to eat Nate.
I released it, rinsed my hands and in the true fashion of an over-thinker, realized I was living my last story on the Stanislaus River. You don’t think about these things ordinarily, because we aren’t always provided opportunities to assign weight to moments as they are happening.
That night Nate, Brad and a couple other friends came over for a bonfire of broken pallets, old papers, garbage and other accumulation that didn’t make the cut for Alaska. We told more stories, good ones that made my cheeks hurt.
I’ll miss the chaos of fishing with those guys and I’ll miss filling this space on Wednesdays, especially because Alaska summers have nothing on Alaska winters.
There will be more fires and more fish, but after Sunday I’ll need new people with which to make stories, and after today, they’ll have to be told in a different column.
I was blind casting when I emailed the Manteca Bulletin in the summer of 2008 about a potential column during my time in Alaska. The first email went unanswered as many freelance pitches do. The next week I wrote a sample column, sent it, and 268 weeks later, here we are, the end.
I am appreciative of Jonamar and Bulletin editorial staff allowing me to work through the most emotionally draining moments of my life on their pages.
I ended up writing two pieces for today and let my journalism class decide which would be the sendoff for my discontinued column. I’m sure they picked the right one, they’re good kids.
You can follow the miserable Alaskan winters at www.jlundoutdoors.com or “Like” the jlundoutdoors Facebook page.