I'm able to get away mid-week. I take the familiar turnoff, drive up the hill to the parking area, rig up and walk down to the river. I am feeling more and more at home here. There is still much to be gained from this stretch of river.
Since my last trip I've been thinking every day about the flies I should have swung and didn't. The river was slightly high and murky then. It's down and clear now. But I still begin under the bridges with an oversized weighted orange and purple articulated streamer. It dives down through the fast-moving four foot water column and hugs the bottom beautifully. I swim it into every possible hiding place. But no fish are to be found.
I go downstream. I am in a state of high alert. I have been reading up on smallmouth bass. I have taken to heart the assurances of those who have long experience with this fish that now is a prime time for the "catch of a lifetime." One writer says that as the smallies move furtively upstream returning to their spawning grounds they can be found anywhere in the river. Pools, runs, yes; but also in slots and depressions in broad shallow flats. Anywhere.
I cover as much of the water as I can. I switch from streamer to streamer getting the right depth and action for the type of flow. I move close to the cliff wall. The bottom there is a slab of rock crisscrossed with striations and rent with foot deep mini-canyons. I cover it all expecting anything at any time. Perhaps it begins as a state of high alert but it soon smooths and deepens into a holistic experience of highly pleasurable anticipation. The fishing rush.
I'm in that blessed state when I get to the wide slick at the end of the broad flats. This is a special place. The river deepens a bit and the current speeds up as it's channeled towards a fast chute and rocky rapids. I have caught fish here. I think they're here now. I begin swinging and stripping a streamer, not to find out if fish are there, but to find out where they are.
Comes that bump, that pull, and then that hookup. It's a small fish, but I don't know that in the first microsecond it's on the line, and that's all the time it takes for the burst of endorphins to flood my system.
I'm feeling every microcurrent, seeing every hiding place, as I comb the bottom with my streamer. Comes another bump, tug, fish.
There must be more in there, but I come to the end of the slick without another touch. I rest the water for awhile.
Then I wade back in and work the slick again. No more fish. Not this time.
But I'm still high, on this river and this day's fishing. I go back to the bridges and fish that run again as the dark flows in around me. I've caught fish here, too, but there's nothing here now. Not this time.
The time will come again, though. Even as I wade out and pack up to go I'm sorting through what I've learned today and thinking about flies and tactics for the next time I'm here. The learning of the river is flowing on like the river itself. There is more to come, and the great thing about the fishing rush is that there's no need to hurry.