Of Fish And Women
The fog was heavy at 5:00 am and the headlights of my truck and the oncoming cars glowed dimly through the wet blackness. I drive carefully and strain my eyes to watch for the glowing red eyes of the deer in fields beside the road hoping they don’t jump in front of my vehicle. It’s not raining but water from the fog beads up on the windshield and on my hair and face as I get out of my truck and walk into the gym.
Later as I return home in the early dawn the fog is thinning and for a couple hours the clouds seem to lift a bit and the sun shines for a brief moment but then the clouds come again, the sun disappears and as I look out the back window of my house the mountains are hidden in the white low-lying clouds.
Thanks for reading Paul’s Substack! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
I get busy, cleaning the kitchen, empty the dishwasher, and throw a load of clothes in the washer and then down the steps to my office. I settle into my chair, wake up the computer, check my messages, read some news headlines and get ready for the day. The day is quiet and uneventful, the phone doesn’t ring, my customers are not paying their bills today and don’t need to speak to me. I feel happy in the quietness and annoyed when the phone rings, I don’t know why customers need to call me to pay their bills or get account information. “Why don’t they just do that stuff online?” I think to myself.
At lunch time I go back upstairs and scan the refrigerator for something to eat, I settle on a piece of leftover Sockeye salmon and a scoop of rice, mixing them together, put them in the microwave and heat them up. I eat slowly, savoring the buttery rice and the oily Sockeye. “Hard to beat fish and rice” I think. After I get done eating I fill the electric tea kettle with water and turn it on, wait for the water to heat and then pour it carefully into a mug add a tea bag and a shot of honey, take the mug of hot liquid and walk outside and stand on the front porch.
The weather has socked in again and now it’s not just foggy, there’s a light misting rain. I stand on the front porch enjoying the tingling feeling of the wet cold air on my skin. “It's a brown trout day” I muse, “it would be a great day to go to the Chauga and catch some brown trout.” I stand with the cup of hot drink in my hand looking at the weather. I felt like going fishing, I haven’t fished for a while and it seems like it’s time to go again.
I finish my drink, go back inside, set the empty cup on the counter, and go downstairs to the Gun Room where my supplies are kept. I lift the fly rod from the hook on the wall and look at it carefully, it’s ready to go. Next are the waders and the wading boots with the felt soles and then my fly fishing jacket. The weather is cold and damp, I will need warm clothes and a rain jacket. The supplies are loaded in the truck and I get in start the truck, put it in reverse, back carefully out of the garage and out the gravel road from my house that leads to the paved highway. I turn on the windshield wipers, the rain is coming down steadily now, “should be a good day to fish” I think, “Hopefully the browns will be feeding.”
I look at my watch, 1:00 p.m. I have a date at 6:00 p.m. at a restaurant in town. I will need to leave the river about 4:30. early enough to go home and get cleaned up, dressed nicely and go eat dinner with my date. I had messaged her before I left just to confirm our date for the evening, “it's always good to do that with women” I think “women can be very fickle and unreliable, you always have to follow up with them and confirm things.”
Being middle-aged and single is very different from being young and single, there are lots of middle-aged single people but everyone has loads of personal baggage and has had bad experiences with the opposite sex. Unlike dating in your young years when there’s excitement, anticipation, with hopes and dreams for the future, in the middle aged years there’s a jaded culture of suspicion, and mistrust. Mind games and back stabbing are the norm. Very few show any promise at all of having the compatibility and character that would be desired in a life partner so the dating game seems rather futile and I don't engage in it much but this one shows promise, we have some similar interests, she’s ambitious, active, and seems sweet and kind. I can't be late to my date. Especially since it’s Valentine's Day and we have a reservation at Vangeli’s the best restaurant in town.
I head towards Mountain Rest and the Chauga river, trying to decide where I’ll go, I finally decide on Hell's Hole. I don't know why it's called Hell's Hole but it’s down in a hole kind of, when you turn off the paved road you follow a small dirt road that goes down down till you get to the river and when you're at the river the mountains go up steep on each side. It’s where I usually go to when I don’t know where else to go. It's a dead spot with no cell phone service.
I pull into the parking spot beside the river, put on my waders and fishing vest, unstring my fly rod and walk down to the riverbank. I pause and look at the water, The water is fair, it’s up a bit and somewhat muddy from the previous night's rain but not too bad.
I look up and down the river, the river is fascinating to me, an ever-changing entity. At times in the summer the water is very low and crystal clear from the dry weather, the next time you come it’s chest deep and muddy with angry strong currents that can pull a man under. Every time you come the character of the river is different, the blowdowns get washed out and even the rocks and the pools get shifted and moved around. I am amazed how the feisty little trout survive in such a brutal everchanging environment.
I strip some line off my rod and false cast twice and then release the line and watch it float gently out over the water. the streamer is sucked under by the current and I let it bounce along until it reaches the limits of the line downstream and then strip the line back in.
I decide to move upstream a bit, away from where the crowds always fish. I work my way carefully along the muddy bank. I shiver a bit as the trees overhead release their water and drip down on my head and neck. I stop and again present my streamer, casting slightly upstream and then letting it tumble over the rocks and work its way downstream. I smile as I see the small swirl of a tail and then the tug on my line, I raise my rod tip firmly to set the hook and pause as the small fish tugs and fights until I slowly bring it to my side. I scoop it with my net, remove the hook and admire the small brown for a moment. I hold the fish in my hand in the water facing upstream so the current can run through its gills helping it to revive. I loosen my hand and with a flick of its tail it’s gone. I cast again, and again a swirl and a pull on the line. The fish are busy feeding and I’m happy to oblige. Going fishing today was a good decision.
I fish the spot for an hour and then move on up the river, the rain has started again and my hair is wet from the rain, my shirt sleeves are soaked from the rain and covered with fish slime from handling the fish. I work my way up river and check my watch, I would have to go back soon. I come to another small pool where the fish are eagerly feeding, it’s a perfect fishing day, overcast and foggy, the rain varies from a light mist to a steady rain and I fish steadily. The mountains rise high on each side of the river and the cold water rumbles over the rocks, the fog hangs low over the water, time stands still.
The trout are aggressive and take the hook eagerly time after time and I lose count of how many I catch and release. I look at my watch, it’s 4:30, I have to go. I should be in the truck right now headed back but the fish are still coming. I mentally calculate the time it would take to drive back home, take a shower, get dressed and drive to the restaurant to meet my date. “Perhaps I could just go from here” I thought, “she already knows I like to fish, I will explain the exceptionally good fishing day and how I didn't have time to go home and get dressed up,” that seems like a good solution, that would buy me another hour of fishing. “This will work” I think, I feel pleased about the extra hour I have given myself.
I work my way up river. The fish love me, wherever I toss my hook they take it, beside the bank, under overhanging brush, or around the rocks hiding in the ripples. I come to a nice size pool, on the far side there is a cut, the water deep and black, the current sucks underneath the overhang of the bank and the tree roots. Trees hang low over the water. “I bet there's a big one in there” I think. I look at my watch, I still have to hike back to my truck, it’s time to go, I dare not be late but I can’t go just yet, this looks too perfect. I toss my line towards the opposite bank, a little short. I bring it back and try again, but again it’s short. I want it to go as far as I can but I don’t want my line to get tangled on the overhanging tree limbs. I try again and this time I feel the current under the bank grab my fly and pull it under and then I feel the firm resistance of a fish. I raise my rod tip to set the hook and feel the explosion of the fish as it reacts to the sting of the hook in its mouth and then turns races down river. I keep my rod tip high tighten the drag as much as I dare in an attempt to slow the ferocious run. The fish slows, turns and jumps out of the water as it races back up stream. Again and again the fish runs until it finally tires and comes to my net. I admire the beautiful trout, we're blessed in this area with some good trout fishing but most of them are small, a large fish like this makes for an epic day. I release the fish and move to the lower end of the pool. I cast upstream and let the streamer slowly drift down to the lower end of the pool and feel the tap on the line as a fish takes it.
The rain comes down hard, the river is rising and the fish are in a feeding frenzy. It’s one of those rare magic days, I can do no wrong, no matter where I place my fly or how I present it, fish take it.
I look at my watch, 6 PM, the woman would be at the restaurant now, probably waiting, perhaps she’s getting seated and ordering a drink while she waits. I have a half hour hike back to the truck and then a half hour drive to the restaurant. “This is a problem” I think, “my date is waiting, I’m an hour late, the fish are feeding like crazy and there is no cell phone service.
I fish as the grayness of the day turns to darkness and the dark foggy night settles in, finally the bite turns off and it’s time to go. I use my flashlight to see my way as I carefully work my way downriver, sometimes wading in the river and sometimes on the river bank. When I reach my truck I dismantle my fly rod, wipe it dry and carefully place it back in its case and then take off my boots and waders. My shirt is soaked and my sleeves are covered in mud and fish slime. I squeeze the excess water out of my hair and get in my truck, start the engine, back out of the parking spot, put it in 4wheel drive and head up the muddy dirt road to the highway.
“Wow what a day!” When you’re a fisherman you experience many days when the fish don’t cooperate, you spend hours working the water, presenting your fly, days wading the river seeking fish when the river seems empty. Other days you catch one or just a few and you work very hard for each one, but on rare occasions the day is magic and you can do nothing wrong, the fish take the hook endlessly. This was one of those rare days, “absolutely perfect” I think.
As I near the highway and back into phone service my phone starts buzzing with message notifications and before I drive onto the highway I stop to read the messages from my date. The first one at 6:00 PM. “Hey Paul I’m here.” A few minutes later, “Hey I’m inside. Are you here?” The next one “ARE YOU HERE?” “Are you ok, did something happen?” The messages take a sharper tone, angry, frustrated, now she seems to hope bad things will happen to me. The final message from 6:40, she’s leaving and doesn’t ever want to see me.
I finish reading the messages, I feel a small feeling of unpleasantness now, I press my finger on the message thread and press delete. I feel better after deleting the messages, “she seemed upset” I think. I pause a moment to appreciate the heated seat as it’s warming up, it feels good on my cold, wet back. The heater is also warming and blowing warm air out and starting to dry my long wet stringy hair. Suddenly I feel hungry. “I don’t have a date anymore but I’m still going to get me a good dinner.”
I drive to the restaurant where my date had been. As I drove I thought about my day. “It was a good day” I thought. I faced some challenges but found a solution to each one and the day turned out perfect.
When I arrive at the restaurant and walk in I note the white table cloths and couples filling the tables dressed in their fine eveningwear sipping wine and holding hands, it’s a special day for them since it’s Valentines day. The hostess appraises me with a critical eye, her gaze travels up and down my wet dirty body and there is no admiration there, I read only disgust and revulsion as she looks at my wet tangled hair, the muddy shirt with fish scales clinging to it and over it all an aroma of fish and wet dirty body. She hesitates, raises her eyebrows and then asks hesitantly, “Can I help you with something?” I hold up one finger, “a table for one” I say
Thanks for reading Paul’s Substack! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.