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unnamed short story

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The autumn chill had a bit of steam coming off the water and there was gold along the banks...just the way it had been each of the 42 years he'd come here. Ever changing, yet ever the same, this water called to him as no other. With a sigh and a little smile pulled his old 5 weight friend from a battered tube and rigged up. Fifty yards downstream, at the top of Sal's hole, a sickly salmon rolled.

Sal was long dead, but 35 years ago he had taken a tumble there, filling his waders with cold water and the air with a string of colorful language, mostly unintelligible. He had scrambled to shore, swearing all the way...his only momentary joy being the unbroken rod in his hand and the flask of warming caramel colored liquid awaiting in his day pack. He remembered starting a small fire to warm and dry his pal and the thanks in Sal's eyes as they passed the whiskey back and forth in the morning chill.

His old eyes scanned the water, searching for clues. What had changed? What was the same? Where was Walter waiting for him this year? The lack of rain had left silt and sand clogging the slower water, so he slogged upstream in the shallows to the top of the upper riffle and eyed the drop off, where the color change meant possibilities. What most anglers missed was a sunken log, invisible in all but the lowest flows that waited to grab an offering placed too close to the far bank. A cast just a foot off the mark would earn them 5 minutes of re-rigging time.

Shaking out some line he flipped a neat little roll cast to the near edge and a little upstream mend had him fishing. He knew there would be no take, not until he was into the middle and far side, but he worked the water as he'd taught himself through the years, respecting the stream enough to fish it correctly, patiently, thoroughly. It was part of the ritual.

Time flowed with the water. Cast, mend, mend, follow the line with the rod tip, a little hang time at the bottom, retrieve and repeat. The rhythm was hypnotic and he settled into the morning...his mind sliding in and out of the present and past, focused on the tasks at hand, yet each move, each sound bringing recollections of times past and small events remembered.

His senses alerted as his Silver Hilton swung smoothly into water that had given up fish over the years. A mend and then a tug. Lifting the rod tip a chuckle escaped him as he came tight to a wad of moss. With his bug cleaned up, another smooth roll cast got him back in the zone and the little wet fly swung through untouched. A shrug, a sigh, another cast and back to the easy tempo...

After covering the water to the far side he took two steps down and repeated the process, near to far with each cast easy, yet precise and full attention given to each swing...all the while memories washing over him. At the bottom of the riffle there was a bucket, the hard rock bottom unchanged through the years and one of Walter's favorite hangouts.

Positioning himself in the current so that he could both swing through the little hole and back into the shallows easily should Walter come out to play, he made his cast and fell back into the routine. He knew he was three casts from the definitive swing, but you never he fished patiently and worked his way out to it.

For this spot, it was now or never. To get the distance he put the fly in the air and after a couple of false casts he dropped the bug on the dot and made his mends. The savage strike of a steelhead would come in ten feet. Five. Now...but the moment passed and Walter was not home.


  1. milt spawn's Avatar
    Wow Mike, that's pretty good stuff! Get yourself a good editor and you'll have a second career. Write a full novel with the Eastern Sierra as a backdrop maybe? I just found this last night, but conked out asleep whilst writing a reply. If you have more... JB