I like the drive out. It's just after dawn, and I pass the spot where my wife and I, when were still dating, took hot chocolate and our sleeping bags into someone's farmland to watch a meteor shower in the middle of the night. After that the white lines disappear from the road and I go by the church with the handwritten sign that reads PRAY FOR ASHLEY WALTON AND HER FAMILY EVERY DAY. I turn off the main road and start to see the "Road Narrows" and "One Lane Bridge" signs. It feels good to be someplace like this. I used to fish on a daily basis, but after I moved to Virginia, I got away from it. It means something to me now to take the road that's barely wide enough for two cars.
I'm not too optimistic today. I'm out primarily to test my new 4wt rod. I'm not expecting quite the fun I had last week, when on my first time in the mountains I took four fish, three of them native brookies, while exploring new terrain, climbing over boulders in what felt like true backcountry, admiring the string of waterfalls, and wondering at how I could walk within ten feet of a whitetail. The smallest brookie came entirely out of the water for my fly. The biggest was seven inches, full of blues and oranges, and pretty near perfection.
But today I'm fishing the other fork of the river, the one that isn't catch-and-release water, and that I know gets hit. We've just come out of a long heatwave and the water is low. I know there are some brookies and 'bows up this stretch, but I'm not confident I can catch them. In fact, I don't do too much, even though the new Cabela's Stowaway casts beautifully. I land two tiny fish that I assume are juvenile rainbows, but I'll admit I'm not positive. Then I lose a little brookie. I hoisted him out of the water and he flopped off. I miss two more fish, one pretty nice, and that's it for the day.
Still, I'm satisfied, and when I reach the car after a lengthy hike (far enough going in that I was worried I had missed a turn-off) I see another car has arrived. A van unloads some kids with swimming trunks and towels, destined, I'm sure, for the hole where I just missed the nice fish. There's a rope swing there, and I remember jumping in a few years ago, the water so cold that my back clenched as soon as I went under. I considered stripping to my shorts and jumping in today.
I'm still learning the area. Figuring out that last week my leader was longer than necessary. That I shouldn't leave the floatant at home. That if I wonder if I tied a bad knot, I probably have. More important, I'm learning the river. The pool last week that I approached from the wrong direction, not realizing how the river splits and comes back in from the side. Or the spot today where I spooked a trout by coming down from the trail just above a little hole I didn't know was there. It's getting very late in the season for this water, and I'm not sure I can wait until October to use this new knowledge.
With that in mind, I pull away from the water. The drive home's nice. Coming in last week I had turned the stereo off once I reached the forest, unwilling to let anything else in with me. This week I left it on, and turn it up when I get back to the main road. I roll down the window and let the cows get a listen to "All My Friends" and remain reasonably satisfied even after I come to the slow-moving traffic. I'm late for work, but not in any hurry.