We were about an hour outside Charlottesville when I realized I'd forgotten all my fishing equipment except for my wading pants and an old t-shirt. I had been anticipating this outing quite a bit. Pennsylvania's fish-for-free day was falling on my birthday, and we happened to be heading home that weekend anyway. I planned to fly fish my home river for a reasonably lengthy stretch, something I hadn't done in close to a decade.
I was utterly dismayed. The river was never a great stretch, but it held fish and I was more interested in feeling nostalgic and in examining the changes to the waters I used to know inside and out. I tried to come up with an alternate plan, knowing I still had odds and ends of gear at my mom's house, and thinking I could buy cheap versions of the rest from Wal-Mart or borrow from my dad.
That plan fell apart quickly. I uncovered the reels with 15-year-old fly line and dug up the spools of monofilament I could use for a leader (the bass and bluegills wouldn't be shy). The problem was with the rods. I had three there (instead of the two I was expecting). One was cracked and taped together as I remembered. The second was worse. The third one -- my dad's original fly rod with non-functioning automatic reel still attached -- was the one I hoped to use. It was cracking at a joint, too, and I wasn't willing to risk either the rod or the outing on its durability.
So I had to drop the fly fishing idea, but I could spinning gear from my dad, and a nearby vending machine could sell me bait regardless of the hour I got around. Now I was set.
Except I got up that morning and immediately learned that we were under a tornado watch. I considered my options, really hoping not to miss out on fishing (and we had plans for the afternoon and evening, so there was no chance of trying to wait out the watch). The mile-long wade/hike was out, but I could park near the river and keep within running distance. It would have to do.
I wasn't that optimistic, and when I realized I'd forgotten to grab split shot and had only my dad's oversized equipment, I realized I just had to adapt. The grey sky mildly worrying, I snagged bottom my second cast, freed it and kept moving.
But the day would change. On cast number six or so, I hooked something with some bulk, and when it flashed silver, I was stunned. Moments later I landed a fat, foot-long rainbow trout. I'd just been thinking that the second biggest trout I'd ever caught had come from that pool but that that pool was completely different. It still holds fish.
I worked my way as far downstream as I could and the sky turned black and I worked my way back toward the car. I was working a little slack spot I thought would produce some panfish. The line pulled tight and I brought in a brown a little smaller than his predecessor. I've caught trout in this river this late in the year, but not often. It must be my birthday.
I moved upstream to a spot that used to be good for rock bass (I've come to feel a special pleasure in this fish -- once regarded as forgettable "puners", they've taken on a sort homecoming significance since I rarely catch them in VA). Making miraculous casts between brances to exactly the spots I needed, I landed 2 or 3.
After that, I pushed through some brush to where I hoped I could catch a smallie. I did. He was only about 6 inches, but I wasn't greedy. I'd fished through the sporadic light rain, the storms had circled by us, and I'd had very pleasing grand slam for my birthday.
It was exactly what I would have asked for, but I'd have never had that day if I'd brought my fly gear. I planned on throwing bass and bluegill bugs, so the trout would have been extremely unlikely (unless I'd changed to something like a woolly bugger or soft-hackle by that point). I might have caught more fish or bigger bass in the stretch I didn't get to fish, but things wouldn't have been as interesting. And that's how to salvage a trip and have a happy birthday.