“You make coffee?”
He stood two feet away from me. Close, so his whisper sounded loud in the quiet while the others slept.
I was dressed except for bare feet. A scattered jumble of tippet, fly boxes, and various possibles dangled from my fishing necklace. My brother knew I only needed to step outside, grab my rod, and walk down to the river.
He stood there looking back at me in his sweatpants and t-shirt. Two minutes earlier I had heard his alarm go off from downstairs.
It was dark in the cabin, but down the hall and behind him the bathroom light was on, and I could make out his face in the shadows enough to see when his eyes closed before he sighed and lowered his head.
When he looked back at me, he was smiling. I knew he was coming.
The pine floors creaked when he turned and creaked as he walked down the hall through the light and back into darkness towards the stairs that went to the loft where he had been sleeping next to his pregnant wife. I stepped down the hall and through the same light to the front door and out into the dusk.
It was almost too dark to tie on flies. I gently closed the front door, then turned and looked down at my fly rod that lay on the porch behind a flowerpot. It had a pheasant tail and hares ear dropper that fished well the day before, so I would fish them today for now. I had tied them in my basement, before the trip with my son, who lay asleep on the other side of the window above my rod, next to his mother. It was almost too dark to tie on new flies anyway.
Sand and gravel that had been carried back from the river bit my feet when I moved to the porch step, sat down, and slipped on my river shoes. They were cold and wet.
I grabbed my rod from behind the pot and walked down to my brothers black Toyota truck that was parked in front of the porch.
The door to the cabin cracked and my brother slipped out rod tip first, then shut the door, and walked towards me stopping halfway between the truck and the steps.
“Cold.” He was looking away when he spoke.
“Yeah. It’ll get hot quick when the sun hits the river though.”
I looked back to the cabin. It was identical to the ones beside it. Pine A frames in a row. Ours was number fifteen. Past the cabin and the trees, the canyon wall ran down from its high peak, towards the sound of the river where we would fish, and I realized it would be cold for most of it.
It was not far to the river. We walked past the cabins until the gravel parking lot stopped and a worn path led us down a hill through the forest to dry sand that bordered the rocks and the river that the cabins looked down on. The water moved dark in the shadows of the trees and the cliffs. We stood there watching it.
“Let’s fish downstream and work up.” He said.
“Alright.” I paused. “It’s gonna get sunny upstream first.”
He looked at me. “Yeah?”
“Okay. I guess we’ll just be cold then.” I was smiling.
I wanted to walk up around the bend and out of the canyon, where we had not fished and where I knew the sun would touch the river first. I wanted to fish alone, where I thought the fish might be, and how I knew I liked to fish, but I stopped. He started downstream, stepping from stone to stone along the bank, pausing to get his footing, and then continuing. I followed him.
He fished a seam downstream from fast water with boulders and rocks that made the river bounce and churn in white water and large pools. It was smoother where we fished. My brother waded out five yards and cast crisp methodical casts to a slow spot along a large rock in the middle of the river. I could see the large dry fly sit on the pocket and hold there — a Chubby Chernobyl. I could tell a fish would have to take the Chubby fast before the line was caught in the current and he could not mend it, and the fish would know. He had a trout on the fourth cast. I could see him smiling while he played the fish to the net. He held him for me to see. I nodded and smiled.
I waded out slowly on the slippery rocks, casting as I went. My casts were short, without much line, but natural drifts. The river flowed steady here and the current carried my line evenly.
I looked back at him and saw his rod was bent again in the fast water. As he pulled line and raised the rod tip high, he stepped back and slipped. The fish was gone.
He put his hand on his knee. Shook his head. I knew what was next. It was too loud to hear him. He held his hands up to measure out the lost fish.
Nice fish. I saw him say it, but I could not hear him. I knew then that I wanted to fish with him that day.
I waded against the current and followed him as he moved upstream. We both caught fish. We both laughed. We both lost some flies to a fish, or a rock. Even when he stopped and stood with the water running past his legs, tying on a new fly, it was as if it was meant to be that way. It was part of it. And eventually, we reached the sun — or it reached us.
When I saw him reeling in after we had caught fish in the sun long enough so that all the shadows were gone and every rock had begun warming for the day, I walked back towards the bank. He met me there.
“Whatcha think? Get some coffee? Breakfast?” I knew he was ready too.
“Sure. Yeah. I could use some coffee for sure. We can come out later.”
We walked back together. The sun had warmed us, but my bones were cold.
Taking It With You
It does not take long for me to find myself alone on the river. When we walk down to the bank or stop the drift boat and climb out, I am quickly wandering off from my companions.
It is not that I want to fish alone. It is just the result of me and a river meeting. As natural as shaking hands.
When I see the river in front of me, I follow it. Every eddy and riffle pull me along. A tight line or a trout sliding from my hand, swimming back to his home, keeps me there for a while, and then I move on again. I can linger in a section for hours, hoping the next cast or the next fly will draw a fish up and let me set the hook. Or I can cast briefly to a spot, and then continue, walking miles of stream and fishing this way. I can spend the day completely alone on the river and be happy.
But sometimes it is nice to fish with someone. Sometimes it is nice to walk the river with your brother and watch how he sees things, and how he explores the river. Sometimes you want to be close to them while you fish.
The more I fish with the people I care about, the more I realize it is the memories I take with me, that I treasure. Because the fish must stay in the river, and I must leave the river. Fishing with them — my brother, my son, a good friend — it is a chance to take that piece of the river with me.
Life is not so different. Christmas morning with my wife and son. Sitting in a deer blind with my father. Laughing with an old friend I flew with years ago, while we were far away from our families.
These moments are like spots along a river. You cannot stay there. You cannot keep them. You can only experience them and move on.
But you can remember them. And you can keep going back to the places where you know they will be.
You can keep going back to the people that make those memories, and sometimes, you can fish with them. Whoever it is in your life — fish with them. Wadeoutthere.