Luke 2: 12 And this shall be a sign unto you;Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
The Monday after Thanksgiving I rushed to do my chores and catch up after spending the holidays with family. After a two-week hiatus, the dam was shut down and I was anxious to fish. Just as I finished my work, however, the rain began. For about ten minutes, it poured buckets and gobs; but finally stopped in time for me to gear up, grab my old rain jacket and mount my trusty four-wheeler.
Several weeks before, I had changed to a different access point, as the steps on my neighbor’s property had fallen into the gully. Another gracious summer-home owner had cleared off a spot next to the river and encouraged me to enter there. Much steeper than my other spot, it required some caution descending until I could reach a small knoll and approach the water.
On this rainy day, I inched my way down, careful to watch my feet and use my wading staff as a mud-detector. Just as I passed the knoll, however, my left boot took a mighty slide and I flopped on my back side. Pausing to catch my breath, I found no wounds except a tiny bit of ruptured pride; then consoled myself with the idea that I could wash off my muddy backside by wading out a bit further than I normally do.
The second gully I needed to cross was swifter than I had hoped. Not feeling confident at this point, I nevertheless tried twice but had to turn back on the second try as my cell phone rang. I couldn’t maneuver and answer before the caller disconnected.
I eyeballed the ditch, chose a different point and made it across. Two weeks before, I had caught twenty-five fish per day during three days of fishing soft hackles fifteen yards below the end of the gravel bar. Today the same spot with the same flies produced nothing.
I trudged upriver to my favorite riffle. A thin mist kissed the river. Silence comforted me with no boat motors or chain saws to interrupt my enjoyment. My cast flew smooth and true with no wind gusts to tangle my line. My favorite Sims waterproof hat with the chin flaps kept me dry. Droplets waltzed quietly from the brim.
I changed from my Orange and Partridge to a larger soft hackle similar to a Green Butt. Casting below the rock piles, I allowed it to drift before beginning to strip the line. In a split second a large fish struck on the fly’s upward move; and in my excitement I missed the take. I tried all the other runs with no results.
The day was too perfect to quit, so I walked further upriver almost to the end of the gravel bar where the ’08 floods had gouged a deeper cut. Changing flies again, I chose another soft hackle I had never used, a yellow color not quite the same as an Anna K.
Remembering my earlier mistake, I cast and waited until the fly began to ascend again. A fish struck and missed. I didn’t move but corralled my beating heart and waited. The second time he didn’t miss and neither did I. When I lifted the rod, he took off for deeper water. Since I stood on the precipice of the run, I carefully cranked with the proper rod tension and waded toward shallower water.
I glimpsed golden color when the fish heaved and twisted and knew I had a Brown. When I captured him in my net, I reveled in his perfect color and his attempts to throw the hook. Only about 15”, nevertheless he had put up a worthy battle. I quickly laid him down, snapped a picture and released him.
Within seconds, I threw into the same spot and reaped the reward of another Brown whose courage surpassed the first. Believing he was larger, I exercised even more caution until I’d duplicated my earlier efforts and scooped him into the net. Pausing, I again admired his vibrant colors, reversed the net and freed him.
I decided to quit for the day. Upon beginning my ascent up the hill, I reminded myself of my earlier debacle. I had almost reached the crest and safety when both boots slipped at the same time throwing me down on one arm and elbow. I wheezed out a strangled cry; and for a moment thought I’d fall to the bottom. Somehow I made it to my knees and finished the climb in that position; then stood to assess the state of my equipment. Mud smeared both sleeves of the blue rain jacket as well as my gloves. Sticks and copper-colored pine needles coated my waders and grit covered my reel.
As I staggered back to my four-wheeler, I focused on the day’s events through the perspective of a Christmas journey. As we prepare our hearts for the coming season, are we stymied by a non-producing spirit of despair? Do we stumble through the rocks and gullies losing sight of the stable we seek? Do we miss the vibrant colors and breath-taking sight of that starry night so long ago? Are we afraid to wade the muck to the stable and look in the tiny infant’s eyes? One courageous step up the path is all it takes.
He is waiting.