When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee.
Last year on a hot summer’s day, I drove to the Narrows access. The larger island entertains numerous rock beds and drop-offs. Once known for big browns and quality fish, the flooding of the past several years has taken its toll on the “fishability” of the main island.
I rigged up in the small parking lot. As I always do, I tread carefully down the rock steps; and as I moved off the last one, I realized I’d forgotten my Ziploc bag in which I usually store my phone. Oh well, I thought anxious to fish, it’s zipped in my wader pocket. No problem.
The run next to the island has deepened since the Dec. ‘15 flood so that the former safe crossing spots are treacherous. I found this out when I attempted to wade across a place I perceived as safe. Since I’m a lightweight, I’ve always utilized a sidestep approach that has served me well in past fishing trips. I trekked halfway across and suddenly realized I was in a poor position, balance-wise, to the current. Quickly perceiving the danger, I knew better than to turn around, but instead attempted to anchor my wading staff and one foot then move the other foot along attaining a more stable position. In the blink of a baby’s eyelash I was down and twirling like an out-of-control drum major’s baton. My first thought was don’t let go of your rod. My second was don’t drown!
The water wasn’t deeper than about 2 feet, which didn’t keep me from tumbling under even with my life vest. Each time I attempted to rise, the swift current thrust me back down. The more I tried to get my feet under me, the less successful I became. I didn’t think I would drown as long as I didn’t hit the steep drop-off where the water accessed the main channel. But at the rate I was progressing, that became more tenuous. Somehow I finally managed to get on my knees and crawl up the bank.
I sat and surveyed the damage: multiple water droplets sparkled under my IPhone cover (so much for the expensive “waterproof” case); my wader feet squished in my boots; but my wet sleeves would dry. I emptied my boots and stood on shaky legs. I would survive I thought and headed around the island to begin fishing. I threw my first fly of the day, one similar to a crackleback in a lime green color. The beauty of this fly, given me by a friend, is that it can be fished wet or dry; and I’d never had an opportunity to try it in this venue. When no takes rewarded my cast near the first rock pile, I decided to try something different.
Reaching for my fly box, I found only an empty pocket. This was my favorite filled with 10 years of flies both store-bought and those given me by friends, like Bob Krause, Ron McQuay, young Michael Schrader and others. Sick at heart, I knew they couldn’t be replaced. Discouraged I returned to the spot where I’d sat after falling, hoping the box would be there. It wasn’t. Disconsolate, I decided to forgo fishing and instead concentrate on a safe place to cross and return to my car. I kept walking upstream along the edge of the treacherous run and found a “softer, gentler,” spot. As I exited into ankle deep water, 2 fly fishers met me. I told them of my disastrous morning and urged caution, saying in a mocking tone, “I guess I just didn’t have enough lead in my butt.”
One of the guys, a most skinny fellow muttered, “Well I’ve got enough in mine.” The other guy stopped and commiserated with me when I told him of my lost fly box; and I begged him to return it to Dally’s fly shop in case he recovered it. As I left, I turned around to watch the first lean fisher. He crossed near the spot of my disaster and seemed to stiffen his legs and stalk as he waded, almost like a Blue Heron when it searches the shallows. The sight would have been comical under normal circumstances, but not today.
Chagrined all over again, I tromped back to the car and removed all my gear, thinking of my losses for the day: a full fly box and heaps of dignity and pride. I resolved to come back but stopped at my favorite Sonic Drive-in where I drowned my sorrows in a diet drink.
Two weeks later, I returned, determined to “get back on the proverbial horse”. I crossed at the better spot with no problems, only to behold a fallen tree that blocked the way around the island, unless I tried the swift current again. Refusing to quit, I waded back across and considered slogging the opposite way around the island; then realized it was uncharted territory in terms of current and distance. I chose instead to fish the lesser island where I’d never been before.
I tried several flies but with no results. A guide boat anchored below me but I saw no fish captured in their net either. However, I found some slight drop-offs, some sloping gravel bars and encountered new possibilities there. By this time, the hot temps convinced me to return to the parking lot and call it a morning.
Reviewing the outing, I thought about spiritual lessons God tried to teach me. The struggle to get on my knees to save myself was one of the more obvious. I have an active prayer life and often feel as though I’m chatting with a friend rather than entreating God for a request. Had I lost consistency and continuity in my prayer endeavors? Has my prayer list not received the devotion those people deserved? I contemplated David’s words in a new light—“thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” My fly fishing equipment is valuable but not as cherished as my salvation. What have I clutched to myself rather than sharing the story of the cross? In warning the 2 fishers about my catastrophe, had I been a Good Samaritan, while at the same time, seeking empathy from my fellow men or was I just throwing a pity party? These topics deserved further study and thoughtfulness.
But the outings weren’t a total loss. I’d conquered my anxiety about the crossing, found different locations to fish and realized new potential in The Narrows. Most people see only the beauty of fly fishing. I’d witnessed some of the ugliness and lived to tell about it, thanks to God’s grace and protection. Those thoughts lightened my heart and kept my resolve firm. I’d be back.