I finished up work on Thursday and got home just as Jilda was leaving to go teach. There were things around the house that needed doing, but when I stepped out on the back deck, the sky was denim blue with doughy clouds drifting listlessly toward the east and I heard a different calling.
I’d been reading The Sun Also Rises by Earnest Hemingway and just finished the part about him fly fishing in Spain with friends. Standing on my deck I thought to myself, fly fishing would be a better use of my afternoon. I loaded my gear and headed to the Sipsey Fork of the Warrior.
Pulling into the parking lot of Riverside Fly Shop, I stepped inside to get the fishing news. Randy, who works with his son at the shop, gave me the scoop on the types of flies the trout were hitting. He also mentioned in passing that the power company would turn the turbines on at 4 p.m. When I looked at my watch it was 3:45. “Well shoot!” I thought. When the turbines are running, the water level rises three or four feet. Wading would not be an option.
I thought my trip was a wash until Randy gave me the skinny on a lesser-known spot where I could fish even with the turbines running. With the words of Hemingway humming in my mind, I was ready to give it a try. One drawback was that I’d have to walk an extra half-mile to the fishing spot.
Finding the place he described, I clench-knotted a dry fly onto my tippet. After a dozen casts with no action, I tried a nymph, and then a salmon egg, but I didn’t get the first strike.
As the sun edged toward the horizon, the shadows grew longer and a blue heron drifted down the river on the evening breeze searching for supper. I thought to myself, who cares if the fish aren’t biting? There is still no place I’d rather be than on the water.
The evening was warm and I’d worked up a sweat so I kicked off my shoes at the water’s edge and waded ankle deep into the frigid water to cool off. My fly line whispering overhead as my weightless fly teased the brush on the other bank.
Everything seems to be in slow motion when I fly fish, so I guess that’s why I didn’t know the water was slowly rising. I wouldn’t have realized it at all had I not noticed out of the corner of my eye, one of my shoes floating away on the water like an untethered canoe.
“Oh no! I’m going to need that for the trek back,” I thought. I stepped into the stream to grab it but quickly found myself in waist-deep water. The shoe drifted further away. It seemed to be taunting me.
I began casting my fly at the shoe in the hopes of snagging it and bringing it back to me, but I saw how badly my casting skills were. My flies kept getting tangled in the brush on the other bank. I tried rolling casts, side-arm casts, and straight overhead casts.
After getting $12 worth of flies tangled in the brush without coming close to snagging the shoe, I decided to call it a day.
I hobbled back to the truck like the peg-legged pirate Long John Silver. Driving home I wondered if Hemingway ever had to fish for his shoe.
Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Changes is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at email@example.com.