Sometimes things get tough. Work, parenting, marriage, finances. We have all been there in one facet or another throughout our lives. The unfortunate side effect is that sometimes when life gets tough fishing gets hard to come by. Sometimes when your fishing, the fish get hard to come by. My good buddy Rich and I had decided that we had, had enough of life and it was time to set things right by baptizing my new drift boat, and putting some fish in it. Rich's dog Tucker joined us, as he has for many years now, to oversee the operation.
We pushed out into the current and I pulled on the oars. This was my first drift boat and my first time venturing out into moving water. Moving water with lots of big rocks. I back rowed along the bank to a nice shade line and Rich began picking apart boulder piles and logs in the crystal clear water.
Several hours later, we had not even moved a fish. I could tell by the current flow and low water things were going to be tough. In my mind I began to doubt why I was even there. My intent had been to show a good friend some good fishing and give him a new experience on the water. Sure enough, it seemed this trip was shaping up to be the same as the life we were attempting to briefly leave behind. A grind.
Rich is one of my best friends, and an experienced saltwater and freshwater fly angler. He knew how the day was shaping up. We both knew it. However, instead of giving up and cursing the river god's, we set our jaws against the day. We cracked a cold one, leaned on each others resolve and went to work. We pounded rock piles, drifted ledges, and peppered deeper holes. Nothing. Not a follow, not a swipe, nothing.
We made the halfway point in our float, and with a thunder shower looming in the distance, I dropped anchor and we had lunch. BLT's made with fresh tomatoes from the garden. Tuckers ears perked from his command position on the deck as I opened a bag of chips. My shoulder was throbbing and still weak from an injury months ago. I silently cursed getting older. With the first bite of my homegrown maters I forgot all about my shoulder as the taste of summer sun flooded my mouth. We talked and ate and enjoyed the breeze.
Refreshed, we made our way around a big bend in the river where I had caught fish before. I slid the boat across the swift current and smiled to myself at my improved rowing. I came alongside the slower deeper boulder water at the edge of the main current and dropped the anchor. Rich made a few casts and I surveyed the water. I spoke up and told him to cast to the far ledge and just let the fly swing through. Just as the black bunny leech passed over the the rock into a dark hole behind his line came tight.
High fives and fist bumps didn't cover it. The fish was so much more than either of us could express. It wasn't just the first of the day, or the first smallmouth in my new rig, it was the culmination of months of hard work and never giving in. It was our deep rooted resolve to never give up. Never.
We rolled down the river through a short thunderstorm. Rain poured over us but nothing could extinguish the fire that had been stoked inside of us. We knew we could do it. We knew that no matter how tough it got, we would simply embrace the suck and find a way. After the rain cleared out we were running short on time. Life was calling, begging my return to keep my boys while my wife enjoyed a much needed girls night out. I had one more spot in mind as we neared the final push to the take out.
I handed Rich a 6wt with an airflo sink tip and a big rubber legged bugger I call the "Fat Albert". He had figured out the game and began drifting that fly like a seasoned veteran. I gave my advice on a likely spot and once again called my shot Babe Ruth style. A small bartrams redeye bass had inhaled the fly.
The light had come on for Rich. He fully understood that drifting wasn't just for trout. Moments later another smallmouth came to hand. Small in stature but fierce for his size he never gave up, even managing wriggle away as I was taking a quick photo. We shook hands knowing that was the end of the day. We both remarked at the tenacity of that little bass. Life doesn't give them a thing. They work for every bit of their existence twenty-four hours a day. It seems for all of us, life is a grind.