I pulled into the driveway and shut off the truck. Two bouncing boys emerged from the garage and would scarcely let me open the door for their excitement to see me. We hugged and talked about their day, what they had learned, what they did at school, and what they were drawing on the driveway with their chalk. I greeted my wife and she whispered in my ear "I'm glad you're going. You need it."
I put the finishing touches on my already packed truck, and waited on my good buddy Nate to arrive. It had been a long week. Heck, it had been a long month. It had rained earlier in the week causing river levels to rise and the water to muddy. It was late April, so I knew we were pushing the warm water bite a bit anyway. I didn't care. I didn't care one bit. I was going fishing, but it wasn't fish I was after.
Nate pulled up, and we quickly transferred his gear to my truck for the ride up to camp. Our mutual friend Rich Walker was already waiting on us, sprawled in the shade in a camp chair, with his ever faithful blue heeler Tucker. This weekend, Rich planned to show us his old stomping grounds. A series of small rivers in the upstate of South Carolina. I said good bye to the boys , bribing quivering lips with promises of a surprise if their momma said they were good. I always get a hollow ache when I leave them behind. Out on the road, Nate and I blew the first hour up with work, politics, and family life. Once the pressure valve had been opened, we relaxed, and the conversation turned to fly rods and stick bows.
We pulled in to camp to find Rich and Tucker right where they had been hours earlier. We exchanged greetings as we pitched our camps and surveyed our surroundings. We filled our tumblers with cold drinks and set about the task of checking the river flows, starting a fire, and planning tomorrows adventure. We talked into the night about this trip, trips gone by, and trips we still hadn't taken yet.
We stood on the bridge over the river the next morning weighing our options. The water was a little high and off color, but it was definitely doable. The fish would be holding along the banks behind anything that created a current break. We eased into the water and waded downstream a bit. We brandished glass 4wt's like gunslingers looking for a fight in some dusty, lost town. The sound of line being stripped off of a click pawl ended my day dream, and I turned to watch Nate start picking apart the bank with foam dry. It didn't take long and Nate was hooked up with a nice little redbreast. Tucker came over to have a look and give final approval. I noticed then that he was struggling a bit. The water was high and it was difficult to navigate for the ole fella. I turned and looked at Rich and caught the frown that flashed across his face. The truth was Tucker was getting on up there, but what he lacked in youth, he more than made up for in heart.
We discussed it quickly and decided to go upstream, where Tucker might find better footing. We took turns fishing the holes and helping Tucker along the way. He was after all, one of US. He had been an integral part of every trip we have made for as far back as I can remember. We would never leave a man, nor a skiff dog, behind.
We fished on through the day, and despite the conditions, managed to bring quite a mess of fish to hand. We rambled through the woods like we did in our youth, stopping to fish the good spots, checking out the deer trails, and playing with our dog. The highlight of the day, the slump buster if you will, was Rich finding large bass in a shallow feeder creek. Nate and I watched quietly from across the creek as Rich and Tucker worked to fool the wary bass. Rich delivered the fly, stripped once, and his rod bowed deeply. We all cheered loudly, as every fish was a notch in all of our belts.
Back in camp that night, Nate seared hand cut ribeye steaks, I cut home fries, and Rich poured a fresh round. We recounted the day as we prepared our meal. Tucker lay quietly on his pad, eyes closed, sleeping soundly. Our little camp hummed with sound of content fisherman. We ate like kings and settled into our chairs in front of the evening fire. We all knew the fishing had been a little off. We all knew that we were a little early for the really good redbreast fishing. Most importantly, we all knew that none of this was about the fish.