Voices from the river

Voices from the River: This is why we do it

by Chris Hunt

My hands are cold. The wool mittens, even with the little flap that covers my fingers when I’m not using them to tie tippet to the leader or a fly to the tippet, just aren’t cutting it today.

There’s absolutely no reason for me to be here, knee deep i

n water that feels like it’s minutes away from freezing around my legs and cementing me in this river for the rest of winter. The wind, steered through the black, basalt canyon walls isn’t helping, either. My eyes, sheltered behind polarized sunglasses, are tearing up, and my nose is a sniff away fr

om being just plain gross.

But I am here, damn it, standing in a river so cold it seems to run slow and thick, almost syrupy, as if joining my fingers and my eyes and my nose in protest against the worst of winter’s chill. These trips are less frequent, but I still do it now and then, if for no other reason than to prove that I still can. But, like I said, there’s no good reason for this. No reason to leave a sink full of dishes, or the swaths of paint on the wall in the dining room I’ve been intending to redo for … let’s see… well, hell, it’s been a couple years now. If I remember correctly, the kids and I settled on a very vanilla shade of taupe. What was it called? LaFonda. Yes. LaFonda.

And, yes, the Christmas tree is still up, and that lightbulb in the downstairs bath isn’t going to replace itself. The dryer is squeaking. Probably a bad belt. Or maybe, after 12 years, it’s just starting its death rattle.

Let’s be honest. I have more important things to do.

Damn, it’s cold. That wind. It’ll find any path under the jacket and the fleece and the second layer of fleece it can find and send a gust of frost into the nether-regions. It’s what it does in January, I guess.

I’ve pushed ice through the guides of the fly rod since I got here and started casting, making me utter some choice phrases under my steamy breath. God, I hate winter. I’m so done with this snow. With this ice. With this wind that cuts through everything and leaves a man weak and yearning for the recliner, the fire, a glass of Irish whiskey and a little binge-watching. I’m so done with this crap. Ugh.

The line pulls tight. The rod is heavy as it pumps against the current. Fly line sings through frozen eyelets, sending a shower of broken and powdered ice into the dark water at my feet. Winter’s river erupts with a slushy geyser, and a big, fat rainbow takes to the frosty air, my Prince nymph stuck in the corner of its iredescent jaw. It freezes in time, and I can see that pink stripe running along its broad flank, and its black-on-gold eye stares me down through sub-freezing space. It cannon-balls back into the river, sending a spray of icy water my way. I can taste the river on my lips, and feel it freeze to my beard. Frozen line peels from the reel as the fish rockets into the current and surges upstream.

It’s not as cold now, with my muscles tense and my eyes focused. The wind seems to have died down a bit. The feeling has come back to my fingers as the life from the river pushes blood into the tips. My frosty breath circles my face, clouding, just for an instant, the lenses of my glasses. I have the fish on the reel now, and I’ve started my slow trudge toward the snow-covered bank over time-worn rocks that have seen winters like this for eons.

At my feet now, this winter rainbow still fights, and I reach my now-warm fingers into the water and grip the fly. With a quick tug, it’s free from the mouth of the trout, and I watch with satisfaction as the big fish slowly surges back into the current.

Winter’s glorious cruelty greets my eyes as I stand and stretch. Feet of snow line the ribbon of black water, and chunks of ice hurry downstream. The wind picks up again, slicing through layers. I sniff snot back up into my nose. My eyes tear up again. It’s so cold.

No. There’s nothing better to do today.

Chris Hunt is the national editorial director for Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls, Idaho.