She wasn’t busy Saturday night. Technically, I wasn’t either. I didn’t need to cruise up to Idaho for a day of fishing with my buddy Blair, but I’d been in a writing rut of late and thought a change of scenery and new water would help me break through it. At the very least, I always need more stories to write about.
Justifying a fishing trip to other folks is second nature these days. Who really wants to be at every family get-together, expensive dinner, and blind date they’re invited on? And is it such a crime to use the “I need something to write about for my column this month” excuse to weasel out of those commitments?
Not in the slightest. The thing is, I’m not used to justifying a trip to myself. After all, the best time to fish is when you can, and I don’t see anywhere in the Ten Commandments or the rest of the Bible that says I’ll face eternal damnation and hellfire for missing my 1-year-old niece’s birthday party.
Yet for the entirety of the four-hour drive to a remote part of Idaho I couldn’t quit second-guessing myself. She wasn’t busy that night; I chose to be. The bugger of it all was that the girl in question was someone I’d known for years and finally worked up the courage to ask out on a date. Whether it was pity or the promise of free dinner that got her to say yes, I’m not sure. But she said she wanted to go out again.
Most guys breathe a sigh of relief when they get the second date. I start thinking about how it’ll impact my fishing plans.
I’d skipped Thursday night’s fishing trip for dinner with her. I couldn’t give up my Saturday in Idaho for just a second date, right? That’s reserved for serious commitment—like five years into marriage when you’re a bit more confident she won’t leave you.
John Gierach wrote that the solution to any problem in life, including love, is a fishing trip—the bigger the problem, the longer the trip should be. Maybe John got it backwards, though. Maybe it’s fishing trips that cause problems and we spend time on the water to avoid them rather than to find a solution.
So what was I doing that Saturday? Was I finding a solution or avoiding a problem? Unlike the snow that fell against a slate sky while I strung up my fly rod, the answer wasn’t strictly black and white. Nothing in fly fishing or life is, for that matter.
A small part of me wanted vindication—in the form of giant fish in my net, of course—but what I really wanted was to quit second-guessing my decision to go fishing in the first place. For the better part of a decade I’ve been the guy who’s ready to fish at the drop of a hat. Now I felt like the guy who, upon asking his wife if he could fish, received the bone-chilling “It’s your choice” response.
Like most guys in that situation, I stuffed my feelings to the back of my mind and let the river distract me from my troubles. The water was so clear I couldn’t get more than 60 or so feet from rising fish before they’d stop. I brought three to hand, then drove back into town to meet up with Blair. He’d worked the morning but convinced his wife to give him the afternoon to fish.
The afternoon fell into an easy pattern of companionship that comes from years spent fishing together. The snow stopped falling in late afternoon, replaced by a wicked wind and sharp drop in temperature. We’d left the river in favor of a lake, which turned out to be a good decision. Blair caught and kept a 20-inch rainbow for his boys to eat for dinner, and we both caught and released fish over the 25-inch mark.
It wasn’t until I couldn’t feel my hands, my toes had gone numb, and the tip of my nose was more ice than skin that we called it quits. After thawing out in the car and a long drive back to town, I could feel my toes again. Blair headed north, and I turned south on Interstate 15.
Somewhere around the Utah-Idaho border my phone died, killing the music that, along with copious amounts of Rock Star, kept me awake. I pulled off the freeway, found my charger, and got back on the road. George Strait twanged out of the speakers, interrupted only once by a soft bing.
She’d texted me, asking how my day went.
Mild hypothermia and huge fish is how it went, thank you very much. But was that a better use of my Saturday night than a second date?
I reached a conclusion somewhere around Salt Lake City. Good ol’ John Gierach was right about the river being a great place to think through a problem. The long stretches of silence between hooksets, the whine of a fly reel’s drag, and the splashing of trout give you plenty of time to reflect on the problems you’re either deliberately avoiding or have no clue how to solve.
I texted her when I got home around midnight. The message was short:
I couldn’t have asked for a better day on the water.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, TROUT Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram at @Spencer_Durrant.