“Having any luck?” the man asked.
“I’ve managed to get into some trout,” I replied. “How about yourself, any luck?”
“A few fly poops,” he said. “Nothing much more than that.”
I had been watching the man sift through the dirt at the side of the river for a while now. I’d been chasing a pod of young, eager fish upstream toward where he’d been methodically panning for gold.
His action mirrored mine, in their own unique way. While I would cast, wait, react, repeat, he would scoop, swish, inspect, dump, repeat. Each of us was out there in the rain looking for something a little larger than normal, a reason to come back to this spot another day, a story to tell.
“Look at this,” the man pointed to the bank in front of him as I passed by. “Someone’s dug this whole thing out.”
He pointed at the bank near where he’d set up. As he’d mentioned, it had been completely hollowed out by someone.
“I hate this,” he continued. “It gives gold panners a bad name.”
We chatted a bit longer, about both gold panning and trout fishing, before I moved downriver to see if I could find more trout.
I fished for a while, exploring the seams and flows downstream. Watching my indicator carefully as it made its way down the river, through super fishy water. But all I found was quiet, the only sounds were the rushing water and the occasional tick tick tick plop as the high bank on the opposite side of the river donated rocks to the water, bring the building that perched on the edge of the bank on rock closer to falling in.
The next day his truck was in the exact same spot, like it hadn’t move at all. I wondered, briefly, if he’d spend the night there. We weren’t far off the highway, but in a truck at night, you probably wouldn’t even notice.
“You’re still here?” I called out to him when I’d gotten closer.
“He’s got help now!” A woman called back.
A smile crossed my face as I saw the man from yesterday, up to his elbows in the bank, a small shovel in his hands, scooping out the bank into waiting containers.
Seeing him there reminded me of the old saying, a man never steps in the same river twice. It was true. Nothing remained the same on the river. It was in a constant state of flux. You could fish the same 100 feet every day for a week and never have the same experience. Access changed. Structure changed. The bugs changed. Even the people, it seemed, changed from day to day.
But ultimately, the river makes liars of us all, doesn’t it? Much like he made a point of calling out the bad habits of others on the previous day before succumbing to the same habits, I’ll add inches to the fish I catch here, no doubt when I tell this story down the road. Probably numbers, too. What started as six or seven 10 inch trout, will be well over a dozen 15 inch fish by the time I die, I’m sure.
The spot had lost some of its charm, though, at least for me. The day before it had been the two of us, toiling alone in the rain, chasing after something that we could run home and brag to our friends about. Today, though, it felt hollow, like someone had taken a shovel to it. It felt more like a worksite. A production line, of sorts.
I fished for a little while, the same eager fish that I’d found 24 hours earlier were still there, but they weren’t active on the surface as they had been the day before. If I had wanted to, I could probably find what I was after, but the moment passed for this spot.
I caught a few more fish, then moved on.