Young. Strong. Stupid. Lucky.
We’re here. The Owens River. Me and Justin. We got here a day early. Doug had to work. Him and Chad’ll be up tomorrow. We get to have a head start.
The whole way up, Justin was telling me how to fish this place. Like I needed it. But he’s been here before, a couple of times, so maybe he knows something, so I listened. Fish the whirlpools, fish any little eddy you see out there, especially if there’s tulies nearby. Be on the lookout for tulies. I was just nodding the whole way, thinking, Okay, okay. Just listening. The whole way up. I already know all that he said, but it gets you excited, just listening to it, because we’re going. Riding shotgun and listening. Man, the whole way, I just couldn’t wait.
Here at last, we hop out. It’s late morning. Got enough road snacks to last us. Time to fish. Supposed to be brown trout in here. Tons of them. I only ever caught rainbows.
Step and pull and gallump and shimmy into our waders, then pull the straps, then the stooping and the boots. I strap on my tackle belt. It’s for traveling and fishing. I got this. I got my tackle box loaded with spinners and spoons—Mepps, Rooster Tails, Panther Martins, you name it—putting on our fishing vests, grab our poles out of the back of my cousin’s new truck he’s all proud of, so proud he had to drive the whole way up, all three hours, which was fine by me.
The sun’s out, the fish’re hungry, I’m 28 and I feel great. My weightlifting arms bulge out of fishing vest, and I’ve a crotch of virility, rubbing and squenching in my waders as we walk towards the river, my cousin and me, shiny-sharp metal clinking at the end of my pole—you better believe I’m tied up and ready to go alread—the rest of my lures and equipment rubbing, banging, smacking together in my pack with each eager pace on the dirt as we get closer and closer to this river here.
So this is the Owens. This is what you guys were talking about this whole time, huh? Interesting. All dirt for miles, and a bunch of yellowy-dead grass for miles, and then right in the middle of it there’s this long, curving-around, deep trench about 20 or 30 feet across, and the river is way down there, about eight or nine feet down from the cliff here, straight on down there.
”So there’s brown trout, huh?”
”Dude, they’re everywhere,” says my cousin. And he tells again, some more hot spots to look for, where to cast, what lures to use.
Like I needed it.
It is decided that we should split up. He’ll go upstream, I’ll go down. We’ll meet up later and talk about our score. My very first cast. I’m gonna work this sucker. These fish are gonna wish they’d never seen me.
Every couple steps, you make another cast. Everytime you see a hotspot, or what looks like maybe a hotspot. See the gold spinning off of my lure as I’m reeling. I got a gold Blue Fox on. Gold spinning blade, yellow feather skirt. Treble hook. Can’t miss. Trout go crazy over this sucker.
”You guys‘re dead meat,” I whisper. Didn’t have to whisper. Justin’s way far up there, can’t even see him anymore.
You have to cast sideways to get down there. Wonder how long it took this river to cut through this meadow and get all the way down there. That’s a real gully down there. No rapids or anything, no boulders, nothing like that, but it’s MOVE-ing, all right. You can tell by the way—
I’m snagged. My lure’s stuck. Right on the bottom. Right out there in the middle. Dammit, I see it. I SEE the damn thing. See the gold. It’s tinkling away down there. Right there. Little reflections of the sun. The blade’s still moving. C’mon man, not my Blue Fox. I pull my rod leftways and right. That gets it sometimes. You never want to pull straight back. It could come flying at you. That was two-fifty, man. Two and a half bucks. And it’s a surefire fish catcher. And it’s right there. It’s RIGHT THERE. I SEE it. Look how shallow. I can get that.
My body makes the decision without my head. My muscle-bound body said, “Two or three feet deep“ to itself without saying anything to my head, and it set down my pole and it did it all on its own, and off and away I went. And down I went.
Water. Water. Everywhere water and bubbles. Water up over my head, way over my head. The sun’s up there and I’m down here in all this water and bubbles and it‘s bubbles going different directions and I’m being pulled—and pushed—and I’m going, I can’t stop, I’m going, it’s taking me, I’m going down, still under, bubbles up, bubbles sideways, quick grab the sides, steep-cliff dirt sides, dig my fingers in like claws, but all dirt clods, disintegrate in a second in the current, quick grab the sides again, all dirt clods, disintegrate in a second going faster, grab on, claws, more dirt, more dirt going down, I’m going down, I screwed up, I screwed up, grab on and there’s a rock—big rock—both hands now—Do it arms! Do it!!—pull and push and launch. Hands on the cliff, dry cliff up top, pull with all my might, leg up in soaking waders, swing up on the cliff, last pull and roll over, over onto my back.
Let me just lay here. Laying out in the sun. Chest goes up and down. Arms laid out. On this dirt. Face to the sun. I just did that. I just did it to myself.
It wasn’t shallow.
I don’t know how long I’m here. I don’t mind this dirt. I got nowhere to go. I’m okay just right here. There’s the sun. This breeze feels nice. Everything is nice right now. Everything’s really nice.
Then it hits me. What am I gonna say? I’m all wet still. What am I gonna say if he asks? I suck at lying, but no way I’m telling him.
And then he does ask me, because he’s right there, standing up there. He’s back from upstream. I’m older than him. Oh God, this is embarrassing.
”What’d you do, fall in?” my cousin asks me.
Oh, thank God he made it easy. Thank God. I was worried he’d say, “What happened?” and then I’d be in trouble.
But one word I can do.
”Yes,” I say.
And I’m saved. Hallelujah, I’m saved, he thinks it was an accident. I‘d’ve never outlived that one.