I Always Heard the River Before I Could See It

Photo by Jim Dietter.


I always heard the river before I could see it. Leaving my truck by the stone wall and crossing down through the meadow, I would swing my wader-clad legs through thick hay or scuff my boots over the stubble after a cutting, listening and quickening my pace as I formed my recognition of what the river was promising.


The river is a tail-water, fed from a dam 10 miles upstream. The power company raises and lowers the river’s flow depending on power needs and the amount of water flowing into the river from rain or run-off. If I heard the river early, say at the first opening between the meadow and the corn field next to it, I could know the water was fast and probably high. That meant streamer fishing close to the banks, or heavy nymphs in the close-in seams. I’d recheck to be sure I had my wading staff, and begin to mentally select my first fly choice. Usually I’d want my special wooly bugger, tan with olive marabou, furnace hackle and weighted with lead wrap and a big bead head.


If the sound came to me further along, closer to a clump of wild briar roses, I could visualize the water flowing high enough to cover the shallow edges of the river but low enough to expose the tops of the four big rocks that shaped a perfect pool. Depending on whether I heard a high, fast sound or something that sounded slower, I would have to think about my choices. The season would make a big difference, too.


If I didn’t hear the river until I entered the thicket of maples and beeches that closed off the meadow, my smile widened. Except for times of drought, hearing no sound while I walked across the meadow meant low water, ideal for dry flys. All I had to do now was slip down through the brush, stand still for a minute, see what flies were on the water and look for the beautiful sight of a rising fish.


I walked listening for the river’s sounds, ready to match what I heard with what I knew. My anticipation sparked a small joy. With no effort on my part, problems broke apart and faded. With each step, fears and even sometimes the pains of age and reckless youth washed out of me. No matter the season, the walk across the meadow never failed to renew a promise. Each walk became another occasion for hope, and from now until a dispositive darkness would send me back across this meadow to my truck, I would be happy.

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