Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dog Years

Bumper is four years old. With energy appropriate for a dog of his youthful age, he bolted from the front door of my parents’ home and raced down the walkway and lovingly hip-checked me as I stepped from the truck. His bobbed tail wiggled excitedly and he dizzily spun in hurried circles and vied for my attention. I eagerly extended it and upon satisfaction, he raced towards Betsy to perform a similar greeting dance.

Be prepared.
It was mid-July and we had traveled west from Murfreesboro, through the rolling hills of southern Williamson county, over the churning and windswept Tennessee River, and through the interminable corridor of trees that line the stretch from the ancient roadside artillery at Parker’s Crossroads to the dry-rubbed sprawl of my hometown of Memphis. We cruised past billboards that bragged of winning big with Tigers or Grizzlies or winning bigger at Tunica casinos, and past the odd spectacle of the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid. Next, was the hulking bridge in the shape of a “M” that allows such an expansive view of the massive muddy Mississippi that you’re often distracted from the fact you just entered Arkansas. Eventually, we wound our way amidst the endless stretch of cotton fields and and rice fields and speed traps until Crowley’s Ridge emerged from the north to signal the ascent to Heber Springs and the Little Red River.

It’s always good to see family and Bumper’s fourth birthday was a good excuse to load the truck up with a couple of changes of clothes and an arsenal of fly rods and fly gear. Mom and Dad and my brother, Tim, were all excited to see us too, although none of them performed a welcome boogie as happy as their beloved best friend.

Bella and Bumper ask politely for a piece of my chicken.

Way too early the following morning, I carefully stepped into a river that owes its flow to the mammoth Greers Ferry Dam and tumbles and glides past an infinity of floating docks as it carves through the rolling hills of central Arkansas. The pale yellow light of the summer sun pin-holed the oaks and pines on the eastern bank and eviscerated the evening mist which vainly clung to what was left of the previous night’s generation, and the Little Red chilled my legs with each step as I moved into deeper water to reach a nearby stretch of fly fishing heaven.

Years of experience here have narrowed my fly selection and sow bugs of a preferred size and color dominate the contents of my careworn foam box labeled “nymphs.” I tied on a favorite, and about four feet above, a foam indicator. With a groggy head and complementary senses, I had to shake out a few horrible casts before gaining my groove and offered a decent enough attempt that plopped into a narrow seam and tumbled drag-free down a few drops and turns, slid perilously past a mostly-submerged moss-covered log, and bounced into a small pocket of creamy green water. Just as soon as it did, the indicator went under and I raised the rod and connected with an angry rainbow. Fish on.

Similar choreography continued for the next hour, as I caught a good number of spirited trout on the sow bug. By then, my brother emerged from the remaining wisps of morning fog and splashed his way upstream from one of his honey holes to join me. His fishing report was similar to mine, and he pointed to a downstream hotspot that I needed to try. He proved to be a good guide, as the location proved to be loaded with rainbows, all in the 16-18 inch range. They were stacked within a 30-yard-long section of a just-deep-enough riffle. A perfect stream scenario. Good flow, clear water, gravel bottom punctuated by foot-wide or bigger rocks. Behind each rock, there was a trout. And, those fat feeding fish freakin’ ate everything drifted their way.

Later in the morning, I walked across a small island and found my Dad working a small riffle that spilled into a foamy pool. His bent fly-rod and satisfied grin pretty much told the story of how his morning was going.  

Lots and lots of these.

For the next five hours, the three of us enjoyed some of the most stellar trout fishing I’ve ever experienced. The fish were aggressive, extremely lively and most importantly, quite gullible. While I landed fish on nymphs and dries, my Dad’s super-secret streamer pattern was the top offering. At one point in the late afternoon, I watched the Lord of the Flies land 20-plus rainbows – all solid fish – in a little less than 30 minutes, and all from a deep hole at the end of a long run. I was just a few yards downstream, catching a few, but mainly getting some quality casting practice. As I concentrated on my fly and the drooping loops of my now tired casts, I kept hearing the violent swish-smack! as fly-line slapped tight into bent graphite and the subsequent splashing of a struggling trout, followed by the muffled giggle of a man who was enjoying the hell out of his day.
Day 2 was just as epic as Day 1, with just a silly number of fish caught and released. The trout – rainbows, browns and the occasional cutt-bow hybrid – were plentiful and feeding constantly and obviously invigorated by the daily dose of afternoon generation. That oxygenated cold water, coupled with an obviously convenient recent stocking, created a wonderful arrangement for us. It also debunked quite a bit of conventional fishing wisdom, as we were “cursed” with post-cold front, high pressure, unseasonably cool, blue-bird skied days. It should’ve been fishing hell.

Tim works some structure.

Most assuredly, the weekend wasn’t just fishing; I got to spend quality time with my family, talked birds and cooking and flowers and trees and art with Mom, went to the gym at 11 p.m. with my Dad and Tim, took walks with Bumper, ate the usual embarrassing amount of wonderful food, flirted each night with the idea of running up to the dam and chucking big streamers, gobbled Aleve like candy to knock back the swelling and pain from “double-haul elbow,” and Betsy and I still found time to generally unwind over three days in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain. Such visits are always too brief, and the meaningful conversations and memorable moments are often lost in the blur of activity. But, the important things seem to grab hold in the crevices and folds and thankfully linger and endure, and the memories flourish and sustain.

Bumper had a big time, too. His goodbye dance was a slow one, as he could only exhaustedly muster a slow wag of his little tail and a sleepy-eyed look of affection as he curled his long legs into his favorite spot in his favorite chair. The day after his birthday, he reportedly slept nearly the entire afternoon. Good dog. 

Danced out.