I love fishing for trout with a fly rod. Every year I get one chance to do so which tests my admittedly modest skills. My favorite venue for this event is the Au Sable River in Michigan. There are numerous parts of the Au Sable and I stay at the fabled Gates Au Sable Lodge. Little rooms where you can walk out the back door, put on your waders and step into one of the most famous trout streams in America. I have been visiting Gates for years.
Last year I fell victim to the dreaded fishing skunk.....I caught nothing during my visit.
This year due to an unfortunate atmospheric event I was able to stay at Gates two weeks instead of the planned seven days. The weather was glorious, cold and clear. Trout here are very experienced prey and they are not easily fooled. That said, I managed to fool more than ever before using the classic English method of casting downstream and pulling a wet fly across the burbling current. Another treat was the presence of my great pally JP who usually comes up from southern Michigan to join the sport. It's the least he can do since he introduced me to this obsession years ago after we stopped being roommates in law school. JP is an actual fisherman, I only rely on dumb luck and my ability to read the water to guess where a trout may be hiding.
Before the shrieking starts I must declare that this water is highly regulated and it is illegal to possess trout. All trout we catch must be returned to the stream in good condition. On what is known as the Holy Waters they are VERY serious about such things. As am I.
Another thing I love about this area is the great food. They have classics like Pastys, the Cornish meat and potato pies, that with brown gravy are an outdoorsman's staple. They have other hearty dishes too and they use lots of local ingredients and LOTS of fresh fruit. One example comes from the final evening of the trip when I dined at the wonderful Gates restaurant and had a slice of maple cream pie with poached local pears on top. I can't describe how wonderful that dessert was. It even topped the fresh blueberry pie. And the multitude of doughnuts from the incredible local bakery.
I played golf one day to give the trout time to regroup and strategize how to make me a sporting failure the rest of my trip like last year. I played terribly on a really fine course called Forest Dunes but I had a superb steak dinner there to make up for it.
As is always the case, the last day of any adventure must arrive. JP had been required to return to work and I fished a couple of days after he left with no success. The day before my departure dawned bright clear and crisp. An autumn day worthy of any of the legendary trout fishermen. And me too. I admit to being pretty tired and I almost didn't return to the stream that day. But I wanted to catch just one more trout before returning to the workaday world of well.........work......and weather related damage. I chose one of my very favorite streams. A place where I have always caught at least one trout.
This particular spot requires you to park on the shoulder of a two lane paved road and then walk down some rustic steps to the stream. As I parked I groaned seeing that another vehicle was already parked there. I did not want to share my last stream visit of the year with anyone. In the event, the driver of the vehicle was a very nice fellow who was merely standing on the bridge looking at the water. As often happens we struck up a conversation. During which I found another sporting brother. He told me he had been married many years and has lost his wife only four months ago. Hearing this I glanced at him. And I saw myself three and a half years ago. By myself. Adrift. Trying to figure out who the hell I was supposed to be. Two middle aged widowers standing on a bridge staring at one of the finest trout streams you will ever see. Suddenly not knowing what to say. He ventured "its amazing how a great wife is a.........well a........a rudder for your life...a balance." Yes. I was blessed that way too.
It is not a shocking revelation that most men don't share feelings or intimate thoughts very well. But in the freemasonry of lost love it becomes a bit easier. I ventured the thought that I felt just as rudderless and cast adrift three years ago as he does now and that despite that feeling it was a time of exciting opportunity to try and find out who we are now. In the time after that time.
We swapped information and promised to keep in touch. Then I made my way to the stream and tried my luck. I worked carefully downstream and finally caught my one last trout of the trip. But it was a little bit less than before. Suddenly my legs felt all of their sixty-one years after two weeks in moving currents. After releasing the trout I sat on a big log in the stream. And I stared at the running waters. I heard some geese flying overhead calling for their leader to take them to Florida. I sat there and I thought of her. A lot. A lot more than in some time. And I smelled wood smoke. And I looked upward and a torrent of red and gold leaves blew down over me. She was happy about the trout. I struggled up from the log and made my way back to the car.