Katies Crash Course by James L. Bruner
I sit here staring at this blank screen trying to dedicate myself to a single subject while my mind races from topic to topic. Writers block. Nice. I have practically all the inspiration surrounding me that one might need to develop an article regarding the outdoors but yet I pull nothing but patchy sentences strung together in random order that hold very little sustenance. Not enough meat there to hang an article on. Still, my memory keeps visiting a fishing trip with Katie. I’m not sure if it’s the weather, a personal need to go fishing, or, maybe it’s Katie herself. Regardless of the inspiration, Katie, wherever you may be, this one’s for you.
I met Kate, she preferred Katie in those days, at an annual 4th of July celebration. She was a lanky blonde haired girl with a bubbly attitude and a general appreciation for life. Her obvious attention to physical appearance brought the thought of “high maintenance” to mind but yet I felt strangely compelled to create a conversation at some point in the day. It was shortly thereafter when Katie joined our circle of conversation directly across from me and commented on my baseball cap that held the image of a fly fisherman playing out a fish. The small talk turned to mutual interests, phone conversations, and a planned fishing trip. I won’t bore you with the in-between details.
It was about 2 weeks later when I met Katie at her parents home, a very prominent residential area and her very business-like parents appeared to be dressed for the office on a Saturday afternoon standing at attention on the patio. Her mother quickly disappeared back inside while her father seemed to stare at my truck. Even though it had recently been custom painted and polished with new chrome rims and tires it was still about $20,000 less than anything sitting in their own driveway. I had just begun to make that long landscaped walk and introduce myself when Katie more or less bounced out the door creating a long-distance introduction as she moved. I simply waved and tipped my hat as the father nodded in my direction. Before we could both get seated in the truck Katie was back outside and sprinting for the garage. Now, I should take this moment to explain something. In our previous phone conversations I told Katie to dress comfortably for the fact that we would be doing a lot of walking through the woods. Her response was, “No problem. Just don’t forget to bring the fishing poles.” Hmmm. I must have drifted off for a moment since Katie had already appeared next to the truck struggling with a large cooler trying to open the tailgate with one hand while balancing the cooler on her knee. As I’m opening the door to lend assistance she triumphs in great victory and slams the tailgate shut. Dear old dad hasn’t moved a millimeter and I’m feeling like I have at least two strikes against me according to his performance chart. With that, a quick toot from the horn and a half-hearted wave goodbye to dear old dad, we’re on our way.
I distinctly remember asking Katie why in the world she didn’t dress comfortably. This was going to be a long walk through the brush that is absolutely going to be muddy in places. That pure white tennis outfit and shoes are going to be black before we even start fishing and that skirt won’t lend much protection to your legs unless you plan to wear hip boots. She simply replied, “Hip boots, shmip boots” in and amongst her typical chatter, and that she would be fine adding that she didn’t properly introduce me to her parents because her dad would have talked my ear off. Personally, I think she meant to say he would have “bit my ear off” and that, my friend, has nothing to do with talking unless you consider primal screams of pain a basis for conversation.
Within an hour we arrived at our fairly remote location. As a true test of one’s abilities I like to bring people fishing at the beaver dam. The fishing consists of brook trout and rainbow trout. Some of these rainbows have been trapped since their annual spring spawning runs and subsequently reside in the river behind the dam. They prosper quite well. The riverbank behind the dam is largely undercut and typically where the best fish reside, although you can catch trout up against the dam itself, our focus usually centers around the shoreline where we work streamers during the day and revert to dry flies closer to the evening. Live bait can, and has in the past, worked well but this area can be congested with chubs who will steal your bait in seconds flat. While fishing the beaver dam is the main attraction, actually getting there is the opening act and primarily the reason why you never find anyone else fishing this area.
Katie was in a hurry to get started. She grabbed a flyrod and began a mad dash up the river bank in a flurry of action that I came to associate with anything she did. At five foot nine inches, 120 pounds, and long wavy hair she looked quite awkward to say the least. Her white tennis outfit was practically glowing as she began to stumble through the tall grass like a baby giraffe with a broken leg. She may be at home on a tennis court but she was certainly out of her element here and completely confused as to where the trail was as she paused waiting for me to catch-up. She looked at me intently and with the most serious tone asked where the beaver dam was. I clenched my lips to keep from laughing as she tipped her head to the side and made a feeble attempt to swat a mosquito. “It’s quite a ways upriver yet Katie and you should probably pace yourself. There are no trails until you get closer to the dam. Then you follow deer trails.” I went on to inform her that we could walk in the river. It would be easier walking but it takes longer. Since nothing should take longer than need be in Katie’s world I knew the answer and pointed her in the direction to just follow the river from the bank.
We had walked maybe half of a mile when she paused again and asked where these trails were. This time I busted out laughing. She had small twigs intertwined through her hair, her white shoes and socks were a permanent gray, her skirt and blouse now showed signs of combat with the forest, and a glimmer of perspiration was evident. “We’re halfway there and the trails will begin just up around the next couple of corners. I promise, once we get there this whole trip will have been worthwhile just for the scenery alone and….” away she went. Mid-sentence and she’s gone like a flash of lightning determined to strike a target. With all of her energy and persistence she should have been to the dam and back by now but yet she barely stayed ahead of me on the trail as it seemed unheard of for myself to take the lead and guide her the easiest route. Her years of college surely didn’t account for a lack of strategy as she continued to weave her way through the brush and I didn’t mind at all. This was half the reason I chose this place to begin with and quite honestly she was tackling the trip with plenty of enthusiasm.
Shortly afterward I began to hear faint trickles of water over the sound of Katie breaking twigs and limbs. The canopy of trees were beginning to open allowing the sunlight to penetrate the forest as the trails widened enough to accommodate even Katie’s previous frantic pace of aggression. I expected her to dart towards the dam but instead she stopped dead in her tracks, almost as if she were afraid, and asked me to lead the way. With deliberate footing we climbed to the top of the dam and remained in a crouching position. We sat there without saying a word and I watched as Katie scanned the landscape with the curiosity of a young child. The ridge that bordered the south side of the river showed numerous trees that had been freshly fallen by the beavers. Their hut was located off the main river in the flooded area. Deer trails filtered down the ridge to the waters edge and the sound of ducks further up the river played upon the moment like a scene taken directly from an artists canvas. And this, along with the fishing, was the other half of the reason why I chose this place.
At this point Katie was obviously looking to me for advice so I administered some relevant sage information. You’re going to get your feet wet so there’s no sense trying to get around that fact. Unless, of course, you would have worn those hip boots I offered. I was greeted once again with that head nodding gesture and a lot of background noise I couldn’t decypher that told me to proceed with further instructions and possibly caution. Also, you should be aware that the flooded area contains a lot of leeches so expect to be picking a few of those from your legs. Again, this could have been avoided with those hip boots, which was punctuated with a huge fake smile. You should realize that the banks are undercut deeply and getting right up to the rivers edge could be risky. The river is nine feet deep in places with many sunken logs so fish back away from the bank to avoid going for a swim. Keep your rod tip high whenever possible to play the fish over the riverbank and onto the flooded area. Other than that just walk as cautiously as possible when approaching the river so you don’t alert the fish. Oh, and dear, if you see a bear, don’t talk to him. Up until that point she seemed very intent to listen and learn but at the mention of a bear her head snapped up so quickly that one of the twigs in her hair popped out and landed below the dam. “Bear?” Yes dear – bears. Had you not attempted to create a new land-speed record on the way here you might have noticed the tracks in the mud since, you stepped right on them. With that Katie proclaimed she would fish atop of the beaver dam. Whether she felt safer there or not wasn’t the question. I didn’t ask and quite honestly I didn’t feel as though she would be doing much fishing anyway. With that I made my way along the north bank and began fishing while keeping an eye on Katie, just in case.
To say I was surprised would be an understatement as I watched her work the flyrod with great fluid motion. Although she looked incredibly out of place she actually understood how to place a fly and work the current which only comes with practice and some structural knowledge. In a sense she afforded herself an advantage, amongst many disadvantages, by standing atop the beaver dam to fish. Even though she was plainly visible to trout in the open portion of the river she still had the opportunity to coax one out from the undercut bank. And if her glowing white ensemble didn’t send the trout back into hiding she had some hope of catching a fish. She certainly was able to cover more ground than I with each cast but somehow I’m doubting that this was actually a plan of action.
As I drifted off to that place where fishermen sometimes go I heard a splash and the familiar sound of line being stripped from the fly reel. Katie has a fish on! I’m somewhat frozen in my tracks watching as she bends at the knees while the flyrod bows to the waters surface. She’s silent as she plays the fish reeling frantically when he makes a run towards the dam before doubling back against the current and then to the bank taking up the excess slack. The boils on the water grow larger as the fish makes it’s first appearance on the glassy surface proving to be a big rainbow trout. As I begin to make my way back to the dam I can see that Katie is gaining line and the expression on her face looks nervous and uncertain. As I approach her side I tell her to work him to the edge here and I’ll scoop him out for you. It wasn’t long before I was cupping a 26 inch rainbow with one hand and holding the tail with the other. Katie, now jumping up and down like a rabid cheerleader, couldn’t take her eyes off the fish and when I placed it in her hands she looked overwhelmed and greatful. That was pretty much the end of fishing for the day ending on a positive note. I don’t think we fished an hour in total and although I hadn’t caught a fish I couldn’t be much happier.
In my last conversation with Katie she said the fish was ready to come back from the taxidermists and she had something special engraved on the nameplate. It was supposed to be a surprise that I would like. Whatever it was I’ll never know. We lost contact when she went back for her last year of college and me, well, I continue to sit at this desk and aspire for something to write about.