If ever there was a perfect morning, this had to be it. The bluebird sky above was filled with cotton ball clouds, and the air was crisp and cool. I held my fly rod in one hand and used the other to grab roots and rocks as we made our way down the river bank using a combination of climbing and sliding.
As we reached the bottom, I looked up to behold the beauty of the river while taking in sights and sounds of the majestic place until my enrapt trance was interrupted by our guide Matt’s voice. “This crossing is a little tricky,” he warned.
Casting a quick glance at my brother-in-law, I noticed that our guide and, more importantly, the river now had our full attention. I have always had a healthy respect for water, especially flowing water; however, at first glance, the crossing did not appear to be any different from any that we had made the prior day.
The river made a sharp 90-degree bend just upstream, and as it approached our crossing, it narrowed and, according to our guide, rapidly gained speed. The increased velocity and thigh-high depth made the crossing to the sandbar covered with river rocks across the way precarious.
“We will line up shoulder to shoulder and take it slow,” he said, adding as we entered the water, “This will allow us to grab hold of anyone that goes down, and hopefully prevent them from being swept downstream.” Needless to say, we made certain that each step was firmly placed on the slick river rocks as we made our way across.
Safely on the other side, we could now focus on the task at hand: catching trophy rainbow trout — although throughout the remainder of the day, my thoughts drifted back to our morning crossing. I thought about it again while driving in the torrential downpours last week.
It seemed that every river, creek and ditch that I crossed last week was overflowing. As I watched those expanding flood waters, two other high-water experiences on the the Tenn-Tom Waterway and the Snake River came to mind.
My father-in-law, Billy “Pop” Hull, and I had put out trotlines when we arrived at his Cook’s Bend fish camp that afternoon and had only been able to check them one time before torrential rains set in for the evening.
During a break in the rain the next morning, we decided to make a quick run to check our lines. One of those lines was attached to a large tree that had snagged just across from the camp in the heavy current. We found the end of the line and began working our way down it, checking each hook as we went.
The process was made more difficult (and dangerous) by the swift current of the rain-swollen river, and we struggled to hold onto the line. I had visions of becoming hooked or entangled by the line and being pulled into the murky waters below. In fact, I had clipped a knife to my life jacket to cut myself free from the line in case that worst-case scenario played out.
Fortunately, the only thing that got hooked that day were several large catfish. I can still feel their strong tug as well as the shaking of my legs as I braced myself against the hull while hauling them into the boat.
Remembering the feeling of my quaking legs in that Jon boat brought to mind another wild river adventure across the country on the Snake River in Wyoming. We were on a family vacation out west, and one of our excursions was a rafting trip on the Snake.
As our guide pushed our boat off the launch, he told us the we would be the last boat of the day. The river was swelling due to recent snow melt and rain and would be shut down for rafting for the remainder of the day for safety reasons.
I remember wedging my leg firmly between the floor and side of the raft for more stability as he talked. As we neared the first rapids, I watched as the two rafts ahead went up and over the wall of churning water and disappeared. I wedged my leg further underneath my seat as we approached the famous “Lunch Counter” rapids.
At approximately the halfway point of the rapids, our guide made two guiding faux pas: He fell (or was thrown) out of the boat, and he lost his paddle (something he had lectured us about not doing). His face was reddened with embarrassment when my wife pulled him back into the boat, and he stomped off in shame while being harangued by the other guides when we reached the take out.
With each of these river experiences, I found myself humbled by the awesome power of those rushing waters. Whether it’s a mountain stream or a raging river, nature has a wonderful knack for reminding us of just how small we are. Until next time, I look forward to seeing you out there in our great outdoors.
Email outdoors columnist Brad Dye at firstname.lastname@example.org.