Road Dreams

Fishing for stories.

The dreams of fishermen become reality on the road. In the awakening, you have thought of the road many times, or perhaps more accurately, you have thought about what lies at the end of the road. The waters. Bent current and brook trout swimming there in spangled glory. Rising, occasionally, floating and twisting with a minimum, flit-flying in water, soaring and stooping as if fin has become feather and fish has transformed to raptor.

These are the dreams that waken you and when you lie there in tossed and knotted sheets in the darkest of hours, you think of the water and of its predators. You listen to the sounds of the night, the deep breathing of your lady, the tail-thump and moan-groan from the dog room. From the open window you hear the “Okaleeee” of a red-winged blackbird out there in the dark cattails. A night song from a sleeping bird, well before dawn peeks. Perhaps he, too, is dreaming of the days afore.

On this morning coming, you will rise and you will sit at your desk, but your dreams will pull you away again and again. Concentrate. Can’t. You wrestle with time now, for you wish the day away and yet you know when the day has gone and the road is before, you will want time to slow, stall out, delay, stop. You will want time to pause there like that same brook trout on water-wind, hover and filibuster.

Finally. Here and now the day is behind and the crescendo that is packing, list-ticking, moving gear, begins. A blur back and forth between garage and house, gear room and garage, car and refrigerator. Coolers? Check. Five-weight? Yes. Where’s that box of nymphs? Here.

The buddies show up and they’re wearing the same iris-glint, that same shine that only comes with a sleepless night tossing and thinking of the days to come, the road ahead, the water beyond. You jest and joke in that easy, relaxed way that comes with the soul-centeredness of the act of hitting the road on a fishing trip. It doesn’t matter if you’ve known each other for years, or only days. The road is the common denominator, the dreams the catalyst for shared ground.

Doors clunk. Engine cranks. Reverse. More laughter. Goodbyes. Get out of here already. You’re driving me mad. Good riddance? Perhaps. Tires on highway now, beating a rhythm over concrete interstate slab. 

You have researched. Read the reports. Listened to the weatherman. Still, there is nothing like going and like being. A few months ago, you tried your best, planned a similar weekend with old fishing pals, chased the hatch. The salmonflies. They had been at Notch Bottom and were marching up the river. You spit-balled it and floated Brownes to Glen and there was no hatch. The day had fallen away and a few fish were netted and admired and released, but the dream that had been your night-awakenings those months back became a different reality. 

Now, this evening fading to black, is a different day and a different month and a different hatch and a different place. On the same river. But it is not the same river for only the willows and the pines and the Doug fir have been rooted. The water that was there two months ago has long since moved on, diverted to quench alfalfa, perhaps, or just floated right on out to the Gulf. The fish have moved and the bugs and, so, too, have you. You know the holes and the bends of the water, but everything has changed. 

The three of you talk for a while. Then stop. You drift in your separate meanderings, listening to the road, no radio, thump, thump, purr when your tires touch the edge. Rumble strips. Still lost in thought and the darkness comes on. White-tailed deer out in the hay meadows, heads down, orange-coated in rich last-light. Orange and green and stunning. There is nothing to say and then the light is gone and so too are the moments of silence as you turn off the interstate and pass a bar. A story begins. 

Once, in that same pub, on a road-trip in another year, there had been a stop. It was an incredulous and incongruous intersection, for there amid fishermen on the hunt for the hatch and the fish, flitted half-clad ladies. Strippers. And we’re not talking streamers. One thousand miles north of Vegas. The place was raucous and rowdy and men scrambled for bucks to tuck, digging down inside waders for crumpled singles. Your friend had spent far more than he’d been planning to on a weekend fishing trip. Mostly Washingtons. 

You laugh at this story even though you’ve heard it perhaps six times, maybe more. And you drive past the bar. Since the first recounting, you’ve stopped there many times. Hopeful. But fruitless. That particular hatch has never repeated itself. It is now a legend. A fable? Perhaps. No matter.

The road is before you and at the end of this one will be another story. There are fish to catch in a river of bent light and dappled pebble and perhaps an elusive hatch in a moment of time stalled out like a red-tail riding an updraft.

This essay originally appeared in Trout magazine. Tom Reed works for Trout Unlimited from Pony and is the author of four books. Click here for more information.