An electrifying day on Beaver Creek
It is sad that so much of the vigor of youth is spent acquiring the wisdom of age.
January 6th, 2010, the snow that fell the week before Christmas still lingers on the ground; some of it anyway. Thats rare for these parts, these parts being the northwest corner of Virginia, but with temperatures in the twenties and wind chills in the single digits, it hasn’t had a chance to disappear.
Sitting here, looking out at it, I think about days bygone when I would have bundled up and ventured forth to one trout stream or another in defiance of the inhospitable weather. No more. I remember when, in the foolishness of youth, I used to laugh at the old joke about Arthur being the worst of the Ritis brothers. Now that he lives with me and complains loudly about the cold and damp, I see the veracity that was hidden in the humor. He moves around a lot, hips, shoulders, ankles, wrists, lately, he’s taken up residence in my left knee. This morning I gave him a good dose of analgesic balm and he’s pretty quiet right now, but I know if I were to take him out for a few hours on Stony Creek or some other nearby stream he’d complain about it for days.
While I’m exercising my memory, rather than my body, I recall a day late last February, when the mercury hit forty plus and my brother-in- law, Jim, and I ventured out to Beaver Creek, not far from Harrisonburg. It should be said, here, that neither of us had fished this stream before, but Jim had heard about it at a local fly shop. This particular stretch of the creek runs through private pasture land. The fishing rights are leased by TU and there is a nominal rod fee to fish it, payable at the nearby general store, with a maximum of five rods per day allowed on it. The owner of the land has sectioned his pasture by means of electrified fences. To prevent damage to the fences, or gates being left open, TU has constructed what they euphemistically call turn stiles to facilitate getting from one side of the fence to the other. These stiles consist of wooden piles driven into the ground, the tops left at varying heights that act as steps on either side of the fence. They were, undoubtedly, installed by younger, fitter men than Jim and I.
As we walked down the lane that leads, eventually, to the farmhouse situated on a hill overlooking the area, we reached a single lane bridge that crosses the creek, upstream of which is a large pool, in which I could see some trout swimming and others rising. I’m no great angler, but I’ve been around long enough to know that seeing trout does not equate to catching trout. In fact the ease with which trout can be seen may be inversely proportionate to the ease with which they may be caught. It was, however a captivating moment and somewhat encouraging. Jim decided to fish down stream from the bridge and I decided to walk upstream and fish back down to it. Both directions required employing at least one set of stiles.
There are, undoubtedly, other events that transpire in the seemingly mundane lives of average people that rival the suspense, the trage-comedic value and the adventure of an old fly fisherman attempting to cross an electrified fence in the middle of a cow pasture to get to a pool in which he can see trout rising, but none come immediately to mind.
By placing my rod on the opposite side of the fence, far enough away that if I fell I wouldn’t land on it, thereby freeing both hands to flail about wildly as I attempted to maintain my balance, placing one foot upon the lowest pile and bouncing the other a couple of times before actually lifting it to the second, then hurriedly bending down to grab the nearest fence post with one hand, while swinging one leg over the wire to the tallest pile on the other side, twisting around so I could see the shorter pile, while bringing my second leg over the fence and then stepping down onto terra firma, I was able to gain access to the pool immediately upstream from the aforementioned bridge.
It had been my intention to venture upstream at least one more pool before fishing, but when I came to the second fence, the crossing looked even more challenging than the first and I decided that I would concentrate my efforts on the available water. I walked toward the stream, making the last twenty feet on my hands and knees as there was no cover, found a little rut in the bank that cows had worn getting to the water, knelt down and commenced casting, fishing the close water first then lengthening my casts toward the foot of the pool. I had tied on a number eight Dave’s Hopper (I can’t tell you why) and it received a few nudges but no takes. I was considering switching to a nymph of some sort, but decided to take a few more casts. I let one go about three quarters of the way down the pool, pulled some more line off the reel and let the hopper drift slowly toward the bridge I’d stood on close to an hour ago. There was an audible splash as the fly disappeared and the fight was on. A few minutes later, I had an 18-20 inch golden, fork tailed fall fish at my feet. Not a trout, but a beautiful, game, fish none the less.
Not long after, I saw Jim on the bridge. I reeled in and returned to the dreaded fence. By repeating the ritual that had propelled me across the first time, I was able to gain the side from which I had come without incident. We decided to hike back to the truck for a sandwich and coffee. Jim had had no luck. When we finished lunch, we discussed it a bit but decided to have another go at em, so back across the bridge we went and this time Jim opted to join me at the pool above it. I demonstrated my procedure for crossing the fence, but Jim, a few years older, few pounds heavier, and a couple of inches shorter than I, was having difficulty. Finally, he got up on the second pile, but then lost his balance and came down straddle the fence. I heard a startled whoop (and perhaps a few unprintable exclamations) that the contact had caused and turned to assist him. Luckily, he was able to get his right leg under him so that only the inside of his left leg actually contacted the wire and as heavily clad as we were for a February day, I don’t think the charge was too bad. I returned to the crossing sight and stood there so that Jim could use my shoulder to balance on and he was able to make it across.
We fished for another hour or so. Using the same tactic that had produced a fish earlier, I caught a nice 17-18 inch rainbow. Jim wasn’t as fortunate. As the slightly bright spot in the gray of the day that defined the position of the Sun began to descend toward the mountains to our west, we repeated the ballet at the fence and left for the warmth of Jim’s house in Harrisonburg.
Think I’ll make a nice stout wading / hiking staff. I said. Jim just grunted and rubbed his leg.
[Editor’s Note: Fred Laird is a retired construction superintendent, a fly fisherman and an author who lives in Woodstock, Virginia, and who can make light of getting zapped between the legs while stepping over an electric fence. Well, it was his brother-in-law. His collection of short stories, Casting From The Far Bank, can be ordered on the web from Publish America or Amazon.]