After the Hospital Visit, A Heart Stopping Day on the Shenandoah

Story and Photography By Fred Laird

It happens every now and then. The astral bodies align, Pisces smiles and all the other deities, apparitions and ethereal entities cooperate so that even a duffer such as myself enjoys a perfect day on the water.

Such was the case not long ago. It was a Friday. I know this because, while I’ve settled into a modest retirement, my brother-in-law and usual fishing partner, Jim, still runs a business and is only available for fishing on Fridays and weekends – and I tend to leave the weekends to the working class who have no alternative. Jim had seen fit to have a heart attack that Tuesday night, totally out of character, as he is usually a very considerate person. When we visited him on Thursday, I suggested that he confine any future such events to Saturdays, as that would give him a full week to mend. Anyway, the medical staff at the hospital to which he was confined was adamant about denying his release, even temporarily, though we tried mightily to persuade them of the importance of our planned expedition, so I was forced to face the Shenandoah North Fork on my own.

I was running a little later than I had intended. With the heat wave that we’d been experiencing, I figured early on the water was the best approach but, somehow, I’d gotten caught up in the minutia of getting out the door. The first 20 minutes that I’d planned to spend on the water were then used to put route 11 behind me. I’d parked, noting with some pleasure, that there were no other vehicles at the spot. I hurriedly donned my wading boots and headed for the river. About 30 yards from my truck, I realized that I’d left my wading staff in the bed. I’ve found that the older I get, the more necessary a good stout staff becomes. Back to the truck I sped. Sped? I’m not sure that my aging legs and arthritic joints can propel my 240 pound torso in any manner that can properly be called speeding, but I moved with all the haste of which I am capable. I gathered my staff and, once again, set out for the river. At this point it was not unlike most of my outings, a few glitches but no catastrophes. I had no inkling of what was about to happen.

I found a spot that looked as though it would provide reasonably easy access to the water and proceeded, noting with some satisfaction that I had not slip / splashed my way into the pool, chasing any fish within into the next county. I stripped off some line and made a few false casts, landing the soft bodied popper I’d tied a week earlier just above the riffles at the foot of the pool. I worked it across the current for a few feet when wham, a very respectable smallmouth took it. First cast, nice fish, nobody there to see it. Five or six casts later I had another smallie on; not quite as big but nice none the less. I turned, faced upstream and cast under the low branches of some sort of shrub that bordered the bank. The fly landed beautifully within inches of where I’d wanted it and a few seconds later I was tight lines on another smallmouth. No sudden gust of wind had directed my fly to the greenery only a couple of feet above the target. I’d made a nearly perfect cast: nobody there to see it. Then the hook ups slowed so I moved across the pool, floating the popper over the rock ledges I knew from experience were there, just a couple of feet below the surface. I was making my way toward the far bank and a bridge abutment that had given up some nice largemouths on prior visits. Today, I hooked into only sunfish, but they were large for the river, full of fight and beautiful. Had my tackle been geared toward them, rather than bass, it would have been even better.

When the action slowed, I headed downstream. Here again, I was sorry that I hadn’t grabbed a lighter rod. Virtually every cast produced a smallmouth. They were running seven, eight, nine inches, but they were strong and scrappy in the fast water. The only mistake I’d made was fishing that popper in the fast current. It was never meant to be fished as a streamer and it badly twisted my tippet. Realizing it was time to head back to the truck I changed my tippet, rigged with a bead head nymph and fished my way back up, through the riffles and the lower part of the pool. The run yielded a few more small ones, and the pool gave up three more stout fish.

Back at the truck, changing into dry footwear, I reflected on what a nearly perfect outing it had been. The only improvement would have been if Jim had been there to share it As for Jim, the hospital managed to create a couple of complications that kept him in it through the next Friday. He’s out now. Hopefully the powers that be will provide us with a similar experience once he’s able to get back on the water. Usually I’m relegated to relating tales of slipping, snagging, lost fish and other ignominious, if humorous goings on. Today I had no such occurrences with which to regale my wife or any other unsuspecting audience I might encounter. I suspect that there are countless fishers of the fly who regularly experience such days: who find the uneventful, productive trip commonplace. How fortunate I am not to be among them!

Fred Laird is a retired construction superintendent who lives and fishes out of Woodstock, VA. He is the author of  ‘Casting From The Far Bank‘, which he describes as “a collection of short stories with a mystical theme.” His passions in life are his wife, fly fishing and bridge – which sounds to us like a good formula for happiness. – The Editors.