When I go fishing, there are certain parts of my brain that let go of their hold on logic. My sense of time seems to suffer the worst from this logical abandonment. While fishing, I readily and regularly convince myself that I can wrap things up and drive home in half the time it actually takes. For example, I might, in all earnestness, believe that I can make it home by 10:30 a.m. when it’s 10:15 a.m., I have a twenty minute drive home, and I’m still on the river a mile from my car. When I’m not fishing, it’s obvious that I’ll be home a whole half hour later than I thought (or didn’t think).
I think this happens because the river possesses me. I smell the sweet river dew and hear the rush of water over rock, and I’m launched back in time to my hunter-gatherer roots, where the only task that matters is to gather fish for the clan. Time is a loose concept. Watches don’t exist yet. That—or I just want to keep fishing and I have a hard time with self-discipline.
Sometimes, though, my fever for rivers burns a little too hot.
Living in the mountains of North Carolina, I’m surrounded by streams. There are countless streams here, because there are countless ridges and gullies and mountain sides, a byproduct of the Appalachians being some of the oldest mountains on earth. When I’m wanting to fish, the question isn’t where on the river I’ll go but which river I’ll go to. Every stream has its own character, and exploring the landscape is half the fun of fishing here.
A few weeks ago I had scoped out a new stream, twenty minutes from home. The stream, the upper green river, was surrounded by acres of protected forest, a sign of good water quality, and, hopefully, excellent fishing.
Towering white pines and lush ferns lined the road, damp from last night’s rain, and my excitement grew around every bend. The road was narrow and pull-offs were few, so when I found a wider section of road I took my chance to park. There was no path to the river. Great! I thought. No path means no one else has fished here in a while. I made my way through thick brush to the river, and the fishing did not disappoint. Crystal clear water plunged through runs and pools, weaving around boulders of all sizes. Woodpeckers and Kingfishers patrolled the stream, and a dark-coated mink scurried along the river bank. I fished with small dry flies and on almost every cast a rainbow trout rose from the river to gulp my lure. The fish were no bigger than six inches each, but they were brilliantly colored, sparkling like mountain sapphires lifted from the river. I must have caught and landed at least thirty fish that morning—it was like no one else had ever fished there! I was living the angler’s dream…
When I began to hike back to my car, I started to wake up from the dream and realize a few crucial details. No pull offs for cars? No path to the river? Tons of fish? This was definitely a private stream. Sure enough, as I got back on the road a woman driving by informed me that I was in a conservation easement owned by a summer camp up the road. These were indeed private waters and I had been trespassing. My cheeks flushed from embarrassment—how could I have ignored such an obvious detail? I had committed a big faux pas in the fishing world, so when I got to my car all I wanted to do was get out of there immediately.
The truck wouldn’t budge. Somehow, in my river-induced madness I had paid no attention to the giant mud puddle where I was parking. My wheels were sunk into an inch of sludge, spinning helplessly whenever I tried to reverse. Worse yet, I was so close to the edge of the road that my front left tire was causing the bank to crumble. My truck was inches away from being a part of the natural landscape—permanently! I dug under the wheels, wedged small stones behind my tires, I did anything that might help me gain traction. Nothing worked.
After a half hour of struggling I accepted defeat, so I waited like a sad puppy to flag down the next car that passed. Pretty soon a white, fifteen-passenger van pulled up and slowed to inspect my situation. The driver’s name was Badir, and he offered me a ride to where he was headed—the summer camp up the road where he works as a laundry runner, the headquarters of my embarrassing trespassing saga. At camp, I found a towing chain I could borrow, and Badir agreed to drive back and help pull my truck out of the mud. In exchange for his assistance, I helped Badir load about 200 bags of dirty laundry into the back of his van.
Badir’s massive van was just what I needed to get unstuck. My truck was saved from the gully, with inches to spare. I thanked Badir and off he went, and I drove back to camp to return the chain, taking the time to meditate on the ridiculous scenario that had just occurred.
This was my first and last fishing trip on the upper green river. I still think about those sapphire trout and the clear, cool water, and sometimes, when I’m really feeling feverish, I think about getting back there, finagling some deal with the folks at the camp to let me fish there again, and calling Badir ahead of time, just in case I need a tow.
Jon Gorter (‘17) lives in Athens, Georgia, where he works as an arborist. He spends his time walking neighborhood streets, visiting farmers’ markets, and cooking Thai curries. Jon graduated from Calvin with degrees in English and environmental studies and holds an MS in natural resources from the University of Michigan.