Sept. 10, 2012
Sometimes, the call of the river is too strong to ignore.
Sunday evening, after checking the weather forecast (glorious) and the stream flow data for various rivers (spotty), I loaded the kayak on the Jeep with plans to paddle the North Anna River, my favorite because of its remoteness, its white water, its plentiful fishing and its natural beauty.
I awoke at 3 a.m. Monday and could not get back to sleep. So I decided to forge ahead. My plan was that by the time I deposited the kayak at the put-in, drove to the take-out, left the Jeep and ran the nine miles back to the put-in (all part of the challenge when doing this adventure solo), I would be on the water right at sunrise, the best time of day for fishing and wildlife watching.
When I got to the river, though, the water level was too low. The stream flow data had indicated it should be acceptable, but the North Anna fluctuates wildly. Pumped to paddle, I decided to check out the Rappahannock–I was already halfway to Fredericksburg, and I knew of a put-in where I could paddle upstream relatively easily to remote sections of the river.
The Rap was high and clear, and my car was the only one in the parking lot as I unloaded the kayak and launched. Wisps of mist rose off the water like offerings to the sun, yet to crest the tree line. The only sounds were my rhythmic splashings, the caws, quacks and chitters of fowl, and, in the distance, the clanks and clangs of heavy equipment busy paying tribute to the lumbering colossus of progress. A brisk chill in the air hinted at the turn of seasons.
The first stretch upstream was mild, an easy current winding among banks of algae, river grass and other growth I can’t name. The fish were coy–a few nibbles only. I worked up a sweat laboring upstream through some riffles, and by midmorning I reached a lovely spot with boulders and rapids. The mist had cleared, the sky had blued and the sunlight was sharp and clean, another hint of the crisp clarity of fall to come.
I climbed up the highest boulder and ate a PB&J (remember, I’d been up since 3 a.m.). Then I clambered down and waded into the channels below the rapids. The fish seemed to think my little worm was the most delicious thing ever to float their way, for I caught nearly 20 smallmouth bass in the various pockets. What a blast. These are the most pugnacious fighters in the freshwater world; they rocket into the air like missiles and wrestle for every inch. I make the fishing as challenging as possible using a lightweight line—4-pound test–and small hooks, and a good set of the hook catches them only by the cartilage; they are released healthy and wiser.
The morning passed in golden river time. I was wrapped in the focus of fishing, which requires fairly constant attention; no other boat was on the water, so the solitude was a much-needed balm. I paddled up one more stretch to another rapid–more wading, more fish–then turned downstream. This time I set aside the spinning rod and geared up the fly rod with a “popper.” This fishing is the most challenging, for casting with a fly rod off a moving kayak in steady current makes for an interesting algorithm. The popper attracted mostly small bluegill and perch until well downstream, when a feisty smallmouth bombed the lure and bolted. Because of the light line, I had to take great care to bring the smallie in and release it properly.
I put up the rods and paddled the remaining distance with a heart as contented and a mind as clear as at any time I can remember. I was filled with a sense of natural beauty, of being at one with my surroundings, of my head being swept clean of the flustered cluster of anxieties that tend to swirl around me. Though I know I left some bass and bluegill with sore lips out there, the fishing forces you to become part of the river, part of the rhythm of nature, part of the flow of life that feels the sun, smells the earth and water, and senses the change of seasons, day by day. This golden day was one to remember.