Often times in life we spend a lot of energy and adrenaline anticipating some future event. And frequently the actual event when it arrives doesn’t quite measure up to all the anticipation; think Christmas morning. In a previous post, “Be careful, the rocks are really slick,” I stated, “I can hardly wait until next week when Tim, Mark, and I are sitting around the campfire, smoking fine cigars, and talking about nothing and everything.” Well, the event I was so excited about finally arrived and it didn’t disappoint; rather it was all that I had hoped for.
Being excited and not wanting to “miss” anything, I hurriedly packed, jumped in my car and left Carthage after church ended; with the intent of arriving at Montauk in plenty of time to get a little fishing in before dark. Mark and Tymon would follow later (I guess they weren’t as excited about fishing as I was). Stopping by Tim’s house in Cabool we grabbed a few supplies and quickly drove the additional forty-five minutes to the park. Having to stop by the main lodge first, we picked up the key to our room and purchased the required trout tag. It didn’t take long to get our waders on and fly rods situated and we arrived above the dam with about three hours of daylight left to fish. Standing in the waist deep, icy water, trying to entice the often visible trout to strike our carefully chosen fly, we both kept a wary eye on each other; just in case one of us had a “fish on!” Tim selected a red San Juan worm as his fly of choice and I was using a number fourteen Bead Head Prince. I was confident and so was Tim.
No matter how often we fished together Tim and I always had a competition between us for who caught the most fish and separately we also added a “biggest fish” contest. It wasn’t always that way. In fact there was a time in our lives when Tim didn’t even like to fish; spending all of his time around the pond throwing rocks or chasing frogs. There was a particular day at Bullhead Pond that I got pretty frustrated with him as I was catching a ton of fish (ending with 23 bullhead catfish that day; competing with who knows who, I always kept track), and he was screwing around. In this instance I could proudly proclaim that I had caught the most fish by the end of the day.
A few years’ later things would change. I believe the change in his attitude happened on a day at Dry Fork Creek, just a few miles north of Carthage. My friend Jim and I had fished Dry Fork for years and knew it to be a great place to catch sunfish and bass. We invited Tim and my girlfriend’s little brother Mike (Tim was fourteen and Mike was nine years old) to go along with us; neither of them being fishing veterans like we were. Upon arrival at the low water bridge we decided to divide up in teams of two; one team heading upstream and the other down. Jim and I couldn’t be on the same team and it didn’t make sense for Tim and me to be together (I might have to yell at him for throwing rocks again), so we paired Tim and Jim, leaving Mike to go with me. Before leaving the bridge we made a bet as to who would catch the most fish (what did you expect?). After a few hours of wading the creek both teams ended up at the low water bridge with stringers full of fish and grins all around. Who won the contest that day I can’t remember, but I do know that both Mike and Tim became fishermen that day.
Back to Montauk and the here and now. As we stood in the water, I kept hearing the annoying “fish on!” coming from Tim (This was our alert to the others that we had a fish on the line and they didn’t.), and noticed that within a couple of hours I was down four fish to zero. It wasn’t looking good for me. And then our fortunes began to change and I began shouting out “fish on!” As the competition heated up, we ended our short day at Tim- 4 and Ron- 3. Mark and Tymon didn’t have a chance.
After a dinner of homemade stew and chili, the four of us sat around a campfire that night enjoying a good cigar and even better conversation. The night sky was clear and the stars were bright as they filled the canopy above us, but my mind kept wandering to the anticipated fishing that lie ahead over the next two days. I was encouraged by the good start and looked forward to the morning. We would start at daylight.
The next morning we drove to an area outside the park dubbed the “trophy” area of the stream. At 6:30 in the morning it was barely light enough to tie on a fly. Once to the river we had a choice of going up or downstream; neither direction preferable. The air was crisp (about 38 degrees) and the water clear, swift, and cold. It sure looked “fishy” and I quickly became the first in the water and the first to shout out “fish on!” I was now even with Tim, but because we went different directions I would have to wait until later to find out how many he had caught. The honor system was strictly adhered to by all and even those fish that were on the line for a long time didn’t count as caught unless they were landed.
We returned to the truck late morning to go back to the cabin for lunch and a nap. I was in the lead on fish count, but it was close. When the afternoon session was completed I was still in the lead and the largest fish hadn’t been landed yet; I caught a few pound and a half trout which put up a pretty good fight, but we were looking for more. Again, we enjoyed stew and chili for dinner and cigars and conversation for desert.
The next morning we followed the same routine and this time we both went downstream. Tymon had gone back home (work calling) and Mark was having little success, so it was entirely between Tim and me as to the contest. At one point Tim had gone back upstream and left me at my favorite hole; deep in concentration mode as I cast my fly repeatedly to a spot near an overhanging tree. I would catch four trout out of the small hole which was no bigger in diameter than six feet. As I stood there, in a slight daze, I heard footsteps on the gravel bar behind me. I first thought Tim may have returned my direction and gone around behind me, but I didn’t look up; instead keeping my eye on the float bobbing on the top of the fast current. I heard the steps on the loose rocks again and finally turned around to see who it was behind me. To my surprise I saw two deer no more than ten feet away; staring at me as I stared at them. They acted as if I was just another part of the normal surroundings and continued on their way, slowly walking across the rocks. I returned to my fishing and when I turned back to see where the deer were, they had disappeared. I assumed they crossed the river at a shallow point. Wanting to tell Tim of my experience with the deer, I started wading upstream. After turning a bend in the river I saw Tim coming my way and he was carrying his net with a fish inside. As he looked at me he said, “I caught a good one!” I couldn’t tell how big the fish was but as he and I came together he showed me a brown trout that weighed close to three pounds. “Nice fish!” I exclaimed. Unless I got lucky, Tim was going to win the biggest fish contest.
That night as we sat around the campfire I thought of the two days we had spent on the river. The weather was great; chilly and crisp in the morning, but low to mid fifties and sunny in the afternoon with no wind to speak of. The scenery was stunning; leaves on the trees in the middle of their fall change. The company was great; I always love to spend time with family. Most of all I had caught 23 fish and going into the last morning had a four fish lead. However, I knew that no lead was safe and remained focused for the next morning’s final encounter.
I was leaving for home on Wednesday, but decided to spend a final two hours on the river that morning. Tim went upstream and I went down. After two frustrating hours I had only caught one fish. I began to wonder, “How many fish did Tim catch?” I started doing the math in my head and realized that if he had caught five fish, well in the realm of possibility, we would be tied. Six and I lose both contests. As we met back at the drop in point I asked, “How many did you catch?” His response alleviated all my concern when he said, “Two”. I had won the most fish contest, twenty-four to twenty-one. I was satisfied.
After showering and packing, Tim and I stood by our cars and I said, “I wish I could fish with you all day brother.” Tim said, “Yeah, I know.” As we hugged goodbye, I said with restrained emotion, “I love you Tim.” Tim responded, “I love you too.” As I drove away I knew that we would do this again.