At the dead-end is where the fish start. The drive, in and of itself, is a mental detox.
It starts on a smooth, asphalt State road that make the tires sing a steady hum. A few miles later it becomes a seal coated Farm to Market road where the tires rumble a deep bass song at 55 miles per hour.
Four more miles and it changes to an oil top County Road. The potholes sound a boom each time a tire drops in at 35 mph. Three miles farther is a ninety degree turn and the oil top turns to gravel. At 20 to 25 mph, the tires grind gravel and sound like wheat being pulverized into flour.
At each road change, travel slows a little while the steering wheel more aggressively shakes in unison as the tires ripple over a washboard section.
After several gravel miles, the County road turns into a narrow country dirt path. The truck slides side to side from too much speed, so the speedometer slows to 10 miles per hour. Behind the truck is a red dust wake that coats trees, flowers and barbed wire fences.
Another truck comes from the opposite direction. Both slow to a crawl as we carefully cross, cautious not to veer too far to the side so the tires don’t drop into a two foot deep rut and ditch combination. As soon as the trucks pass, both continue in clouds of dust, complimentary of the other, and the dust coats both trucks bumper to bumper.
The last two miles seem like forever. The road stops dropping and abruptly ends at the river. A small boat ramp entices anyone driving too fast to drive mindlessly into the water. A hundred yards to the left is an open area, but other than that, there’s nothing but woods, water and dirty trucks.
We cinch up our shoestrings so shoes won’t come off while wading in mud bottom water. A 15 foot stringer is carefully tied through a belt loop. Spare Roadrunners and different colors of plastic worms fill shirt pockets.
Chartreuse is one of the few “off” colors most country men know. Chartreuse worms are the favorite, with glitter flakes in the lime green rubber to catch sunlight and shimmer like a neon sign at a country cafe for fish, but truth be told, any color works.
Silently hiking through the woods, the rod and reel stays pointed straight ahead to stay out of bushes and vines. The silent trek goes where most people don’t.
After several hundred yards, a flat bottom boat is heard back at the boat ramp. The motor causes a duck to object to being disturbed, making a complaining quack as it flies away.
A songbird sings its song farther down. A gentle breeze blows through the trees above, and occasionally, you can hear the soft ripple of running water. A crow squawks nearby and somehow the sounds of day-to-day life begin to fade as nature’s radio begins to sing a soothing song.
A ways down the rough path is a small, slew that opens from the trees and branches. It’s one of many little “holes” along the unbeaten path.
Without a word or a whisper, the lure is flipped by the twist of the wrist into the open area. The red-headed lure and chartreuse tail work between two stumps and back up to the end of the cast rod.
Another flip of the wrist in the same direction, but this time near a huge tree towering from within the four feet deep water. The reel quietly clicks while the deceptive snare is pulled through the water by invisible line.
When it’s retrieved, another wrist flip to the left splashes the lure in a gentle plunge beside a small brush pile where it resumes its underwater path. After a few feet, something pulls the line with surprising tenacity. The rod bends.
For an instant there is a question of fish, or stump? The wrists instinctively point the rod to the skies which causes the rod to curve as the line moves side to side in lively action.
There is nothing, nothing at all but the moment. Nothing but the challenge as each turn of the reel brings the fish closer.
Problems evaporate. “To Do” lists dissolve. Responsibilities drift downstream. Stress washes away.
It’s not about fish. It’s about peace in the journey.