Gene Hill has a story in his ‘Hunter’s Fireside Book’ about rain.
It’s always been one of my favorite stories. I like to brag that I have a signed copy of the book and will sometimes tote it out in front of my outdoor loving friends to show them Hill’s name inscribed on the inside cover in immaculate brown ink. What I generally fail to mention is on the next page it says “To Larry, Love Barbara.”
I bought the book on Amazon and it just happened to be signed. And although I was not the intended recipient of Barbara’s affection, I relish the stories all the same. Especially his piece about rain.
I love rain. And snow. And all manor of ill-tempered weather. Being out in a storm always gives me a healthy dose of uninterrupted happiness, and the wetter and more uncomfortable I am, the happier I get. It’s what some military buddies of mine might refer to as ‘embracing the suck.’ I’m not sure why anyone else enjoys getting dirty, wet, cold and uncomfortable — but I think I do it mostly just so I can get warm again.
In his story, Hill says “Once you’re soaked and get warm again you can understand where they got the phrase happy as a clam.”
I think I sometimes go outside just to get freezing cold and half submerged in muck, then come back home, dry off and curl up on the couch with the dog for an afternoon nap. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, even if I haven’t. It’s the most deserving sleep I get.
The first clap of thunder hit at around 3:30 on Sunday afternoon. I was on the couch, procrastinating as usual, and the noise woke me from a semi-comatose state. I suddenly had the urge to go fishing.
I hurriedly threw my stuff in the truck and sped off, racing the weather to my favorite spot on the Rush River. As I turned south I could see the clouds encroaching from the west, spreading the electric, looming uncertainty of a classic June thunderstorm. I prayed to the rain gods that it wouldn’t start until I got there — I didn’t want to miss a drop.
I had just rounded the bend on a trail that opens up into a wide meadow flanked by the river on the east and a steep hillside on the west when the rain began to fall. This spot always makes me feel particularly alone, in a good way. I secretly consider it ‘my spot,’ and on the rare occasion I meet another fisherman on this stretch of the trail I always feel a little like they’re trespassing.
I fished my way downstream as the storm intensified. My raincoat almost immediately threw in the towel and I was quickly soaked to the bone (In my experience, ‘waterproof’ is almost always more of a theory than a law, even with modern fabrics).
As I crossed the river heading south and came to a hole I’m particularly fond of, the storm hit its high notes. The kind of slow, rolling thunder that reminded Bob Seager of a song from 1962 was replaced with quick, straight-to-the-point, lighting strikes.
I sat under a tree by the bank to wait it out, munching on soggy beef jerky and relishing in how wonderfully miserable I was.
As the storm started to ease, trout began hitting the top of the water in pretty regular intervals. As they continued to feed, one swirl in particular stood out among the rest as belonging to a fairly large fish.
Guessing the size of a rising trout is an optimist’s game, but even Debbie Downer would have put this fish in the 14-15” range. That’s nothing to write home about in the grand scheme of things, but I’d never caught a fish that went 15” on this stretch of river, so he had my attention.
I worked him for an half an hour, changed flies three times, lengthened my tippet and still couldn’t get him to take. He just kept mocking me, continuing to feed on anything and everything that wasn’t my fly — Finally he started to piss me off a little. I thought about throwing a big rock in the water where he was and then storming off like an 8 year old who doesn’t get what he wants.
“I’m all for embracing the suck but for the love of God throw me a bone here.”
Eventually I calmed down, resigned myself to failure and decided I was sufficiently wet and cold. I backtracked my way upstream, heading to the truck. The rain had eased some but was still steady as I walked back through my meadow with pruny fingers brushing the tops of wet grass. I thought about my couch and the nap to come — and I felt like I’d accomplished something.