I just realized that I have written at least one fishing scene into every book I write. I just finished the first draft of a fishing scene for my current work in progress, The Song of Liffrea.
Here’s the fishing scene from Chapter 4 of Fighting the Promise, which I published on Amazon last year. This scene is set on the fictitious Basalt River, just downstream from the equally fictitious town of Athelston, Idaho, near the Wyoming border.
“Back it up into the eddy, Mandy.” Jimmy Eleutherios had shaggy hair that hung down to his eyebrows. His scruffy gray whiskers were of such a length that it was difficult to tell whether he was bearded or merely unshaven. At this particular moment he was in the front of a small wooden boat, crouching by the left side of a young man who was trying to learn how to cast an artificial fly.
With three smooth strokes of the oars, Miranda pulled the boat out of the current and rotated it toward the bush Jimmy was pointing at. The hole under that bush was a good spot. They had caught lots of trout there. The morning was starting to warm up as the sun got higher, and Miranda had taken off the sweat pants and flannel shirt she had been wearing earlier. Now she wore a blue sleeveless blouse and jeans that had been cut off short enough that her father disapproved of them. Her legs were long and tan, and her shoulders were well muscled. She wore felt-soled wading sandals and a large straw hat that flopped down over her neck in the back. She was grateful that the schools were closed, since otherwise she would not have been able to work for Jimmy today. Miranda had rowed Jimmy’s boat so often that she was almost unaware of the tiny strokes that she made with the oars to keep the boat nearly motionless in the calm, rotating water of the eddy.
“Now drop your fly about three feet up from that bush and as close to the bank as you can get,” Jimmy explained to the young man beside him. “Let it drift down toward the bush and then give it about a six-inch twitch.”
The novice fly fisherman began a series of false casts and then cast his fly. It landed about five feet away from the bank. “Closer,” Jimmy said. “Try to drop it within a foot of the bank. Keep your line up so it doesn’t drag in the current.” The young man picked up his line and began false casting again. This time, his fly landed much closer to the bank. Miranda nodded in approval. That wasn’t a bad cast for a beginner.
“Okay, that’s good,” Jimmy urged. “Now give it just a little bit of a twitch. Wait until you see him actually take it down before you set the hook.” Just then, a large green shadow moved slowly up out of the depths. It held still for a moment and then rushed up at the foam hopper. Just as the fish’s white mouth opened to engulf the fly, the young man eagerly heaved back on his rod to set the hook. Too soon. The fly pulled out of the fish’s still-open mouth, and the line flew back to wrap itself in a tangle around both of the men in the bow of the boat.
“Crap!” said Jimmy. “Crap, crap, double crap. I think you might have set the hook just a little bit too quick.”
Miranda grinned. It had been more than just a little bit too quick.
“Pull back up onto that island, Mandy, while I straighten out this mess. We’ll give that fish a few minutes to calm down, and then we’ll try him again with something else. At least he didn’t feel the hook.”
Miranda rowed the boat out of the eddy, across the fast water of the channel behind her, and just as the stern of the boat touched a gravel bar along the edge of the island, she stepped on the anchor release and held it down. The anchor dropped onto the gravel bar, and the boat swung gently around and came to rest against the bank. Miranda jumped out, and tied the bow line to one of the larger cottonwood saplings on the island, pulling the boat up firmly against the shore. Finally, she picked up the large, pyramid anchor and moved it far enough up on the bank that it couldn’t slide loose with the current.
Jimmy and his young client got out of the boat. “Ready for a cold one, Dave?”
“Yeah, that sounds good.” David Peterson leaned over backwards, stretching his back. He wore a new pair of brown neoprene chest waders, but he had folded them down to his waist to let his chest cool off. “These things are hot,” he said.
“I’ll get it,” Miranda said. She reached into the cooler in the back of the boat and took out two cans of beer. She handed one to Dave and then popped open the other one for herself.
Jimmy stepped over and smoothly plucked it out of her hand. “Why, thank you, Mandy. How did you know I wanted a beer?” He took a long drink of it. “I think there’s some soda in that cooler if you’re thirsty.”
“Jimmy!” she protested. “It’s hot out here.”
“If you’re hot, then why don’t you grab a nice cold can of soda? There’s plenty in there.”
“But Jimmy, everybody my age drinks beer in the summer.”
“Not in my boat, they don’t. I don’t want your father to think that I allow his daughter to drink my beer in my boat. You want a soda, then get a soda. If not, there’s water. Otherwise, why don’t you sit down in the shade and wait for me to untangle this line.”
With a loud sigh of disappointment, Miranda stomped over and sat down on the bank. Idly she plucked stems of dry grass and threw them like spears into the current.
“Is she always this . . . feisty?” Dave asked in little more than a whisper.
“No, it’s more like ‘Is she always this big a pain in the butt.’ And the answer’s yes.” Jimmy looked up at Miranda and winked.
“I heard that!” Miranda said as she got up to get a can of pop. “But you forgot to say I row a boat so good that you can’t get along without me.”
Jimmy looked up and smiled. “I guess there is that. And if you’re really good, maybe we’ll let you get back in the boat with us and row us the rest of the way down.”
“Yeah, right. Put either one of you at the oars and pretty quick you’ll be begging me to row again.” She sat down on the bank again to drink her pop. A movement in the trees downstream caught her eye, and she looked up. An eagle flapped ponderously out of a cottonwood tree and three starlings immediately started to chase it. The smaller birds darted around the eagle, swooping in rapidly to peck at its back and head. One of them must have gotten in a particularly good peck, because a small feather floated loose from the eagle and floated in large slow spirals toward the ground. Ignoring its tormentors, the eagle stoically continued its course until it disappeared out of sight.
“Okay, this is ready,” Jimmy said. “Let’s go try him again. He’s not going to look at another dry fly today, so I’ve got a couple of nymphs on there.”
They got back into the boat. Miranda rowed upstream in the calm water next to the island, and then angled across the current and back into the eddy.
“Okay,” said Jimmy, holding up the end of the line, “This is a brown rubberlegs up here, and this beadhead on the dropper is what I call a pheasant’s ear. This yarn is a strike indicator. It’ll float, but the flies will sink. I want you to cast six or eight feet upstream from the bush to give it time to sink. Watch the strike indicator. If it moves or jerks or sinks, set the hook.”
Dave tried to false-cast the heavy flies, but they buzzed angrily past Miranda’s ear and smacked Dave in the back of the head. “Hey, I’m back here, guys,” Miranda complained.
“You can’t cast these weighted flies like you cast a dry, Dave,” Jimmy said. “Just pull out some line and flop it up into the current. Try not to let the flies get tangled and then watch your strike indicator.”
Dave pulled several feet of line off the reel, raised his rod tip, and then flipped it forward in a clumsy approximation of a roll cast. The flies flipped up high into the air and then sailed forward to land with a noisy splash about ten feet above the bush. The line floated down stream, and suddenly the yellow strike indicator was pulled out of sight.
“Set the hook!” Jimmy yelled. “You’ve got him.”
Dave pulled back on his rod, and his line suddenly pulled straight down, bowing the rod and pulling the tip down toward the water. “Give him line,” Jimmy shouted. “Take your hand off the reel and let him run.” The fish ran upstream until backing was showing between the last few turns of line on the reel. Then it turned and came back downstream. Dave frantically stripped in slack, trying to keep his line tight. The fish ran down past the boat and started pulling line back out again. “Follow him, Mand,” Jimmy said, but she had already rowed the boat out into the fast current and had started downstream.
It was nearly ten minutes later and several hundred yards downstream when Dave brought the fish close enough to the boat that Jimmy was able to reach the long-handled boat net under it and swing it up into the boat. Dave whooped for joy as the large fish flopped once and then lay still with only its golden gill covers pulsing rhythmically open and closed. It had large red and brown spots on its sides and back, a yellowish belly, and a deeply hooked jaw.
“He’s a brown. About six pounds—maybe a little bigger. Are you going to let him fight another day,” asked Jimmy, “or take him home for dinner tonight?”
Dave thought about it for only a moment. “He’d look real good on the dinner table, and he’d probably taste even better. Think your wife would cook it for me?”
“I think she would. Hand me that hittin’ stick, Mandy.” The hitting stick was half an axe handle with a leather thong through one end. “You’re going to have to do the evil deed, Dave.” Jimmy picked up the fish and pointed to a spot above and just slightly behind the fish’s eye. “Smack him right here to kill him quick. And make sure you miss my fingers.”
Dave picked up the stick, hesitated just a moment, and then hit the fish smartly across the head. It shivered once and then was still. “Smack it one more time just to make sure.” He did.
They took some pictures, and then Jimmy cut through the fish’s gill arches to let it bleed. He held it in the stream while it bled. When Jimmy had wrapped the fish and put it in the cooler they got back into the boat and started downstream again. They put a foam hopper back on Dave’s line, but they went a mile or more without catching any more fish.
The trees along the river opened up to a sunny meadow with a hay field on the other side of the valley. Miranda looked across the field and noticed a caravan of green trucks moving slowly along the highway. They had red stars on the doors and red flags flying from the front fender. “What’s going on over there?” she asked, pointing at the trucks.
“Troop transports,” replied Dave, pointing to the bank. “Chinese. Pull up on this bank, would you, Mandy?” She rowed to shore, and Dave jumped out and ran over to the edge of the meadow. He reached down inside his waders and pulled out a compact pair of binoculars. Miranda was surprised at that. Fishermen usually didn’t carry binoculars. And they usually didn’t hide them inside their waders.
Dave watched the trucks for a few moments more and then he pulled out a small leather-bound notebook and wrote something before returning to the boat. “Six trucks,” he said to himself as he wrote, “traveling fairly slowly. Twelve to fifteen soldiers per truck, drivers, and gunners, comes to about a hundred. Probably two platoons.”
Jimmy and Miranda both looked at him silently for a moment before Jimmy said, “Sounds like you might have spent some time in the military, son.”
Dave smiled blandly. “I did a hitch in the Guard when I got out of high school. It still holds a bit of a fascination for me. Where do you think those trucks might be going?”
“Probably Athelston. That’s the only town on this road unless they’re going over the pass and into Wyoming. Doubt that, though.” Jimmy turned to Miranda. “Mandy, I want you to get my cell phone out of the tackle box and see if you can get through to your dad. Tell him there’s a hundred Chinese soldiers coming into town. They’re moving slowly, so they’ll probably be there in forty minutes to an hour. I’d just as soon this didn’t come as a surprise to him.”
“Who’s her dad?” Dave asked.
“He’s the mayor of Athelston, he’s the bishop of the local Mormon church, and he’s my friend. He doesn’t handle surprises all that good, so I thought I’d give him a few minutes to get used to the idea of having the Chinese come to visit.”
Miranda took the cell phone out into the middle of the meadow and called her home. When she came back to the boat Dave asked, “As long as we have the cell phone out and have a signal, would you mind if I used it to make a quick call? I’d like to check in with my office before they close for the afternoon.”
Jimmy looked at him a long time and then said, “I’ll make you a deal, Dave. I won’t ask you any questions, and you won’t have to tell me any lies. Fair enough?”
Miranda couldn’t tell whether Dave looked troubled or just a bit pleased as he said, “Fair enough.” Then he took the phone out into the meadow to make his call.