I am known for being daring around water. As in: It’s not so deep, and, It’s not so fast. And then being swept downstream to heave out my carcass where I catch a handhold. The first time I went in in waders, I did not know the gasp reflex the body has with temperature change and that the mind loses grip on reality the first 20 seconds – you think you are going to die. Even on subsequent dunkings, the mind tells you you are going to drown. You just have to live through it, or you do drown.
So, on my recent, annual, camping trip to the north of Van Isle, to fly fish for pinks in rivers, estuaries and on saltwater beaches, I was presented with a good four hundred yards of open water as the tide had not receded enough. This water stood between me and thousands of milling pinks on the beach, so numerous and bity, a 25-fish release day was realistic. Most water would be thigh deep, but many channels dipped deeper.
Not knowing the path, and being the first fly guy to cross (I wake at 5AM), didn’t have tracks to follow. I did what should result in a safe crossing: I waded upstream several hundred yards, searching for visible bottom. I knew there was algae that made it disappear and had crossed on a lower tide, so, catching the second angler coming behind me in the corner of my eye (someone I had to beat to the fish), decided to forge ahead.
Arms over my head, I waded up to my belly button, then on tippy toes. My waders’ zipper chose this moment to ‘open’ a little and the first drops of water splatted my shirt. I soldiered on, up to the top of my waders and then, over my head and several gallons of ocean cold water hit my warm, sleepy body. Many muffled expletive-deleteds, and my hat rose above the surface, with only one choice. I had to swim to the other side. One hand pushed the fleece vest in my hand into the water, and the other used my fishing rod to do the same.
So I came to the other side of the water, proving even when you might die, you don’t drop the rod. The stones were wet, fist sized, and I held on with my rod hand (and rod – I break a few). I began heaving myself up the rocks, all of which slid down so I almost could not get out of the water, it was so slippery and vertical. Rocks sliding beneath my feet, I climbed the bank ten times to climb it once.
Sloshing along, I came to the other fly guy who was putting his vest and etc. back on. He shed them thinking he had to save me. “Ah, er, you cross at three finger log, here,” he said. He was a foot shorter than me, and dry. Hmm.
Lying on the beach, feet up on a log, I let two gallons of ocean drain out of my waders. My zipper now gaped, totally ruined. Then I looked at the fish, and worked myself onto my feet, and across the beach to a small point, where the jumpers jumped. My Fuzzy Pink soon tightened my line and the silver of a fish’ flank.
It was truly spectacular. In twelve casts I received 13 bites and released 11 fish. The cast I received bites from two fish, was the only one I landed neither. And then the cold. Jumping up and down, thigh deep, to keep from shivering too hard to cast. After turning the hook on fish 20, I fell over. I headed to shore, but was so cold my feet would not do what my brain told them. I fell onto barnacled stones, ripping both palms apart.
Tide now receded, head bent down, I sloshed the open water, then strode on, breaking into a run up the stony bank to warm up. Back at my tent, 10:00 AM and rising beyond 75 degrees. I ripped everything off – to keep from freezing. Ruined waders, soaked rain coat, soaked wallet, receipts/bills stuck to one another. Boots, waders, fleece vest, wet shirt, soaked pants, soaked socks. All ripped off.
I spent the day drying everything and fixing my waders. I snipped a pot scrubber in lengths, found marine caulking and caulked the pieces up the zipper, found some duct tape and, in Red Green fashion, found it would stick to itself when wet. So three layers of duct tape, waders turned to the outside. Strips of white socks this time, caulking, duct tape.
Next day? I crossed at three finger log. My left foot sprang a leak to remind me not to be dumb again. Caught double the fish of the day I almost died. Fabulous.