Mid-February and it’s twenty below. The river, I imagine, is a slurry of ice and snow, the fish hearts barely beating. I haven’t visited the cabin in weeks, and months ago shut down the water and walked out. I mark the last Saturday in April every year as a holy day…the Opening Day of trout season. I stare at the calendar every morning thinking of it almost like a kid at Christmas. While it’s true I could fish other rivers nearby which remain open, my Boardman River cabin, Reeling Waters Lodge these days, exists as only a figment part of the year and as an absolute soul necessity during the fishing season.

I dream of the place sometimes. I lift up out of my body and walk the dream banks of June, July and August. Over the years I taught and administrated a writing program at Interlochen. I managed to learn how to survive by day dreaming my way out of oppressive meetings where absolutely nothing happened. It was as if nothing was piled on top of nothing and then doubled and re-doubled. I grew another life inside my skin. I can close my eyes at any time of day no matter what I’m doing and I am instantly sitting next to my favorite spot where a nameless creek joins the Boardman next to the cabin, Yukon Jack in a glass on ice and a cigar. I survey the surface for rising fish, and more often than not, because there aren’t any, I sit back and pack the memory of the river in closer and closer to what it means to literally say that my flesh is water.

It’s not a trick. It’s as real as you reading this right now. And right now, I’m looking at the calendar. That date, Saturday, April 25, literally glows both on the page and in my imagination. My fly gear is in my home closet. For the first time in years, I have boxes of organized flies, sorted and given to me by my lovely daughter and her fiance. I run my fingers over the patterns as if the Braille of feathers and dubbing are directions for a life to follow, a path into fishing, my life given over to something akin to Huck Finn wading downriver with Robert Traver.

It’s beyond palpable. I taste Opening Day on my tongue. I sniff the air for the salt scent coming up from the Gulf. Outside the bird songs are changing. The sun is now a more present object in the sky. Fact: Trout skins move with the flow of current underwater. They ripple and bend to match the current. I’d like to think that what I’m doing now is preparation for that first step into the river in April…that time when the waking dream and the partial suffering of a winter life meet in mid-current and strike the bargain they both see as a soul necessity. I make the trade every season: my life for the river life, hoping that if you stood a bit far away and saw me, you could not tell the difference between river and man.

More about Michael Delp in the NWS Author Archive