Since I grew up on an island a ten minute walk from the good salmon river and the same from school, there was no need for me to drive much. There was no where to go. My buddy Lawrence and I put 80 miles on his truck in a weekend, driving around the sprawling metropolis of Craig, population 1,500. An impressive feat.
There was no reason to drive across the island to Thorne Bay, so we never did. Same went for Whale Pass or Point Baker or Lab Bay.
Once life took me to the contiguous United States, there was a lot of room, and a lot to see. That’s probably why I don’t mind driving three hours to Redding for the weekend, or road trips in general. I’ve driven to Montana, Arizona and Alaska solo.
When you drive, you get an intimate look at the country. You feel each mile. You see the transition from blue-voting counties to red. You see gas prices, you identify the high school mascot and meet nice people who serve you coffee and ask how the fishing is. Sunday morning when I was standing in the 36-degree air getting coffee and breakfast burritos from a kiosk in Dunsmuir, the lady asked how the fishing was. That earned her a larger tip. She doesn’t fish herself, but at least she knew why dudes in fishing hats and clothing with trout logos come to town.
Nate and I had fished both the Lower Sacramento and Upper Sacramento rivers the previous day and successfully released our fish even before we netted them. Impressive, I know.
Losing fish gets in your head, especially when you’ve taken three hours from your day to do the drive you say you don’t mind for the second weekend in a row. When you lose fish, you still don’t catch them, but at least you had them. It’s a different kind of skunking, but I don’t know if it’s better. You can try to make yourself feel better by thinking you did enough right to hook-up, but in the end, you couldn’t close. There’s nothing wrong with being an optimist, but let’s be real here. You don’t almost get a job. You don’t almost get into college. You do, or don’t. When I was in high school and asked Natalie out, I was in no way comforted by the fact she had almost said yes. Almost yes is still no.
Maybe you lost a fish thanks to a bad knot, one to a line fray and one to a casting knot. The rest, you have no idea. Anglers will ask if you kept tension on the fish. Of course you did. You’ve fished a thousand hours in two hundred days over a few years, you know to keep the line tight. But what if you didn’t? What if the fish ran, then doubled-back or crossed over? It happens, but maybe you don’t want to admit that it was your fault. Or maybe fish just get away.
After one last cast, which turns out to be fifteen or so, that’s it. The waders come off, the truck is packed up and you start the roll toward the driveway. Reality reenters your life gradually. On the way home, after discussing the interesting ways in which you lost fish, you eat your half of a bag of pretzels while Justin Timberlake reminds you that he is bringing sexy back. You are certain there are no more reasons needed to round up a buddy or two and drive. You might even go next weekend.