“It’s going to be a three-hour hike in full waders and gear, wading through knee deep water about half the time, but I think there will be fish there.”
Every Spring, I meet up with a few close friends to fly-fish for Steelhead. The weather is usually cold and wet, but this year, there was still four feet of snow covering the banks of the river. The lake where the fish hold all winter was still frozen over, and the conditions were not looking good for us to catch anything more than a cold.
My good friend Mike was trying to convince me to try a new fishing spot on the river. He told me he had found “El Dorado”, the legendary fishing hole, where all the fish were record breakers, and there was never a stop in the bite. The only catch? It was five miles upriver with no discernable trail after the two miles.
We had spent all afternoon fishing close to camp, but there were no fish to be seen, and no one we talked to was having any luck either. I begrudgingly agreed to Mike’s plan. The next morning, we woke up early and headed out. The first mile wasn’t too bad. Even though the snow was deep, the trail had been broken in by countless fisherman who followed it up as far as they knew to go. When the trail ended, we were only about a quarter of the way to where Mike was wanting to go. From there, it was going to be a combination of stomping through knee deep snow and wading upriver. Coming from Mike, this had me worried. He is quite a bit lighter than I am and he’s used to hiking. I had visions of Mike walking on top of the snow like some magical elf, and me trudging waist deep (with a full pack of gear), at a pace that would have had a snail looking for the passing lane.
I’m sure we all know what it’s like to feel as if we’re wading upriver. It can be a struggle just to keep your footing, let alone move forward. That was us. Slowly making our way. Feeling like we had walked a mile, then looking back to see we had only gone about 100 yards. I was having a VERY hard time believing that all this work was going to be worth it. I couldn’t see the destination. I didn’t know how far we had to go. And I didn’t know if Mike was being totally honest, or if he was selling me a fish story.
My attitude about the hike, was very different from Mikes. I was skeptical and constantly second guessing. Mike, on the other hand, was smiling. He had been there before. He had seen how great it could be. He knew that getting there was going to be hard and slow, but he also knew that the reward at the end was going to be better than most other fisherman would experience. He knew which paths to take, and which to avoid. He knew where we were going, and he had a plan.
About halfway to our destination, we got lucky. Mike spotted a snowshoe trail on the bank of the river that was packed down just enough for us to follow without breaking through and sinking to our knees. This path saved us a HUGE amount of time. Mike estimated it cut about 30 to 40 minutes off our travel time.
The snowshoe trail dropped us back into the river about a half mile from “El Dorado.” This was the hardest part of the journey for me. We moved very slowly over big river rocks that made footing difficult, and the water around us did not look like it was holding any fish. I couldn’t help but wonder if all this work was going to be in vain. But then there was Mike, who was still smiling and beginning to sing “Just Around the River Bend” from Disney’s Pocahontas. We both have young daughters, so I was able to name the song and poke a little fun at him for his manly choice of music. Then, cursing Mike for putting the song into my head, I began to sing it silently to myself.
After what felt like four thousand mental repeats of the song later, we finally rounded a bend to a spot that looked promising. “We’re here!” Mike announced. Even then, I wasn’t sure this spot was going to be any better than the water we walked past 2 hours ago. It looked good, but it didn’t look “AMAZING”……. until we started to hook into fish. At that point everything became clear. It was totally worth the trip. The fish were by far the biggest we had ever caught, and there were TONS of them.
As I reflected on our hike, I realized that my experience was very similar to the journey that many people take to retirement. At some point, someone tells you that you should save for retirement. That you should do more work, and enjoy less of reward every paycheck, even though those around you are enjoying their rewards now. It’s not easy to see everyone get in the water and start fishing, and you keep walking past. But, most of those people stop at the end of the first trail because they don’t know any better. They don’t know what is waiting upriver if they just put in a little bit more work.
If they are walking the path alone, they don’t know if the trip is going to be worth it. They don’t know if they will be any better off for having done this extra work. Having someone who’s been there helps. Someone who has not only seen the path so success, but also sees the path not to take, and is looking for ways to speed up the trip. Someone who knows exactly what’s at the end of the trail.
With Mike’s help, I enjoyed some of the best fishing of my life! The fish WERE all huge, and they DID bite all day long. The walk down river at the end of the day was glorious. No one went as high upriver as we did, and everyone we passed on the way back, could only describe their day as “ok” at best, and barren at worst. I wouldn’t have found “El Dorado” without Mike’s help. Honestly, I would have started fishing at the trail end, because, looking around it seemed good enough.
(Mike showing off his fish)
(Me, Chris, with my biggest fish of the trip.)