At Last!

Every country boy is entitled to a creek. If no creek’s handy, maybe a meandering branch will do for awhile. But it must have a few holes that he can’t see the bottom of. That’s an absolute requisite, and there’s no getting around it. (Havilah Babock)

I was up at 5 a.m. and on the road by six. Can I tell you that my heart was beating fast, my temples pulsing and my foot heavy? Thank goodness for cruise control!

We were off to explore some new fishing territory, but mostly, it was the first warm, dry day in what seems like about a thousand years. Scott, my best friend and brother, was about as ate up with cabin fever as I, worse, in fact, because he went up Friday and pitched a tent and wasn’t coming out of the woods until Monday.

There was no real intention to fish. It’s March, and the water has certainly not warmed enough for the fish to experience a rise in metabolism. We have wanted to explore new venues, but every time we went to do so in fair weather, we just fished all day instead. It’s hard not to.

By the time I hit the rolling hills on my northward trek, and the pine trees bristled skyward green and spindly, I was beginning to feel better. The air was warming quickly, and when I got away from the interstate and climbed and descended hill after hill, some with expansive views, I was shedding away cold nights and rainy days accumulated since October.

Met my friend at his campsite mid-morning, and hoisted my backpack over my shoulders. I carried a rod and reel, though was pretty sure I wouldn’t use it. Mostly in the pack were just the essentials of the hike ahead: A few power bars, some cigars, water, camera, first-aid kit, stuff like that. I also had my GPS and a paper map of the trail we were going to follow.

I won’t mention where we were in these little travelogues after having my ears politely boxed recently for writing too much about Louisiana’s scenic rivers and streams, especially since these columns appear on my Web site which gets a considerable following. After giving it due consideration, I realized the boxers were right: These little streams are precious and fragile. Like any wild thing, it goes belly up in the company of too many people, too many fishermen especially who don’t appreciate the intricacies of conservation in a small stream population of fish. It’s okay to take a few for the skillet now and then, but creek fishermen should show more restraint than on your average lake or in the basin. So my explorations this spring of different streams and rivers across Louisiana will be more generic than usual.

We were actually taking the trail backwards, having seen on the map how it intersected a creek three or four times along the way. The stream was running fast and furious, the water clear as greenish gin.

I have never been in a north Louisiana piney woods forest in winter before. It was remarkable in its very scarcity. The understory had been defrocked by the cold, pine needles and other leaves made a brown and ocher carpet everywhere I looked. Magnolias and the pines provided the only green, other than the clear water of the creek, and I noted with delight the dogwoods were just beginning to bud, and in several weeks the forest should be absolutely resplendent. The wild azaleas should be blooming soon, too.

Up hills and down hills, we followed the trail, getting mixed up now and then and having to back track to find it again. Eventually we came to the first spot the trail brushed shoulders with the creek, on a long, white sand bar with not a footprint in sight other than our own.

On we went, and in places the trail became slushy and precarious. We had to jump a couple of little “creeklets” as I call them, little sloughs that drain the hills into the larger water bodies. Often the trail crossing a slough was simply too wide or too muddy, so I would go along the creek little creeklet’s bank until I found a more suitable spot to cross, then make my way back to the trail.

Was I happy? Oh, you don’t know the half of it. Scott and I chatted a lot, about this and that, but we were both in better moods than we had been since fall. Often we were silent, and the woods were the finest of companions, the stream the most genial of friends.

Yet another intersection with the stream, and we found the most gorgeous beach and run of fast water you can imagine. But on we went, and finally, at about two and a half miles in, hit a place where the trail widened. Horse riders had been through not long before, apparently, and left it a sloppy, muddy mess for a couple hundred feet. We sat down and sipped from our water bottles for awhile, and I reluctantly admitted that my left “lap” or the top of my thigh, felt like someone was stabbing it with a sharpened stick, and my buddy was secure then in admitting his left leg was paining him something fierce.

“Coupla fat, out of shape old men,” I grumbled, and he agreed. We had wanted to go another half mile or so, but we turned back then. I took a couple of Aleve with a chaser from my silver flask – something I do not condone, but when in the woods, what the hey – and I gotta tell you, by the time we got back to his camp site, I was still in serious pain.

We did stop to fish some of the creekside trail spots on the way, mostly as an excuse to rest our agonized extremities, but that water was some cold, friends and neighbors, and the fish were even colder. The fishing, however, was fine, if the catching was not so good. Two, three weeks of warm weather and I think those little guys will wake up mighty hungry.

At one such spot, we took a rest on a big old log that had been blackened by sun and rushing water during flood events. Some places I saw debris deposited by the stream far above our heads during the rainy season. We munched on power bars and trail mix and just talked about stuff, like old friends do, like soul brothers. The creek ran swiftly before us, and the pines bristled in a brisk breeze. The sandbar was white and bright.

At camp, we rested again on the bench and had cigars and cold drinks from the ice chests. The day had warmed remarkably, displacing some of the cold that had burrowed into the marrow of my bones, accumulated and resisted there for months on end. We fished a little more downstream, and in total, covered about six miles of trail that day.

Grown men don’t speak to each other much about their feelings, our machismo and tough-guy attitudes being paramount. But my brother knows that after thirty years of friendship, he is truly as real a brother as if we were blood. We don’t see each other often, he lives some four hours from here. The occasional holiday visit, and these days on the creeks in the pine-studded hills renew not only our friendship but the bond both of us have to wild water and wild places. Over a couple of cigars, with a stream chortling and dancing behind us, the sun sinking low behind the edge of the forest rim, I just couldn’t have been happier.

But then it was back home, the long drive and the sore calves, thighs and back. I made it home by about nine that night, slept a dreamless sleep. I woke up even more sore, and hobbled around most of the day Sunday and again Monday.

The winter isn’t over, I’ll wager, but its days are numbered. The ache and longing for wild places, fast clear water has been satisfied…at least for now.

This house is where I take my natural rest, but my home is out there, beyond the back door. – Albert “Salmo” McClain, 1965 (Harry Middleton)

2 comments to At Last!

  • Karen

    Oh man, Roger. You make me want to go find these places too, and I don’t even fish. It sounds like heaven!

  • blufloyd

    I fish a few streams with the fly. Streams with code names like Chess Club and such. Let a couple beer swilling bait guys with buckets move in for a week or worse a month and it takes a year to recover. I chase the few people who stop and look away by knowing where to catch a 2 inch punkyseed on a fly. Show them a 10 inch smallie or rock bass they are putting a beer aside for batter.

    Going to have to hit the airdyne before serious fishing starts this year.

    Calculating how to get down to La. sometime before summer.

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