I got pushed into the Wallowa River the other day. So rude. The worst part is, it was the river itself that pushed me in. I’m just glad it didn’t steal my lunch money, too. I was wading a little bit too far out, evidently, so I’ll take responsibility. The water was up to my ribcage with a couple of inches between the top of the river and the top of my waders. A little deep, but boy howdy, if I could just reach a cast out a li-i-i-ttle bit farther I’d be drifting through primo steelhead water. Just knew there was a fish in there. If it didn’t have my name on it, it had my initials at the very least. I found a solid rock on the bottom to brace one foot against. Got settled in with the current nudging me down and the rock holding me back. Got a cast off — just inside where it needed to be. Ball one.
The second cast zinged out and settled right above the business district of steelhead boulevard, starting its drift toward a good chance at good things. The clouds had just let the sun through for a quick visit after a couple of days of sideways spring snow. Birds were chirping. New grass was poking up next to outbound snow. On the drive to the river I’d smiled at the awfully cute new lambs and calves getting acquainted with their legs. Good stuff. And here I was, a little bit cocky about getting ready to set the hook on a silver torpedo any second now. If it was going to happen it would likely happen right abouuuut … I went horizontal as the current lifted my legs off the bottom and a sinking feeling, combined with actually sinking, collided with the great mood from half a second earlier.
I tell you, that is confusing. To be so pleased with the world and then so underwater all in the same motion. There had been just a gnat’s eyebrow worth of friction keeping the felt sole of my wading boot against that rock. I shifted just a tiny bit, anticipating a fish, and whoop! — see you later, sturdy rock. Hello, water rushing in my armpits.
This would be a great time for a public service announcement about wading belts. You should wear one. My little slip and dip was no big deal. I flailed around for a few seconds but got back on my feet pretty quick. I mean, sure, maybe I pulled a hamstring a little bit during the thrashing around that was totally no big deal. Yeah, my cotton sweatshirt weighed 45 pounds after sponging up the Wallowa River. Yes, my fleece pants absorbed more than a little moisture and I squished around with every step the rest of the day. But at least my belt prevented most of the water from getting inside the wader legs and causing more than just wetness. I see folks now and then on the river in waders with no belt. Maybe they’re not wading out too far because they have an abundance of common sense. I don’t know. But, still. Wear a belt.
I squeezed five pounds of water from each sleeve of my cotton sweatshirt and looked back at that enticing water I’d just been swept away from. Hey, this is America. We don’t quit. A bald eagle flew over. Somewhere. Not over me right then, but I’m sure a bald eagle somewhere was flying over something. I squished my way right back upstream, waded out there again and I am proud to tell you that I started getting pushed downstream again and said, “forget this,” and gave up on that spot. But I kept fishing, you see. And I was cold. And wet. And I am proud to tell you I squished around all day like that and when you refuse to give up, sometimes that’s when you still don’t catch a fish. At all. All day long. Just, you’re pretty cold. And really wet.
There’s probably a moral or something in there. A takeaway message of some kind. I don’t know. I don’t want to get too deep. So, happy spring. Good luck fishing. Wear that belt.
Jon Rombach is a local columnist for the Chieftain.