I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. At the age of one I was fortunate to meet my best friend Jacob, and over the course of the next 26 years we have had countless misadventures. Emphasis on the mis. When Jacob came to visit me in the spring of this year, we decided to load up my old Scout for old times sake and head North in search of fish and maybe a little (mis)adventure. We found one of those things. 6:00 we load up the Scout with rods and waders, and put the peddle to the metal cruising out of town on the BQE at top speed - a scorching 45 mph.
Words and Photography by Forest Woodward.High noon - With the rain pounding down and the prospect of finding fish dwindling, we decide to reroute and turn east towards the coast to seek shelter and counsel from our friend Aaron at the Engine Room in Mystic. Sympathetic to our soggy predicament, Aaron sits us down for a strong pint and story time, regaling us with prohibition era tales of the powerful engines that were once built in the Engine Room, and the bootleggers who used them with toothsome success to outrun the law. Gnarly Bay in Westerly, RI. From the safety of the Malted Barley, we watch as the river separating Rhode Island from Connecticut pushes her shoulders against the two states, urging them a little further apart. 22:00 - When it is proposed that we adjourn to a friend’s house to shoot bows and arrows in a sheltered space out of the rain, Jacob and I decide to shoot first and ask questions later. Rekindling our old archery rivalry - he was the junior South East traditional bow archery champion, I was runner up - seemed like the perfect way to spend the rest of the evening. Much to our surprise, and nervous delight, that “dry place” was not a barn or garage, but was instead a 30 feet strip of hallway between our friend Travis’ studio, through the kitchen, and into the living room of our friend’s 100+ year old house. **do not try this at home. at least not at your home** 8:00 - Making an early escape, and counting my blessings for not having caught an arrow in the shoulder while rustling for a slim jim in the kitchen last night we head for a sleepy town called Pawling, near the confluence of the Housatonic and Tenmile rivers. The year my family moved out to the Cascades in Washington State, I found myself living in a 10' x 4’ closet that had served as the “fly tying closet” for the previous owner of the cabin where we lived. Jacob and I were pen-pals, and over the course of the winter months I wrote to him proudly as I taught myself to tie a woolly bugger, and later, under the tutelage of the valley’s resident fishermen, I began tying more complex patterns. In the spring I convinced the headmaster at the one-room school house to let me take the hour recess to ride my bike a half mile to Rainbow Creek, where along with my friend Blake, we would methodically leap frog from hole to hole, pulling out little rainbows whose favorite hiding spots and personalities over time became as familiar to us as the carved surfaces of our old wooden desks. When summer came it was time to put our winter’s work to use in earnest. No desk to return to, just long afternoons fading into dusk as we took turns rowing the Little Dipper up the mouth of the Stehekin River, giddy with excitement as the light fluttering of fingerlings on Rainbow Creek were replaced by heavy hitting Cutthroat and Rainbow, powerful as they were fat. Angler's Den, where we find Tom quietly tying flies in the small shop (that was once an old bank vault) while his dad makes friendly conversation with the customers. Safety deposit boxes that once held the life savings of the valley’s farmers now hold a colorful array of hackles, furs and hooks. They welcome us, quietly shaking their heads in bemusement as to why anyone would be trying to fish right now. We explain that it’s our last 36 hours before Jacob flies back West, and Tom offers to meet us early the next morning to show us a couple of his favorite spots. As all good things must, the Stehekin years faded too, and fish were all but forgotten again until Jacob and I found ourselves spending the summers between college in Missoula, Montana. Drawn again to the old voice of the rivers, we set out to learn more about the fish we had chased so unsuccessfully years before. The learning was slow, but our teacher, the river, gentle for the most part. In those early days of learning, one quote in particular from A River Runs Through It seemed to surface continually, “If our father had had his way, nobody who did not know how to fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him.” Norman would have been quite pleased to know that we disgraced very few fish during those first summers; and yet we continued to return, inexorably drawn and fueled by an eagerness that far outstripped our success or tact, yet which anyone who has ever heeded the call of the river has felt.