Hayden Mellsop - The Accidental Angler

He left his clothes piled at the side of the river, waded unsteadily a few feet out into the flow then dove toward the cliff face across the far side of the pool. The initial shock of immersion stole breath from his lungs while his skin tightened about his frame, recalling something of the tautness of youth.

Surfacing, he swam for the cliff, composed of river rock interspersed with layers of seashells and strange, fossilized creatures, from an eon when the land through which the river flowed was once a seabed. He treaded water, the river deep and ink-black, and ran his hands along the smooth rock and traced the outline of some of the shells.

He then turned and, facing upstream, swam in place against the current for a time, thinking how poorly equipped he was to manage this environment compared to a fish, able to spend its entire life in harmony with the constant press and movement of water.

Feeling a chill now, he pushed off the cliff face with his feet, swam deep then surfaced and struck out for the shore. He walked gingerly across the rocks to where he’d set up camp on a sandy bluff and sat in a camp chair as the last of the afternoon sun and a gentle upstream breeze dried him off.

Dressed against the creeping chill, he built a fire from driftwood, then once the embers had burned down set a pan on them and cooked and ate lamb chops while dusk gathered. He took the bones down to the river and tossed them in the water, where eels would surely pick them clean.

How quickly one fell into the rhythms of the natural world. Without artificial light or outside stimulation there seemed little point in staying up beyond nightfall. Besides, the day had left him weary. He crawled into his sleeping bag then lay looking up at a burgeoning canopy of stars.

The welt on his shoulder smoldered softly like the last of the embers dying in the fire. He thought of the fish, perhaps the largest he’d hooked. Twice it had run him to his backing, using the swift current of the middle river, diving deep then breaching the surface in a shower of head-shaking fury. Twice he’d brought it back to his side of the river, yet he knew in his heart he was unlikely to land it.

Finally it lay on its side, using the pressure wave pillowing off a rock outcrop to regather its strength, its one visible eye deep and dark as the sky at night. With a flick of the tail it was gone, there one second, the next a sharp pain in his clavicle as the heavy nymph with the tungsten bead came free of the fish’s mouth and hit him like he’d been shot with a BB gun.

If a fisherman curses out loud to the heavens and no one is there to hear him, has a sin been committed? Or indeed, did the encounter with the fish take place at all? Does truth require witness?

By now the earth was shadow, dark and silent against the starlight. Tomorrow he’d scoop up the remains of the fire and release them into the river, reload the raft, and before long, time and the elements would cover over what footprints he’d left in the sand.

Hayden Mellsop is a Realtor with Pinon Real Estate Group and a former fishing guide.