DOWN THE STEEP BANK AND through dog-hair stands of invasive knotweed, the river opens up to a huge slow pool below and a riffle above. There are already a few bugs wafting by on the slight breeze, and I see two splashy rises in the tailout. But I head for the riffle, straight to a certain boulder, where I sit, waiting.
I think of this as John’s rock. He would sit here for hours and watch the river go by. It used to drive me crazy. We were buddies, but being 25 years my senior and FIELD & STREAM’s legendary fishing editor, John Merwin was also enough of a mentor that I felt I couldn’t start fishing until he did. So, I’d sit next to him on this big, flat rock and wait.
Usually, after taking in our surroundings and considering things long enough, John would impart some little piece of wisdom. But only ever a piece. He’d lift his head, tracing the ascent of a mayfly through long shafts of sunlight and up past the tops of the trees, where the bug would disappear—and then he’d hint at what he was thinking. He might explain just enough to make me forget for a second that I’d rather be fishing, enough to make me ask what he was getting at.
Then he’d laugh his snuffling laugh, and say, “Oh…I’ll tell you when you’re older.”
This used to drive me a little crazy too.
I’ll never forget the first time he took me here. He drove his truck along the railroad bed so close to the tracks that I clutched the door handle, ready to bail if a train came. We scrambled down to the river and stood on the bank, scanning the tailout and then the broad riffle. On the far side, the skinny water gathered and poured into a chute that cut the bank of a towering cliff decked with leaning hemlocks.
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