Steady Water

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

One man's fishing trip.

Submitted: June 20, 2018

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Submitted: June 20, 2018



Steady Water

By: Harold N. Walters

What I failed to realize at 35, during the evening I fished for mudbellies in Steady Water was that my heart was at ease.


When I broke from the thick spruce woods and stood on the muddy shore of my grandfather’s mythical hidden gully — Steady Water — it was late afternoon, the sun already stretching shadows from the treetops.


Although I’d known the location of grandfather’s gully for most of my life, it was only recently that I’d been privileged with grandfather’s arcane knowledge regarding the mystery of how best to hook the mudbelly trout that populated it.


Lodging his unfiltered Camel cigarette in his ashtray and folding his gnarly hands on his spark-scorched weskit, he whispered the secret to me from the comfy cushions of his sofa chair as if the room was filled with angler secret agents, not just the two of us.


“End of July,” he said. “Late in a hot day with a dwindling westerly wind.”


Before revealing the rest of his secret, grandfather sucked another draw from his Camel.


“Mind me exactly,” he said, “and you’ll catch some dandy trout.”


I intended exactly that, to follow his instructions to a T.


Lying east and west, the elongated gully lay in the woodsy trench of a shallow valley in Brookwater’s hinterland. The valley’s scooped slope allowed the declining sun to beam the length of the gully and lure diamonds from Steady Water’s surface, diamonds that skittered away from my hip rubbers as I waded out from the shore.


Curious to discover what brazen creature disturbed the calmness, a solitary crow dropped from the broken branches of a rampike, glided diagonally across the valley, banked once around me and, determining me harmless, flapped back to his perch.


“Prawk,” he bugled, reminding me that he was standing sentinel, all the same.


Ignoring the crow, and tugging the brim of my felt hat down over my brow to block the low sun’s rays, I fitted the two sections of my spinning rod and checked the action of my open-faced Mitchell reel, state of the art at the time.


Grandfather refused to believe any fishing rod could ever replace a simple bamboo pole with a coarse line tied to its tip. Nevertheless, he agreed my spinning rod shouldn’t interfere with my success if I promised it would be my sole break with tradition.


Relaxing my shoulders and striving to stand as still as a patiently fishing bittern, I concentrated on rigging my gear.


I was comfortable standing in Steady Water, preparing to fish while my wife of a dozen years and our two children were at home tending to their quotidian affairs. All was right with the world.


Gwen was likely calling outside reminding Sara and Ray not to wander away from the door because supper would soon be on the table.


And once the kids were fed and ready for bed — handy about when the sun’s last light would fade — Gwen would spend time bent over her new guitar practicing the chords she learned from Brookwater’s moonlighting music teacher.


Gwen and the kids weren’t in the forefront of my mind. Nor was the weight of the world.


I patted my jacket pocket, checking for the pouch of worms I’d dug from a manure pile so old it might soon draw the attention of student archaeologists.


Grandfather said they were perfect worms.


“And don’t dig any more than ten or a dozen,” he said. “You won’t need them if you heed me.”


Clumsily freeing the pouch, but managing not to drop it, I nipped it against my gut with the end of my rod and, with finger and thumb, worked a plump worm from inside.


To avoid cooling air, pesky black flies had gone home for the night. Only a single mosquito — solitary as the crow — buzzed my head while my hands were occupied.


Pinching a worm’s end until it bulged I pierced its body with the hook’s point, slipped it over the barb and threaded it neatly up the hook’s shank.


I was baited up and ready to cast.


The woods bordering Steady Water remained quiet. A homeward bound bird — a swallow? — flew in front of me, perhaps hoping to snag the mosquito for a bedtime snack. Back in Brookwater, a dog barked.


The raft of water lilies grandfather told me to locate floated on my left, their beaver-tail leaves pad-padding on the gully’s flattening ripples.


“The trout are under the lily pads,” grandfather said. “They hide there in the shade all day. Just before dark they’re starving.”


Gently, with no intention of casting far out, I flicked my rod underhanded and lobbed the baited hook atop a lily pad on the edge of the raft.


The scrumptious worm — at least to a trout’s taste, I hoped — coiled like a miniature anaconda.


I pictured a couple of alert mudbellies turning up their eyes to examine the darker shadow that had plunked on the lily pad.


“Then take it easy,” grandfather said. “Don’t be in too big a hurry to jerk the bait off the lily pad and spook the trout.”


Obediently, I waited for the worm to settle down before I slowly cranked my Mitchell and pulled the bait overboard.




A one pound — at least! — trout rose like a rocket and glutched the worm into its gullet.


“Be easy. Be easy,” grandfather whispered.


Reining in my excitement, I breathed deeply and reeled slowly, slowly, until the splendid mudbelly bumped the leg of my boot.


I slid my dip net beneath the trout and hoisted him out of the water.


The mudbelly sagging in the net, I backed to shore then turned to face the bushes. Not risking losing this trophy trout I stepped ashore, worked the hook free and laid the fish on a handful of damp moss in the bottom of my wicker creel.


I lingered a moment admiring the trout before I quietly waded back into the gully, waited for the water to settle, then cast a second worm onto a lily pad.


And held my breath.


And slowly reeled.




Eight times I cast worms onto the lily pads and only once did I fail to hook and land a sparkling mudbelly. Eight times the diminishing rays of sunlight glistened off slick fish skin.


The final trout I carried ashore in near darkness. The sun was so far beyond the western horizon that its fading light backlit the treetop horizon as silver as moon glow.


The weight of my creel smacked satisfyingly on my hip as I hiked back up the valley from Steady Water, careful not to trip in the trail.


I believe I whistled contentedly while I walked. I believe —  know, now — my heart was at ease.


Since then, because of capricious Time and the wearing world, I’ve seldom fished any water.



© Copyright 2019 Harold N. Walters. All rights reserved.

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