The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 28, 2012

Appreciating a gift day

Recent stretch of warm days provided an unexpected fishing opportunity

By Chris Ellis
For The Register-Herald

— The weather was simply too nice to be inside last week — I had to go fishing. It felt odd to consider a day of fishing when I had been looking forward to hunting season since last year. The air felt and smelled like hunting season, my truck was in full-blown hunting rig mode and camo decorated the coat rack at home.

“To heck with it,” I said. “I am going fishing.” I felt like I was cheating.

The bonus Indian summer day started early with a ride to the river’s edge. The morning air was as crisp as a fall apple and the chill along the river road required a fleece pullover. The Suburban’s tires crunched the dry, fallen leaves, and the parched gravel caused a dust trail to follow the vehicle down the one-lane road.

Rounding a bend, a flock of turkeys poked their heads up to see what the ruckus was about. The old mother hen let out a quick “putt” as she ran up the hillside with her flock scurrying around in every direction. I thought of my hunting buddy and his passion for fall turkey hunting and his repeated invitations to join him on a day or two of hunting this fall.

With the oar frame secured to the raft, we pushed off the bank and pointed the nose downstream. We drifted past an eddy, startling a group of wood ducks. “Oo-eek, oo-eek, oo-eek,” echoed across the river as they beat their wings hard against the water, making ripples and splashes as they lifted into the air. I was reminded of how much I enjoy waterfowl hunting and that there’s still much preparation and scouting to be done before the season opens again.

We drifted downstream, searching for a clue as to where the smallmouth might be hiding in the cold waters of the New River. Casting along a rock bank, I caught a glimpse of movement on the hillside. A chunky fox squirrel was bouncing up a downed tree with a prized nut in his mouth. He stopped and looked at us in surprise. I could only imagine what he was thinking — “Little late to be float fishing, isn’t it, gentlemen?”

My thoughts drifted off to massive oak trees lining a fence-row-edge field of my youth. I used to love to chase big fox squirrels with a .22 rifle on a crisp, fall day. “What a perfect day for squirrel hunting,” I murmured under my breath as the raft’s nose bobbed over a small wave.

As the sun’s rays broke the canyon’s rim, the light lit our faces and warmed our cold fingers. I continued to cast. Two hours into the drift, I had not lifted a fish into the boat. At the top of a small rapid, we drove the raft upon a submerged rock to park the boat in position to cast into the slick waters of the river. The flow of the water was quick as it rushed to make whitewater in the shoal below. I pitched the soft-plastic bait upstream and retrieved it slowly along the river’s bottom. The rod bounced hard as I set the hook on the first fish of the day. After several more fish were landed, the pattern was determined and we continued to catch fish at a steady pace the remaining miles of the float.

As the take-out appeared on river left, I made a final cast into the swirly waters. I was rewarded with a chunky smallmouth full of fight as I reeled him through the cold waters of a gorgeous autumn day. Late in the afternoon, perched on a fishing seat in the middle of the New River, I realized I didn’t feel like I was cheating anymore. It was a blessed Indian summer day and I was simply glad in it.