Stray Casts: Knowing when to fish and when to stay home – or not

The Stray Caster is well aware that fanatics of the sport are willing to fish in almost any circumstances. Most of them have been in “the game” only a few years.

Many of us have been there. The Stray Caster’s scariest moment came one early spring when he visited the Conestogo River near Hawkesville, determined to catch an impressive fish to start the season. Never mind that the water was too cold, too high, and too dirty for a fish to see a bait the size of the fish we wanted to catch, or that there had seldom been an impressive fish of any size found in those waters, the Stray Caster was determined.

He donned his old rubber waders and stepped into the river. In approximately one minute, he of was all too aware how stupid he had been. In fact, carrying a walking stick probably saved his life. The water was around the chest, the river was pushing hard, it was slippery on the bottom, muddy, and the wading stick was all that kept the body from being swept away. Further, disoriented by sudden surges in the small of the back, the wading stick helped the Stray Caster find the deeper pools, and to avoid stepping into holes that would have put him in over his head.

It was a sadder and much relieved angler who left the river that day, thankfully still alive – although fishless.

A few years later we heard about similar neophytes on Opening Day who planned to fish the Grand River. They were at a local tackle shop, where they were warned to stay off of the river. All the guides had been called in for safety reasons. The water was simply too high, Opening Day or not. Naturally, they did not listen, and the Stray Caster, in his other life as a police beat reporter, detailed the death of one and the near-death of that second man in the following week’s paper.

The Stray Caster has been fortunate to never have actually seen an angler swept away by the current, and he hopes never to see one.

Of course, those neophytes who survive the idiocy of fanaticism and have grown older and wiser, know full well there are times one simply stays home.

The past weekend was a case in point. It rained hard several times prior to Saturday. Consequently the Grand River was high. The Stray Caster and his best friend went for a walk on the banks of the Grand in a place above Fergus where he used to fish a great deal, but where had not been for a few seasons.

When we finally made it through the bush (giving a mental thanks to the Friends of the Grand River for the wooden steps that crossed a marshy area, as we were not wearing our waders), we saw that the river was basically unrecognizable. We came upon three anglers, all under age 30, which is the fanatic’s age group, and all of them said there were no fish being caught that night.

One of them actually was on the point of leaving (a wise choice, given the conditions). The river was flowing at more than double the average volume of summer flows, it was high, and it was dirty.

The Stray Caster and Friend walked along the banks, enjoying the birds and wildlife, feeling a nice breeze. A muskrat swam upstream towards its home, then noted us watching intently, and, with a splash, dove and headed for the middle of the river.

We wandered idly, enjoying the walk, the company, and the sights, and headed back to the car for a short drive home.

Which left the Stray Caster to conclude there are three types of visits to the river that do not deal with catching fish: The ones a person should never make; the ones that are safe enough but offer awful fishing; and the ones where one simply walks, observes, and has pleasant company.

There will be other days to get out the flyrod.