I only stopped to fish the log because one May a steelhead was holding there on its way up to the spot to which I was heading.
By the time I had casted, stepped and casted three times, I was about finished. One more cast. One more step. Both feet then slipped, and I’m not sure why. I only moved one boot, so I can’t understand the physics behind what went down, only that I did.
Some people make ridiculous or panicked noises when they fall, as far as I know, I didn’t make a sound other than splashing. Some also chuck whatever is in their hands, but I held tight.
The water was only about calf deep and swift but not fast, so when I fell I didn’t drift. My right hand, still holding my rod was the one that pushed me up but not before the current sent water down the back of my waders. It was near 40 degrees, so it was chilly but not cold.
Still, I didn’t like the prospect of attempting to keep fishing while half-soaked.
I checked my rod and reel, found no damage, then started back across the current and back to my truck as the water ran down my legs and settled into my boots.
The previous week I had wondered about the perils of winter and even spring steelhead fishing. I often go alone and often without much of a survival kit. Other than water proof matches, a knife and some lint in my waterproof sling is filled with fly boxes, tippet and a thermos of coffee that’s usually cool to cold by the time I get around to finishing it.
Most of the time we don’t know there’s a flaw in our system until it is exposed. It might not be a big flaw, though sometimes it is. Almost all the time it is revealed at some point. It’s just a matter of how big the consequences.
I thought about adjusting my program as I was sloshing back to my truck. It seemed appropriate. I had learned my lesson on a river that was easy to get to and my truck was only about a mile away. My favorite river is a three-mile hike after a twenty-minute boat ride from town and far from cell service. That’s where I prefer to fish and if something were to go wrong there, I’d curse myself for having warm puffy pants and an extra jacket hanging at home. For just a little more weight I could have a change of clothes with me, just in case. Heck, with a bigger bag, I could throw in the jetboil and some coffee.
The benefit of where I took a spill is that it was close to the road, trails and my truck so my response was a matter of comfort, not survival.
The downside of fishing so close to town is that it’s so accessible and obviously never secret. This puts the chances of coming into contact with people of varying levels of fishing ethics.
Personal ethics are personal ethics, which means one can’t be judged too harshly by obeying the law, but some things make you shake your head and wish you had gone somewhere further.
Hopefully, with a change of clothes.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.