LOST AND FOUND: a short story and long post

Michael Thompson

the flavor of BADFISH
this is a short story i have been working on for quite some time, its near and dear to my heart (i welcome constructive critics however) and would like to share it with the fine people of this site. hopefully im not stepping on the toes of Mr. wadin boot who's short stories i have greatly enjoyed.


Lately, one of my favorite rivers has received more press by the local small town newshounds than it has in a long time.
The cover of the Sunday morning paper showed a picture of one of the more popular stretches pumping out an amazing amount of gallon-age due to the unending rains the valley has received of late. Above the picture it stated; SEARCH FOR MISSING FISHERMAN ENDS IN TRAGEDY. I harrumphed to myself: only an idiot would fish in that meat grinder.

Thumbing through the pages, I got to the classifieds; I was in the market for new piece of crap lawn mower to start messing with. On a whim, I read some of the lost and found notices. Tucked in amongst various lost dogs and found kittens, was a modest message about a found fly rod. Normally, when I leave something behind on the river, I try not to give it up for dead, but I do not actively hope that some good Samaritan will take it upon himself to let anyone know that a very expensive and well loved piece of equipment has been found. It is more like a wishful thought in the back of my head left to be forgotten. I called the number and spoke with the man who had found the rod. He asked me for a description.
. "It's a green blanked 13-ft, marked 6/7/8, with grey wraps and a composite cork handle; no window from the factory ‘coz it was built at home from a blank," I said.
"Well, that’s it. I am the first house after the grange, knock on the door ‘n come get her." He sounded disappointed.
I thanked him, told him I would be there shortly, and hung up.

It was raining hard when I got into my truck and made the drive. His house was on the way to a river I had fished so often that I felt it was my home water. The raindrops looked like small universes collapsing against my windshield as dusk approached and other drivers turned on their lights.
More out of habit than anything, I stopped at the last gas station before reaching the river. Here fishermen gathered; worms and cheap food were sold. Decent coffee was brewed and the shit was shot. Few fly fishermen hung out there, it was mainly bait guys and they were all honest, hard-living, hard-working, and hard-fishing people who never had a problem talking steelhead with anyone.
"Where’s your Jerry?" an old fellow, whom I had seen a thousand times, but never put a name to said from behind a plastic table in the back. He was wearing an ancient denim jacket and a florescent cap perched on the top of his balding head that said: STIHL.
Jerry had been to this station probably as many times as I had, but he could tell you this old guy’s name. He could tell you his life story. Hell he could probably remember what year he and his wife had tied the knot and what day their anniversary was. I could not.
"Not sure what Jerry is up to at the moment." I smiled and poured some old coffee.
"He aint fishing! The river has been blown for two weeks. Raddins and his boys couldn't even magic up a fish in these conditions," The old man gave a name but this time I couldn't add a face
A teenager (soon to be a mother) at the counter smiled as I ordered two corn-dogs. The name on her tag was Sammy; the florescent lights and heat lamp for the hot rack lent her acne scars a new false-life on her face. She set the corn dogs on the counter with a handful of mustard packets. How many of these greasy corn dogs have Jerry and I had packed away over the years I couldn't say. How many mustard packets is another mystery?
"Don’t ever eat these bastards for breakfast," breakfast pronounced bre-fus "they will taste twice as good for the same price by lunch time.” Jerry would always say.

I paid, and walked out into the rain, which relented not until I got into my car. Drops beaded up on my coffee's lid, some soaked into the corn-dogs, which always taste better when your on a journey or adventure like steelhead fishing.
Past the point of no return we called it. "When you get on that road and leave the filling station, you had better make sure all your shit’s together. Make sure you have all that you need, at the very least your rod and reel. Make sure all the stuff at home is put to rest because those cell phones do not reach that part of the river. We’re past the point of no return and no longer blue-collar workers for the man, with bills to pay and obligations to fill. We are fisherman now and fishing is what we will do, until we pass that station again going the other way!" it was a mantra we had, kind of like saying, "didn't forget nothing did ya? The wife knows we’re out all day right?" but without the fussy undertones. It was empowering.

The road swooped and turned as if for once the highway department relinquished its need to tame the country into a grid of squares and instead just kept with the flow of the land. I soon came to a large field that was bordered by cedars on either side; it had a funnel shape to it and at this time of day there were usually elk out. We always stopped to stare, our fantasies of fly rod steelhead put aside for the dream of a close chance during bow season. Even though this was private property, it didn't hurt to dream. They were here today, creamy dots at the edge of the field, only a few cows at the moment but bulls would follow them out into the safety of darkness whether I was there to see them or not.

Just past the elk field was the "elk hole", a stretch of river that we really hadn't bothered to fish until a few months ago. It’s one of those things you don’t really question. You start where you start and fish elsewhere if time allows. When you only get six days off a month, and have a family, fishing time is a precious thing, we liked to stick with what works best. A few months ago we hit the elk hole because all our favorite spots were crowded to capacity and then some by weekend anglers like our selves trying to make do with the best they could, while the fish were running. Jerry and I walked the trail to the river, cut more by elk tracks than fishermen. Jerry spotted a large spike bedded in the grass next to the trail. It was looking away from us chewing clover. With a smile on his face Jerry crept up to exactly 13 feet away. I know exactly because his spey rod was 13 feet and he scratched the elk behind the ear with it. When we hit the river he caught a gorgeous steelhead with sea lice still on its side. The fish was pewter colored and streamlined; its adipose fin was intact. Jerry never lifted it from water and it looked like headlights in the fog as it swam away.
"If I had known all I had to do was scratch an elk behind the ears to catch a native, I would have started doing that a long time ago," he laughed.

I pulled into the driveway just after the grange; the yard was festooned with pinwheels, and plywood cat silhouettes, old cars and a moss covered trampoline. The porch had a toilet with dead plants next to the lawn chairs. By the door was a butt can and the occupants of said can were packed in together like crooked teeth. I took a breath and knocked on the door. A smoker’s cough could be heard from deep inside and the hinges creaked as the door opened. A guy that I had seen on the river a few times peered through the opening.
Introductions were made; he took a closer look at me and said, "Ain’t you Jerry's buddy? You two are always fishing together aint ya?"
I suppose that is what made my friend such a great fisherman. He could cast a fly better than most, and he had some uncanny fish-sense. Often times he would know where they were and exactly what they wanted. But the thing that set him apart was he listened. He could walk up to a stranger become their friend and find out secrets of the river that would take someone a hundred lifetimes to unfold on their own. Not only that, he remembered every thing. He could sort the bull from the truth just by listening to what people said. And I imagine in large part to what they didn't say.
"Yes Sir. We’re always sloshing around in this river," I replied.
"Well, small world I guess" he said and went to get the Spey rod. "Here’s your pole" He handed it over, separated in four pieces; the green blank shined in the house light, the grey wraps twinkled. It may not have been beautiful in appearance but every inch of line cast out retrieved a memory of simple times, with friends catching moments on the river.
"Where did you find it?" I asked, afraid of the answer.
"Oh it was propped up against a tree next to that stretch that runs along the field across from where everyone parks," he grumbled "I suspicion that some feller wanted the reel and took it, but left this beaut of a rod behind. Kind of odd…" he trailed off.
"Thank you" I said. It felt as though it weighed 50lbs, and I didn't think I could tell the guy that this rod didn't belong to me without losing my composure. I walked back to my car and continued down the road to where we always started out, the spey rod resting next to me on the passenger side.

Soon the valley gave way to a flat hillside, the river bordered that hill tight against its bottom. Elk were in there as well; next to a decent run they had made a trail that shot straight into the hillside muddy clay and all. On the opposite side of the river was a hayfield. The elk came into this at night to graze. They sometimes dropped their calves in this field, jellyfish like afterbirths were soon cleaned up by bears and coyotes that had given up on fish and berries for the time being. Archery season for elk came right at the tail end of the Summer Chinook run. The Chinooks and then the silvers brought a wealth of life to this valley. The place would at times seem vacant and then it would be filled with salmon spawning, cutthroat and steelhead trying to reap some eggs. With the salmon came the fishermen and soon the hillsides were filled with camo-clad elk hunters. Black bears would spend their evenings eating gut piles and their mornings catching spawned-out salmon.
One of our major goals, as all around sporting fellows, was to get an elk with arrow in the morning and land a steelhead in the evening. So far it hasn't come about. It seems like we could only manage one or the other or neither. I am not sure Jerry wouldn't have enjoyed archery as much as he did, if he couldn't build his own arrows and bows. Like his flies and his Spey rod it seemed to make it more worthwhile, and it became a reason to say: “just because fishing season is over doesn't mean I cant do something fishing related.” And I had almost reached the place where the first field-testing was done on any rod.

As I pulled into the parking area tears streamed down my face. My heart felt as if it were being pulled apart slowly beneath my ribs. A deep, sharp breath of air set it all back down again. The last time I had laid eyes on that Spey rod before this day was a week ago, propped up against a tree, near a raging rain-swollen river. My friend jerry was sitting next to it watching the water. I had come to that spot on my own accord. The river was blown and unfishable; I was bored. My friend had claimed not to be feeling well that day and said he was staying home. But there he was, observing an unfishable river accompanied by a rod without a reel. He had left it in my car the last time we fished together.
"Looks like you made it past the point of no return without your reel," I said as sat down next to him.
"Made it here with out a lot of things Bro," he stated flatly and lit up a cigarette.
I knew he used to smoke years ago and gave it up, he said he wanted to live long enough to take the kids, he did not yet have, fishing. I knew smoking among other demons were something he had been fighting for a while now. I also knew for the last few months he was working through a divorce. I came to that conclusion in the way good friends sense disturbances in one another. He never told me out right, but I had suspected it. I never asked him out right because his fishing time was as limited as mine, and I didn't want to ruin it for him. But mainly I just never asked because I didn't know what to tell him when all I think I needed to do was listen.
"I didn't even bring my gear, this rain has been unrelenting and not even your elk scratcher with 30 feet of T-14 could reach a fish,” I said against the deafening roar of the river and silence. I waited a few moments of eternity and said, “is everything cool Man?"
He just laughed and said "I am sure things will work themselves out,"
When a man who has spent most of his life struggling and scraping his way through, and then finally does well for himself, tells you "things will work out" you desperately want to believe him, if not for his sake, then for yours. He is a fighter. He fought a brutal, unmerciful childhood; he fought addiction with meth and alcohol, and he fought homelessness. After all that fighting, he wound up clean with a house, a job and a wife. He was an American hero and inspiration to all of those people that thought they would never be anything but poor and forgotten. God damn it! I so badly wanted to believe him.

We sat there watching a favorite run, that was now a raging onslaught, for an immeasurable amount of time. I felt that I needed to say something and I felt he wanted to be alone. Finally, I said in the uneasy way grown men have of opening up: "If you need to talk about something just let me know Man, I am there for you." I stood up and patted his shoulder, the way one might pat a dog that has been known to snap. I began walking the trail downstream slowly as if I were looking for fish in the torrent. I made it across the field to where our cars were parked I got in mine, looked back at Jerry and waved as I honked the horn. I doubt he could hear it over the rush of the river but he turned and waved back at me before I left.

Near that spot is where I found myself again this evening, with a Spey rod on the passenger seat. There was a bright yellow sign stapled to a fence post next to where I stopped the engine. in front of that fence post, was where they found Jerry's car two days after I last saw him. I didn't need to read the, sign as I was the one who made it and stapled it there. It was one of hundreds. MISSING in big bold letters at the top, a picture of my friend in the middle, and a phone number at the bottom. In these last few days my hopes of him wandering off into the surrounding wilderness to be alone grew thin. My hopes of him hitching a ride somewhere else threatened to be dashed when I read the morning paper then got in my car to drive past the point of no return. If there is one thing fishermen have it is hope, no matter how small it glimmers in the water like a steelhead in a clear run. We cast our lines of hope from our hearts to empty waters at times. Although sometimes nothing is there, there is nothing to tell us to stop casting; until we reach high water. And then we wait and hope for a day when the river will return to the state where our happiest memories live on in it.
With a sigh, I tore down the yellow missing poster, wadded it up in a wet pulpy-gob and threw it on the passenger seat beside my friend’s Spey rod.

Erik F. Helm

Frozen in the river, speyrod in hand
Quite good. You captured details very well. I could feel myself in the rural areas of the PNW.
Also touching.
Keep up the writing!


Wow! This forum seems to be the place for blossoming writers doesn't it....and that's a good thing!

Good well written story Decoy, thanks! :thumb:

Sorry about your loss -- sometimes it takes a tragedy to inspire the best in us....

Jc :)


....hopefully im not stepping on the toes of Mr. wadin boot who's short stories i have greatly enjoyed.

I don't don't think you have to worry about offending the "Boot", Decoy...he can hold his own in any crowd AND sure that he would welcome you into the "writers fold" with open arms.


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