Many River Miles
For years, the Big Blackfoot River in Montana occupied a top spot on my and Chuck’s fly-fishing bucket list. We’d fished seven rivers in five states, and it would be the last river of an epic road trip. Anticipation built. We first sighted the river at the intersection of Highways 141 and 200. It ran clear and strong. The sun shone at a hard-right angle where temperatures hung north of ninety degrees under the pine’s narrow shade. In this heat, we knew fish held languidly in deep pools and wouldn’t be interested in anything we had to offer. So we cooled ourselves with feet in the river and cold beer in hand and waited for the sun to relent enough to cast our lines.
We traveled great distances to fish but found time not fishing just as important. Our professional lives were at crossroads, with new opportunities to consider. The last significant work discussion took place on a fishing trip as well. It concluded that work should always be evaluated by what it provides and, more importantly, takes away from our wives and kids. We spent many fishing trips and tacos in between, keeping each other accountable for this.
Though our kids were much older and family dynamics changed, the opportunities facing us required the same consideration. Work is never easy. As careers deepen, so do the consequences. Work can be an easy diversion from the real problems in our lives. We are all guilty of this. And we all need someone who cares enough to call us out on it.
There are no shortcuts to building meaningful friendships. Time spent working or watching games with other guys doesn’t make them good friends. The loneliest guys I know watch the big games in crowded bars. Friendships require work. But the work is good and necessary. A good friend asks the hardest questions. They pry. Because of this, friendships provide the best mirrors to see around our blind spots. They warn of potential danger, even if the danger is ourselves. We decided to move forward with the opportunities in front of us and defined the necessary guardrails. We also committed to more tacos and fishing to keep our work in check.
When the sun lowered to softer angles and pine shade extended across the river, we dipped into the Big Blackfoot under a rusted iron bridge and worked upstream. Chuck found success early in a drop-off behind a tire-sized boulder with a nice rainbow trout. I waded into a boulder-strewn bend where numerous soft pockets marked the inside curve of the primary current. A subtle hatch of the tent-winged caddisfly emerged in sections of slow-moving water with fish eagerly rising to gulp them. It took more effort to hook into a fish than I like to admit, but after the swirled ballerina efforts of a wild trout, I finally held my Blackfoot River rainbow.
Invest in River Miles
Greatly satisfied, we returned to the bridge to watch daylight’s last orange flame reflect on the water. If friendships were measured in river miles, ours runs from Southern California to Montana’s northern border. We’ve experienced countless trout and endless stars, gallons of sunrise coffees, pounds of smoked meat, and campfire truths that bind men to their words. Deep friendships are a satisfaction greater than catching trout, yet they are formed from the pursuit.
Find someone to invest river miles with. When you do, the beer is always colder, and the fish are always bigger. And when real life happens, someone will be there to remind you of the last light on the Big Blackfoot River, glowing orange, below the iron bridge.
Roger W. Thompson is the nationally acclaimed author of We Stood Upon Stars and My Best Friend’s Funeral, as well as an avid fly-fisherman. His ability to write about fishing and adventure while connecting to the deepest meanings of the human experience has earned him the nickname “The River Bishop.” Roger lives with his wife and two teenage sons in his coastal hometown of Ventura, California, where they surf, skate, snowboard, and build furniture together. Roger will be writing an exclusive series of essays for RareWaters.com over the coming weeks and months. We hope they inspire and encourage you.