We stood in the middle of the river, my old PF Flyer tenny runners clinging to my sockless feet, the laces knotted together where they had broken from overuse, the chilly water of the Snake rushing around my little girl ankles as I stood atop a water-worn rock in the shallows. Mom was slightly downstream. I watched as she raised her right arm and flicked her spinning rod like a sassy wave to a flirty boy. The weighted line squealed through the Idaho air. She instinctively drew the pole back when she felt the sinkers approaching the spot where she wanted the bait to land. The pitch of the plunk, when the metal hit the water, indicated the depth or stillness of the pool and the potential for a nice deep hole. I tried to imitate my mother. Tried to wave my arm with the same grace, to command the direction of the line, and stop it where I wanted. More often than not Mom ended up having to wade on out to the willows hanging over the water at the river bend and try to retrieve my line, searching the weave of willow limbs for the squirm of a worm. When she found it she followed the translucent thread out of the mess I’d put it in, and when it was finally free she tossed it out into the water. I could feel the jiggle of freedom tugging at my line and for a second I imagined it was a fish making my pole dance rather than my newly freed sinkers making their way over the rocks on the river bottom.
Before sunrise Mom and I had ventured out to the river while the others slept, the slick bottoms of last year’s gym shoes slipping in the dewy grasses that led to the bend between campgrounds F and G near Island Park, Idaho. My whole childhood, and even half of my adulthood, I lived under the impression that that particular fishing spot was known as Effergee. It wasn’t until I was teaching my own children to fish that I realized they were saying: “Let’s meet at F or G” when Mom and her sisters were making their fishing plans.
Once in the river Mom and I stood in silence, the only sounds being the rushing water, the rustling of a deep summer Idaho breeze in the willows near the river, and the hawks and owls nested in the tall pines deeper into the dry spaces. Occasionally a crisp new sound rang out when a critter made itself known, or when the sun finally rose and hit a certain spot in its traverse across the cerulean sky calling the fish to the surface for a fresh hatch of flies. Then the fish would start jumping, proving their existence despite their mysterious neglect of our juicy worms underwater, their entrances and exits making an earthy sort of Xylophonic song in the bass cleff range. That’s when the fly fishermen came out and invaded our quiet spot.
By mid afternoon I was sleepy and hungry. We took our harvest, strung through the gills onto two flexible willow branches which had been looped and knotted and planted under a rock on the riverside, so the fish could remain cool in the water until we were done. I hooked the loop of fish over two bent fingers , carrying them like a purse to market. We rose up over the lip of the river bed, water from the river sloshing in my shoes, sucking in and out like an air pump as I walked, the water trapped in the canvas seeping out over the tops of and out across my sun tanned ankles.