The Worst Day Fishing…

You remember that old quote, “The worst day fishing is better than the best day working”? Well, not necessarily.

Recently, my husband Gene and I got up early in Purgatory, Colorado (It’s really Heaven), and drove 90 minutes to the San Juan River in New Mexico. We were excited to fish for “the big one.” 

I love that river. It was the first place I went fly fishing on my own; that was in 1997. I caught one fish that day, with a guide, in the snow; it was about 8 inches. But it was a milestone fish.

San Juan River, November 1997

Gene and I parked near Texas Hole, a large area near the Navajo Dam within the Quality Waters section, where only single, barbless, artificial flies are allowed, and trout must be “carefully” released. These fish – rainbows and browns – average 16-18 inches. (In 2019, Mary Freelove of Round Rock Texas, caught a 30-inch brown trout!)

So, we pull on our socks, waders, and boots. We load our vests with flies, floatant (stuff to keep the yarn indicators afloat, so you can tell if a trout is interested), tapered leader (attaches to your line), tippet (fine line to tie onto the leader when you’ve lost flies, and had to keep trimming the tippet to tie on new ones), nippers, forceps (for removing hooks from the fish), retractors (to pin on your vest and hold your nippers and forceps), and line straighteners. Then there are the extra flies, weights, and indicator yarn. I put my medicine, Kleenex, and lip gloss in a special vest pocket, and slip my phone into the plastic zippered holder that flips upside-down inside the front of my waders.

Yep. Fly fishing really is this much trouble. But once you get the hang of it, it feels natural.

We don’t want to leave our spots to eat lunch because they’ll be quickly taken, so Gene puts the picnic into the zippered pocket on the back of his vest, and I offer to take the two large waters in mine. I grab my walking pole, which attaches to my belt. (My balance is not good, due to Parkinson’s, so the walking pole, which I use as a fishing staff, is like having an extra foot in the sometimes slippery river bottom.) And off we go!

We walk down the path to the channel we need to cross to get to the thicket we will fight our way through to get to Texas Hole, a deep area in the river where your chances of catching “the big one” are the best. (Trout don’t move much from their territories, so when you find a good spot, you go back to it, unless someone else has been there recently.)

When we get to the channel, which is two to three feet deep, the current is fast, and the rocks are slippery. Gene takes my rod and I hold his hand and use my pole to cross. Then we fight our way through thick growth, taking care not to get our lines caught. (Thank God for hats!)

Gene waits for me in a portal to Texas Hole

We emerge from the thicket, and there’s the San Juan in all its glory! And it’s a beautiful, overcast day. The water is clear and the usual 42 degrees — it’s nearly always 42 degrees because it comes from the bottom of Navajo Dam. There are about seven guys wading and a few guides with their clients in drift boats out in the river.

San Juan River, just below the dam

Gene gets me situated near the mouth of one of the channels – a perfect spot to cast to, as the fish like to lie on the bottom and grab your fly as it goes by. There’s a guy down channel from me casting up past me and hogging the whole area. I do my best for the next hour or so to stay out of his way, but I can see he’s annoyed. I finally manage to get tangled in his line, and he untangles them and throws mine to me in disgust. “Damn women!” I can hear him thinking. Meanwhile, Gene has waded about 100 feet from me, and catches a nice rainbow.

Another hour goes by, and I need to pee, so I carefully make my way to Gene and let him know that I’m going to go back through the thicket and into a little clearing where I can hide behind some trees.  I turn around and begin to make my way carefully through the water, when – you guessed it – the current is too fast for me, I slip on the moving stones, and fall. My waders begin to fill, and the bottles of water in the back of my vest pull me backward, and I can’t get up!

Gene gets there quickly, and the bully — I mean the guy who’s been hogging the channel — kindly asks if I need help. (I hate it when I don’t want to like somebody, and they turn out to be nice.) After thanking him, Gene gets me to my feet and walks with me to the portal in the thicket, through the jungle to the clearing, waits while I pee behind a tree, and then carefully gets me to the other side of the channel. (Yes, this man is a saint. Well, most of the time.) Meanwhile, the 42-degree water inside my waders is beginning to penetrate my feet and legs.

We walk down the path to the picnic area, and out to the parking lot, my teeth chattering. First order of business, of course, is to pull out my phone, and it’s fine – Hallelujah! Then it’s off with my hat, my vest, my boots, and my waders (which takes two of us, as the booties, which are attached, are filled with water). My socks are a challenge, but I get them off and put on my flip flops, grab my dry clothes, and make my way to the women’s bathroom in my wet shirt and leggings.

Teeth chattering, and standing on the cement floor of the bathroom, I finally peel off the leggings, which were stuck to me, and take a good look at my feet. They’re bright red from the cold.

I get dressed, make my way back to the car, and sink into the front seat. Gene has eaten, and as I start my lunch, he walks back to the river to resume fishing. I’m not about to ask him to stop when it took 90 minutes to get here.

So, that was my day at the San Juan – August 11, 2021. But I’ll be back because I love this river. And I’m like the little girl in the pile of poop: I know there’s a pony in there some place!

Epilogue: We had better luck two weeks later:

Lessons Learned from a Nasty Vacation

We had planned this summer to take our trailer to Greer, Arizona, for the month of June. But we heard that the fishing would be lousy, and thought we’d go to San Diego instead, and take the kitties.

Have you ever tried to rent a place that says, “Pets Welcome,” with two cats? People hear the word “cats,” and literally hang up on you! So, the best situation we could find was a converted garage in La Jolla for three weeks. And it didn’t go well.

The refrigerator was smaller than the one in our trailer, so Gene walked several blocks each day to get us ice for the cooler. Our bar was set up on the floor behind the entry door.

You could not turn around in the bathroom. And the toilet was so close to the pedestal sink that our knees were under it.

The washer and dryer were in the owner’s back yard. We had to check with him to use them; then, arms full of dirty clothes, we made our way through two gates (and closed them behind us, so the dog wouldn’t get out), opened the double doors to the machines, stepped up on a platform, and tried not to drop anything on the ground below.

Then there was the furniture: When you sat on the couch, you sat almost on the floor, and you could feel the support bars under you. And the dining table was a card table with two folding chairs. The place was perfect for a 20-something single surfer.

The poor cats had no place to run and play, and that lack of space, combined with a skylight right over our bed, meant they woke us at the crack of dawn, ready to eat and be petted.

After a week, we’d had it. We both looked for something in San Diego, hoping there would be owners whose renters had fallen through, and were desperate, read: would take cats. After two weeks, Gene expanded our search, and found a charming little house in San Clemente, so we moved up there for the last week.

Our two-week nightmare got me thinking how lucky we are to be able to get through such an experience still liking each other! And some observations emerged as to why our marriage works. As in any friendship, fairness and reciprocity are important. If one person does most of the giving, resentment is sure to follow.

Here are the keys to our ability to stay happy together:

Empathy — the process that allows us to feel what others are feeling. Gene and I can share each other’s feelings most of the time. and have learned each other’s signals. If he gets grumpy and speaks very softly, as if it’s too much work to talk in a normal tone, I know his back is hurting, or he needs a protein fix or sex. 😊 If I’m giving him the silent treatment, he knows my feelings are hurt, and looks for ways to say, “I’m sorry. I was a jerk.”

Fairness – the idea that things are equal. If he cooks, I do the dishes and vice versa. Household chores are divided equally. He takes care of the garbage, the kitties, vacuuming, and spraying for bugs. And he pays for cleaning every other week. I handle the deep cleaning, keeping the place tidy, the gardening, and yard work. When it comes to birthdays and Christmas, we try to spend the same amount on each of our five kids, their spouses, and our 10 grandchildren. Same goes for pictures on the refrigerator and around the house: equal representation to the extent possible. As to personal toys: if he wants to buy a 1948 Chevy truck, he uses his own money; if I want to buy expensive rugs or take my kids on a special trip, I use my own money.

Speaking of finances, they can be a challenge, especially when a monk is married to a sucker for packaging. We have separate and joint investment and checking accounts and budgets for our separate and joint needs. We’ve been doing that for 20 years, and it works most of the time. We also try to consult each other before making purchases that will impact both of us.

Allowing for differences — He’s an introvert; I’m an ambivert, meaning I love people, but need alone time to recharge. We are opposites on the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory, and he’s a 1 on the Enneagram, while I’m a 2. You get the picture: we need to give each other permission to be who we are. And at the same time, we try to spend time together traveling, wine-tasting, fishing, hiking, taking walks, and watching TV. Otherwise, what’s the point of being married?

And when it comes to expressing our love for each other, his “language of love” is acts of service. He shows me he cares by making sure I have the things that are important to me, and by lending me a hand, sometimes literally, when Parkinson’s makes my life difficult. He has an amazing way of being there without hovering or making me feel weak. I try to give him my undivided attention (even when it’s not a subject of interest, like trailer systems) and let him be in charge of things that are important to him, like our finances.  

There’s another thing that gets us through the tough times: not only do we love each other, we love holding each other and having sex. And although the physical challenges presented to two 73-year-olds can be daunting, they’re not insurmountable. 😊

So, as we enter our 21st year together, it’s with the knowledge that even though we sometimes screw up, we know how to make ourselves and each other happy. And that means being true to ourselves and letting each other be who they are, too.