Swimming Hole

Swimming Hole

They call it Two Bridges.

  • By: Scott Sadil
  • Photography by: Scott Sadil

I used to think an old river channel had forced engineers to link a pair of spans, end to end, where in essence they were building only one long bridge. Yet the more I look at it, the more I wonder if that side channel wasn’t put there for the purpose of diverting the river while they built the main bridge. How else could they have constructed the forms and secured the rebar and poured the concrete for the piling that supports what now spans the river in all its restless glory?

Should you venture under the bridge, you’ll notice that the piling stands in the heart of the river—not quite in the middle of it, but in the deepest, heaviest part of the current. If you know anything about rivers—or surf, for that matter—you know that this is how currents usually operate. Anchor a big obstacle in moving water, you can be sure to generate all kinds of concentrated energy—just as if you were to raise a metal flagpole into a stormy summer sky. Swing a big dark fly toward the piling, it will sometimes find a fish that feels like those same potent forces funneled through the end of your line.

I wanted this one. of course you usually do. Fish enough for steelhead, it’s often been a while. “Been a while” can mean an hour, four hours, a day, a week, a month. Once I went an entire winter without landing a steelhead—and I’d tried. During 15 years of marriage, I never caught even one.

A good thing that did come of my marriage, however, were my two sons—just then in the van parked beyond the end of the two linked bridges. Two days before Thanksgiving, they’d given it their best shot before retreating to dry clothes and blankets and cushioned seats—a fairly sensible alternative to following a father fanning the river with his next 10,000 casts.

Thanksgiving dinner, plus a pair of perfectly patient sons, sparked further incentive to land this particular steelhead.

As if I ever needed one bit more of that.

The problem was the piling. as soon as i hooked the fish, it tore off into the deep water, and while line was still melting from the reel, I lost track of the fish somewhere far downstream of the bridge. Even with the length of my Spey rod, I had trouble keeping the line free of the piling. I waded down. I waded out. I got up on my tiptoes, water inching toward the top of my waders, while failing again and again to regain line.

The hell with it, I thought. I’m going in.

Even when my sons were young, all the way back in grade school, I’ve reminded them, each time we set out fishing, where I keep an extra set of keys. The way I see it, there’d be no more egregious act in life than disappearing down a river, leaving your friends or loved ones without the means to get home. There’s more to it than that. But that still seems a pretty important place to start.

I ended up wetter than i thought i would. mostly, it was hard to dog paddle, one-handed, out of the current below the piling while holding the long rod overhead.

I was shivering badly by the time I hauled the fish over the guardrail and up onto the bridge. But then a pickup came around the bend and honked and two guys waved, and I raised the fish and stopped noticing the cold.

Back at the van, I tapped on the passenger window. Riley raised his head and then looked out at the fish and me, wet and cold, his father come hell or high water.

On the back seat Patrick stirred.

Scott Sadil chases fish with a fly rod and waves with a surfboard wherever they are found. He lives in Hood River, Oregon. His most recent book, Fly Tales: Lessons in fly fishing like the real guys, was released this past August.