- By: Greg Thomas
I remember the first hint of disaster being just a little itch, like a fruit fly had landed on an arm hair and needed to be brushed aside. But this itch happened on my thigh, which was hanging unprotected, in the water, under a float tube.
I was fishing Washington’s Lake Lenice with a friend, Torrey Cenis. We were clad only in shorts, stripping damselflies for big early-summer rainbows when that initial itch was quickly followed by another. “TC,” I shouted, “are you itching?” Right then he reached down, scratched a leg, and said, “Yea, actually I just started itching.” Two minutes later we were both carving at our legs. I said, “Something’s in the water. I’m out of here right now.”
Unfortunately, “out of here” meant kicking all the way across the lake—into a wind—and by the time we were nearing our takeout, my legs were itching unbearably. Cenis’, too.
I’d already shouted to my father, who was casting from shore, and said, “Get to the truck and be ready to roll to Vantage. There’s something in the water that’s eating us.”
When we reached the truck I couldn’t do much more than grind my teeth and try not to scratch. After what seemed like the longest 20-minute drive in history we reached Vantage. By this time Torrey and I had hatched a plan, and as we entered a grocery he said, “You take those three aisles to the left. I’ll take these three to the right. Yell, loud, if you find it.”
I can’t remember who found the cortisone cream first, but we met in aisle 4 and started lathering the stuff on our legs, as enthusiastically as we would have rubbed the cure for male pattern baldness on our heads if that cure existed.
Now I’ve always considered my father to be the fairest person in the world, but his demeanor lacked compassion and hinted that he was finding humor in our misery. He seemed to wear a smile as we ran to the counter. I would later learn that he was only humored because he understood swimmer’s itch isn’t a life-threatening condition.
After the attack, I think Cenis and I talked every day for a week, calling each other from work.
“Dude, how’s your itch?” I would ask.
“Bad,” he would reply. “It’s not much better than yesterday. When is this going to end?”
I was in misery, but I had to laugh at Cenis’ situation; when the attack happened, I was wearing briefs under my shorts with elastic incorporated into the legs, and that kept those evil little parasites from swimming into my groin area. Cenis, on the other hand, chose to go au naturel and had been severely bitten in the nether regions. If my itch was misery, his was downright unbearable.
I bring this up because Cenis and I were swinging clubs at a golf course last week and he said, “Do you remember Lenice and racing through the aisles and everybody looking at us like we were crazed? And your dad was just standing there coolly laughing at us?”
We clutched our stomachs because we were laughing so hard. The point being, it’s summer, and it’s a great time to build memories on the water, good or bad, that you might call on your entire life. Lake Lenice. Swimmer’s itch. And a mad dash for cortisone cream. That’s a fly-fishing memory that Cenis and I will be replaying until the day we’re in our graves.