A Trip Back
The section of the Rapidan River that runs along Woodberry Forest School's rural Virginia campus is a special place. A place that brings me back to simpler times. When you could run down to the river after class or after sports on Tuesdays or Fridays or Saturdays or before chapel on Sunday, and you could catch all the smallies and bream you'd want on a simple popping bug fly. You'd find some surprisingly nice smallmouth in there, on occasion, especially considering the size of the river.
Woodberry was the place where I really fell in love with casting a fly rod. For my birthday my tenth grade year, my first year up there, my dad got me a casting lesson with someone at the Orvis store in Richmond, and got me my first decent fly rod. The feeling of casting, of feeling the bend in the rod propel line through the air, stuck with me. After that, I spent my non-class and non-study hall and non-sports hours watching Youtube---casting lessons and smallmouth fly fishing videos---and learned how to cast, manage fly line, and unwrap a new leader without turning it into a tangled mess by trial and error, with emphasis on the error.
You'd scramble down a mud bank on a spring day, watching for poison ivy and snakes, sometimes slipping and sliding, clay-mud sticking to your shoes. The water is clear and cool, it hasn't rained in a bit, which would otherwise stain it coffee mocha colored. You'd make a cast or two before you step in the river, just in case a fish was holding right there, and then you'd step in, gingerly, trying not to send a cloud of silt downriver, shiny with mica-bits and with dark bits of leaves.
You'd ease out, and you'd make a cast, first on the edge of the bubbling current seam. Drift, swing the fly with the current. Pop. Pop. Pop-Pop. Let it swing. Nothing. Take a few steps towards the middle of the stream. You'd lift up the fly line with your rod, and cast again, this time across to the river to the far bank, in the shade, where a fallen log sits. The fly lands, not too hard, not too soft. Spash. Tension on the line. The rod comes alive. You can feel the fish pulling against the line through the rod, as it runs across and downstream. Keep him away from the shallow, rocky riffles below. Where he could break you off easily on a rock or a clump of brush. You keep him from it, and slowly work him in, fighting him on the reel. You get him in, admire for a moment, then hold him in the cool water, water running through his gills, and he swims off.
It really was a special place to spend your high school years. The school itself was one-of-a-kind. Where you could truly enjoy the "learning," the soaking up of knowledge like a sponge, whether it was history or literature or science or math (less so for me on the science and math), back before you'd been truly introduced to many realities of life.
But even in that almost idyllic world, the river, especially, was a place where you could forget about the less-fun aspects of boarding school, and grading and sports and getting into college or whatever may be going on in the outside world and get lost in the simplicity of a bass on a popping bug or a wooly bugger.
. . .
It was great to be back this summer for an alumni weekend. Of course we had to make it down to the river. Cas caught the nicest one of the day on a light spinning rod, but catching countless little guys on the fly while flowing through memories was all I needed. A special place for sure.