What happens in the river stays in the river, we hope

Don't tell my doctor but I sneaked off and went fishing last weekend, achy left shoulder and all. I did inform my physical therapist (a fisherman himself, so he understands the primal urge) of my intention to stretch my sore joint with the gentle rhythm of a fly rod sweeping back and forth, the left hand almost effortlessly pulling in and easing out the fly line and releasing it at just the right time to float the fly in front of a hungry trout — or into a tree on the backcast, which happens more times than I like to think about. I attribute those miscues to the stiffness of that surgically repaired shoulder joint. Fact is, I didn't hit any more, or any fewer, trees than I did before surgery, but I need some illusions.

Last time I talked to my surgeon he recommended that I refrain from lifting with my left hand anything heavier than my left hand. I may have mentioned this before. I hold my fly rod, most of the time (more on that later) in my right hand, using my left only to guide the fly line, which most definitely does not weigh more than my hand. I actually caught quite a few fish, and, since I hold the rod with my right hand, I had to take the fish in my left. Unfortunately, none of the trout I caught weighed more than my left hand either. But they were frisky.

The biggest fear I had for my safety was the possibility of falling and injuring that tender shoulder. That's a real fear, given my propensity to fall in rivers, especially in the winter when the water is cold enough to cause hypothermia. But I've fallen in during warmer months, too, so I was a bit hesitant. As much as I enjoy fishing, I do not welcome the prospects of having surgery redone.

Trout streams tend to have slick spots. So I was careful. I figured that fly rods weigh hardly anything at all (scarcely more than a left hand) and that carrying one in my left hand while not actually in the process of casting or fighting fish would be acceptable. That way, if I stumbled I would catch myself with my right hand to keep from damaging the fly rod and in the process keep my left, sore shoulder safe. On some planet, known only to fly fishermen, that makes sense.

I also used a wading staff to help my sometimes-unpredictable balance. The one I have folds up and fits into a holster on my belt. I can take it out and it pops into place. It comes with a cord attached to the handle. I tie the loose end of the cord to my belt so the stick doesn't float away while I'm casting, retrieving a fly from a tree branch or fighting a near weightless fish. The only time I came near falling was when I forgot that I had dropped the wading staff and nearly tripped over it as I stepped out of the river. Other than that, it worked nicely.

I fished for two days, with occasional breaks for food and sleep, and can detect no adverse effects on my shoulder. My back aches pretty bad, and I have a chafed place on my leg from wearing wet boots without socks and the chigger bites itch like the dickens, but my shoulder feels great.

And I figure my doctor doesn't really need any details. What happens in the river, as they say ….

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