Looking at life as a river flows

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT: Kevin Morlock and Brandon Butler on the same river, with steelhead, 15 years apart. – Photos courtesy of Brandon Butler

Driftwood Outdoors

Rivers move me. A double entendre of mind and body. Rivers move me emotionally. The peacefulness found in constant flow. Around, over, under, and through. Whatever the obstacle the river remains in motion. Rivers move me physically. On my best days. Floating at nature’s pace.

I’ve known many rivers. Favorites are Missouri’s Current, Colorado’s Thompson, Montana’s Madison, Indiana’s Tippecanoe, Arkansas’ White, Wyoming’s Wind and Michigan’s Pere Marquette. These waters share similarities. Exceptional fishing. Breathtaking scenery. Natural wonders. They each also serve as a conduit to different times in my life. Different people and places. Different beliefs. Different eras of a constant flow.

Nature amplifies change in us by remaining the same. The mountain hasn’t changed, but the old man who first cast eyes upon her as a boy is unrecognizable. These timeless locations anchor us to where we have been. With whom. And show us how and where we are now. While we fight change, the river remains in motion, braiding, carving, coursing. Finding a way.

Rivers connect us to people. Kevin Morlock introduced me to the Pere Marquette River (PM). Since we met nearly two decades ago, Morlock has been my Michigan connection. My first trip to fish with Kevin on the PM was soon after I had moved home to Indiana after four years in Montana. At the time, I mistakenly believed my Midwestern return meant entering a time of life void of high-quality fly-fishing experiences. The Pere Marquette River proved me wrong.

Spring floats on the PM connect anglers to steelhead run after steelhead run. Morlock knows them all. He’s been guiding on the river for over 20 years. He was rather new to guiding when our friendship began. Proof that our own flows have remained constant. When I recently joined Morlock on the river for two days of fishing, we reflected on the years under the bridge since coming to know each other.

Little remains the same for me, while Kevin’s flow has remained more constant. My career path has taken multiple turns. Kevin’s still a fishing guide. He’s been creative, branched out and added additional locations, but the goal has also been to make his living by taking clients fishing. He’s done an excellent job of building his business, and now enjoys being in a position where nearly all of his clientele is made up of repeat customers. Cracking into his schedule is not easy, but if you ever have the chance, you should not let the opportunity pass. I’ve learned a lot from observing the way Kevin flows through life. It’s meaningful and deliberate.

Northern Michigan is still chilly in early April. When we were launching the boat before dawn into the flies only section of the Upper PM, I was bundled up like we were going snowmobiling instead of fishing. Once the sun rose above the tall pine trees of the national forest we were floating through, the sun warmed the day to sweatshirt weather. Warm sun, a blue bird sky, dense forest, pristine water, and a fresh run of steelhead. It was a day fly anglers’ dreams are made of.

Morlock took us down stream by drift boat. He knew where to expect steelhead to be holding. Sometimes they were there. Sometimes they weren’t. When they were, we stopped the boat. Waded into position, and casted a chuck-and-duck fly rod rig with a single egg pattern down and across to what was usually a group of fish. Rarely did we stop to fish singles. Over two days, we landed a half-dozen fish. We hooked significantly more, but steelhead are strong, and their mouths are hard, so more escaped than made it to the net.

Morlock and I reminisced over past fishing trips. We talked about times on the PM, Beaver Island, the marshes of the Louisiana Coast. We talked about experiences with mutual friends, and different businesses and product lines we’ve worked with.  But the best parts of our conversation were about what’s to come. What’s down river for us. We’ve been around long enough to recognize the river is full of twists and turns, fallen trees, log jams, boulders, and other obstacles. Sometimes pollution spills in. Yet, no matter what, the river keeps flowing. Keeps finding a way forward. We try to live like a river.

Friends like Kevin, those you don’t see often. Sometimes not for years. They us help gauge our progress. They help us recognize our flow. Fishing and hunting have blessed me with many friends like this.  Each had a confluence into my life at some unique point. Each relationship began its own flow. Some have grown in strength. Some have gone dry. As we age and mature, our flow narrows to focus on the main channel. There is peace in the safety of staying centered.

See you down the trail…   

(For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on driftwoodoutdoors.com or anywhere podcasts are streamed.) 

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