The roar is deafening, and you get wet from the spray of mist coming off the crashing, and crushing, white water as you rock hop out to the middle of the river. In your mind you can clearly see the sign on the edge of the road with the image of a hand breaking through the surface of the water reaching for help but with nobody and nothing around to offer aid. It has a simple warning written written in both English and Spanish: Deadly River / Rio Mortal. But, you’ve been fishing the river since you were old enough to hold a pole on your own, you have no intention of getting into the river, and rock hopping out to the middle is the only way to fish the small pools on the other side.
The rocks under your feet are wet and slick. One wrong step, one misjudged jumped, one improperly balanced foot and you will fall. You know this, but you carry one anyway. The river calls to you. The fish call to you. The tradition, the feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself, calls to you.
You stop when you can’t make it any further out with any semblance of safety. The river pounds downstream all around you. You try not to worry about it too much, but it is so deafening it is impossible to ignore entirely. You rock back and forth on your feet to make sure you are steady, so you can cast and so you can reel in whatever you catch.
Satisfied that you won’t lose your balance and fall into the river, you release your fly and adjust the leader for the speed of the water and the size of the pool you will be casting into. One, two, three flicks overhead and you release your catch on the line. The fly goes sailing over the spray, over the raging torrent, over the rest of the rio mortal, to land just inside the pool. You real in just enough so no extra line lands in the water. The current catches the fly and drags it through the pool.
In that instant before the fish either decides to go for the fly or decides to ignore it, you feel the power of the river coursing through you. But that is nothing in comparison to the emotion that sweeps through you: the connection with your cousins, your brother, your father, your uncle, your grandfather and all the family members that have fished the river before you. You feel their training, feel them watching you, helping you guide the line and fly, helping you stay safe. It doesn’t matter if the fish takes the fly because you realize it is that feeling at that moment that matters more than anything else.
Then you feel the slight pull at the fly, and you set the hook without even thinking about it… because fishing the rio mortal is what you do, it’s what your family has always done, it’s in your blood, it’s who you are.