Getting Cross Current

One of my favorite places to fly fish is Lee’s Ferry. It’s at the very top of the Grand Canyon, it begins at the foot of the Lake Powell Dam. The water is the Colorado River and it’s considered a premiere fishing destination for the world.

In this 14-mile stretch of some of the most beautiful water and land you’ve ever seen, are some pretty special fish. Their colors reflect the deep teal hues of the water and the coral, sandstone cliffs that tower above them. The dam allows the water to be kept the exact right temperature all year round, so they’re strong and smart. Catching them isn’t easy and bringing them to hand is even harder. They’ll spit your hook out of faster than you can say Boo.

I learn a lot from these fish every time I go. The majority of fish have figured out a smart way to live. They stay very close to the bottom of the river and they face upstream. At the bottom of the river, the current is a lot slower. So they don’t have to fight hard to stay there. They can see an abundance of food, either floating down the river towards them or hatching from the ground beneath and floating up. From their vantage point on the bottom of the river, they don’t have to move far at all (or expend energy) in order to get lots of yummy food.

Here’s something the fish NEVER do. They never hang out cross current. They never try to live their lives perpendicular to the river, facing the shore. Have you ever tried to cross a river? Not a stream but like a river that comes up to at least your knees. It’s always deeper than it looks isn’t it? And you have to fight for every step. Every time you lift a foot up, you chance being swept downstream. Wouldn’t that be a hard way to live, cross current.

Even though that’s where I am with my fly rod, that’s not where the fish focus. Now in a small stream, I can spook them of course. When I see them dart away, I always imagine them screaming “Holy Sheeeeeet!”

But the beautiful Colorado River trout don’t spend their entire lives on the defense, ready to spot me and run. Their focus is not on what could happen. Their focus is entirely about what’s going to happen, guaranteed. The river is giving them life. Why would they turn away from it? Day after Day after Day, for years, these fish face upstream.

Why do I insist on living cross current sometimes? I step into the stream of life and feel stuck. I can’t progress to the “other side” because that means I have to keep picking my feet up and risking pain. I have found that my life force doesn’t come from facing upstream either. Even though it brings me life, it’s still stagnant. I need to live my life. I crave growth and progress.

Not knowing what else to do, I pick up my foot, thinking the other side must be what I’m aiming for, and I’m immediately underwater. Crap. I knew this was a bad idea.

But when I open my eyes, I realize I’ve been swept into a part of the river I’ve never seen before. I had no idea it even existed! I’m seeing wildlife and cliffs I’ve never seen before. It’s beautiful and fulfilling and inspiring. I’m so glad I lifted my foot up. I’m in the current and I’m on my way. Yeah, this might end with me getting smashed on some rocks. But what a wild and amazing ride and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Get in the current with me?

Elena Thurston