The Last Day

As the sun sank behind the large maple at the end of our driveway, the Last Day morphed into the Last Night and I sorted through the last of the photos. Now I was trying to tell the story. . . . What could I do, that’s never been done before? What can I say, that hasn’t been said by scores? If I was a designer, I could do nothing finer than dress you in style. But I’m a hopeless romantic, still behind all these antics is a heart full of smiles. . . . Where was my creative and insightful story about the magic of the Last Day? My mind was stuck, instead, on the lyrics and beat of Jimmy Buffett’s 1979 song Lady I Can’t Explain.

But what could I say that hadn’t been said before? A Google search on “the last day of trout season” confirmed that this is a well-worn theme among fly fishing bloggers. Even more convincing, a browse through my bookshelf reminded me that this topic has been covered magnificently by two of my favorite writers: The Last Day is the last of John Voelker’s essays in Trout Madness; and Last Day is the last of Jerry Dennis’s essays in The River Home. (If you’re reading this blog, you probably own these books. If you don’t own these books, buy them. You’ll be glad you did.)

What would it be like, I wondered, to discuss the last day with these great Michigan writers? So, drawing quotes from their superb Last Day essays, I imagined John Voelker and Jerry Dennis sharing their thoughts about this hallowed day in an interview with the Madness and Magic (M&M) staff.

M&M:  Another Michigan trout season has come to an end and it’s an emotional time for many fisherman. Are you passionate about the last day?

Voelker:  Each year it is the same: this time, we tell ourselves, the doze and stitch and murmur of summer can never end; this season time will surely stand still in its tracks. Yet the hazy and glorious days glide by on golden wings, and presently here and there the leaves grow tinted by subtle fairy paintbrushes and flash their red warnings of impending fall.

Dennis:  It’s like youth. You think it will never end, but it does. One day you wake up and it’s October.

M&M:  Is it a sad time for you?

Voelker:  To this fisherman, at least, with all of its sadness and nostalgia the end of fishing is not unmixed with a sense of relief and release.

Dennis:  The last day should be taken slowly, like a last meal, so you can absorb enough sights, sounds, and scents to last through the winter. It is a day to spend sitting in a warm spot on the bank thinking of the season that is ending and the seasons yet to come.

M&M:  What about the fishing? Is the last day a good day to fish, or is it all about the ritual?

Dennis:  While it lasts, that autumn fishing can be very good. The rivers are usually in good shape, the water clear, the bottom vivid with colored stones and fine, emerald algae. On the surface the water glints blue and gold and khaki, each riffle tipped with glittering bits of mirror.  . . . But you rarely see big fish feeding during bright September days. You learn to lower your expectations.

Voelker:  The fisherman’s last-day funeral litany is a foggily beautiful and self-deceiving thing and runs something like this: the fishing is no longer sporting; the fisherman himself is dog-tired; the rise can no longer be depended on; the spawn-laden trout are far too easy to catch; and to take them now is to bite off one’s nose. Amen.

M&M:  Some of our rivers are open throughout the year, but many are open only during the traditional season. What are your thoughts about that?

Dennis:  I like it that way. It gives the trout a rest, permits them to spawn without being disturbed, and allows the imagination time to incubate. Like fields left fallow, those waters are better for being unfished most of the year. I think we benefit from such closure. Some things are worth waiting for, are better for having an opening and a closing and being sometimes unattainable.

Voelker:  Yes, and with a little luck perhaps diplomatic relations can even be restored with those strange but vaguely familiar ladies with whom we have been oh so absently sharing our bedrooms all summer long.

(Laughter from everyone.)

M&M: Gentlemen, it has been a pleasure. A final thought?

Dennis: The first day and the last day of the season are more important than all of the other days put together.

Voelker: Yes, on the last day we fisherman can try as we may to incant ourselves into hilarity and acceptance, but our hearts are chilled and our minds are numb. For what we fishermen really want is to go fishing, fishing, fishing — yes, fishing forever into the great far blue beyond . . . 

© 2011 Timothy Schulz

Rich Vander VeenOctober 6, 2011 - 5:19 pm

Terrific fun, hearing the voices of two beloved Michigan writers!

Both pals, and tremendous human beings who know how to set into words the laughter of the streams, the joy of old friends and the fun we share on a trip to fish together. The sounds, scents and songs of trout fishing…

The spirit lives on through all of us; a legacy that requires us to exceed expectations!

uptroutOctober 6, 2011 - 7:16 pm

Thanks for the comment Rich — I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. I hope all is well, and I hope we get a chance chat and cast together soon.

Chad PastotnikOctober 6, 2011 - 9:19 pm

Little things like this make the passing of the season more bearable. Nicely linked thoughts from two talented native sons. Thanks.

Norris McDowellDecember 28, 2011 - 10:30 am

Thanks for reminding me of the magical afternoon I spent with John Voelker and Jerry Dennis at Frenchman’s Pond.

That was long ago–of course–but in my mind it is today.

Norris McDowell

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