“Good enough for government work!” I joke as I admire my parking job on the side of an unnamed dirt road in Talladega National Forest. The soft red earth gives way beneath my sandaled feet as I stumble towards the trunk. Eli shakes his head as he watches me clumsily gather my gear for the long hike down into Indigo Canyon. The smell of smoldering pine mixes with the fragrance of honeysuckle and azaleas. The mountain laurel is just beginning to bloom on the steep canyon walls.
We rig up our fly rods, strap on our cameras, and set off down an old logging road, stepping carefully, half hoping to find a canebrake rattler among the dry rotten logs. We’re both cautious visitors today. Neither of us have ventured this deep into Talladega before. We passed the last of the turkey hunters’ trucks at least a mile back, so we knew we had the canyon to ourselves. The best fishing trips offer equal parts solitude and companionship. We hike together in silence.
The sound of water rushing over shoals crescendos as we walk. It’s tempting to chance a scramble down the jagged granite walls at the first sight of the creek, but we hike a little further to find a safer place to slide in. Chacos were a bad choice. We shimmy over the loose detritus. Smilax carves its initials in our bare legs. Definitely not the most hospitable honey hole we’ve ever hiked to, but also not the least.
The creek immediately soothes our sores. It’s too chilly for a swim yet, but the sweet water feels so good on our faces. We take a minute to acknowledge our new neighbors. Nerodia bask in the mountain laurel branches, and broadhead skinks scurry across the ancient granite boulders. The star-studded backs of slimy salamanders glisten in the narrow flood plain.
“Cast your fly behind that rock and count to 1” Eli says with a smirk. I dig my feet into the sandy creek bottom and lay a sloppy back-handed cast out to the spot. Where once lay still water, the rapture began. Like the inverse of an osprey dive-bombing a gizzard shad, a redeye bass rockets upward, inhaling the bright yellow home invader. I’m now tied to a freight train with the zoomies. My fiberglass rod bends to its will as it darts under rocks, between weeds, in and out of the laurel branches vibrating with the current of the swollen creek. I’m screaming at Eli for the net. He lands the fish effortlessly. I catch my breath. We take some pictures. We clamber back up the canyon wall. We stop to smell the indigo flowers. We ride home with the taste of sweat in our mustaches, and the sticky slime of Micropterus coosae staining our sleeves. Satisfaction.