We've been taught since a very early age that reading is one of our most precious skills. The ability to read awards us a master key to the library of endless knowledge, and that's a place we want to visit with regularity.
So we read. The younger we learn how, the better. We read for entertainment, we read to be educated and we read to escape to places we'll never see, or to those that don't really exist.
But reading is hardly limited to the written word, or to a series of pictures. The talent to read extends along many avenues, including a number of them in the outdoors world.
A certain fishing companion of mine who also went by the title of dad used to stop his anxious brood of anglers about 20 yards short of the stream bank, and urge them to first "read" the water before they charged up there to fish.
He would sometimes crouch low to gain a better perspective on the river and to better see under the branches that shrouded the shoreline. He looked for a swirl at the base of an eddy, a dimple at the point a run started to flatten out, or a splash that came out of sequence below where the water sliced and chopped its way over the rocks.
It might have been on the Au Sable, the Pigeon or the Manistee in Michigan. It could have been on the sentimental treasure that was Fish Creek in those West Virginia mountains where we spent memorable weeks each summer.
It just as easily could have been the Sandusky, the Portage or the Maumee, all of which present a challenging text to anyone hoping to peek at the secrets of these rivers by reading their waters. No matter how excited we were, he would urge us to move slowly as we approached that corner of Ziegler's quarry that always held big blue gills and a few jittery bass.
He wanted us to read first, and then fish.
There were days at Lake Mohawk where we planned a dawn excursion and rushed off in the marginal light, slopping water from the minnow bucket and invariably snagging a line in a low-hanging tree as we hustled toward those islands of lily pads that protected a fish-rich little bay.
More often than not, in our haste we forgot the part where you first read the water before you fish it. That omission probably cost us more fish than we caught, or certainly some of the bigger ones.
The best of Dad's reading lessons came on trout fishing ventures, since he was a self-taught master with a fly rod in his hand, and so skilled at determining what the trout were interested in on that particular day. His knack for studying the water and interpreting its message was showcased on the Agawa River in Ontario's Lake Superior Provincial Park.
The Agawa ran fast and cold in June, and held a wealth of brook and rainbow trout, but they were a finicky and selective lot. It all looked like a confusing stretch of boulders and water, of rapids and potholes, to our untrained eyes.
But in just a few minutes, dad would gesture and point, directing his charges to the most productive locations, based on what he had just read by studying the swift river's pages. He saw things we didn't, and the river's surface seemed to speak to him in a language we did not understand.
Perhaps the Ojibwa people fished the Agawa the same way hundreds of years ago when they looked to the river for food. Reading the water is not a talent picked up in a classroom ? it can only be learned at the water's edge, with a skilled teacher showing the way.
Matt Markey is the A-T outdoors columnist
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