The Housatonic River in northern Connecticut requires a wading staff. The river runs wide and shallow, a combination that I had not encountered previously. I am used to narrow rivers that run deep in the center and cannot be crossed, or wider rivers that you can only fish from near the shore. On my first trip to the Housy, I was surprised to see anglers in the middle of the stream, thirty or forty feet from the banks in either direction, standing only waist deep in the pure cold water. And they had one piece of equipment that I lacked, a wading staff.
On Columbus Day a few weeks later, now totting a brand new wading staff that cost way too much money (how is it that fly fishing gear is so expensive?), I returned to the Housy with hopes of large trout and good wading. The river was pretty crowded on that Monday, and the large pool was now being fished correctly by three or four anglers from the middle of the river. I chose a spot further down stream, where I could enjoy the river in solitude, and stepped into the water with staff at hand.
As I began to walk out into the river, I felt suddenly liberated. Instead of tripping over rocks and moving slowly to plant each foot, I now strode through the river with confidence. With the metal point of the staff leading the way, I walked up and down the shore, then right into the middle of the river, then across to the other side and back. There were no fish to be found no matter where I cast, but I did not care. Here I was, master of the river, able to move back and forth at will, the entire stream my playground.
As it turns out, I am not the first person to appreciate the power of a staff. In the Bible, Moses had a rod that could perform miracles. In Pharoah’s palace, Moses threw his staff on the ground, and God turned it into a snake. Then Moses grabbed the snake by its tail, and it once again hardened into a staff.
While the Bible never tells us if Moses was a fisherman, he did have a very effective wading staff. After leaving Egypt, the Israelites stood before the Red Sea, with the Pharoah’s army approaching, stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. God told Moses to lift up his staff and hold it out over the waters, and the Red Sea split in half. The people walked through on dry land, walls of water on each side, Moses leading them with rod in hand.
As I waded through the Housy with my new staff, I thought of Moses and his Divinely-powered rod. I lifted up my staff briefly to see if the waters would split, but I quickly discovered that I am no Moses. However, after crossing the river back and forth many times, just for the sheer fun of it, I realized that maybe there was something magical about my new wading staff. It could not turn into a snake or split a sea. However, the power of my wading staff was that it brought me even closer to the river, the rocks and the fish. I was no longer a clumsy two-legged mammal, out of place in a world of water. Now, I was able to stride up and down the strong current, and be a part of the river.
That day, I did not see a single rising fish nor catch one trout. However, as I walked back and forth with my wading staff, I felt no longer confined to land, but perhaps now a creature of the water, one who belonged in the river as much as the rainbows and browns that surrounded me.