I told my wife I would be back by two o’clock when I left our fishing cabin near Windy Gap, N.C., around 7 A.M. to fish for trout in my favorite creek last September. That late in the season, I wasn’t really expecting a great day of fishing. By noon, I’d only caught one brown trout and missed another.
I walked farther up the creek and came to a hole too deep to wade, so I edged my way onto a boulder on the bank and shuffled out to its ledge. The rocks a few feet below were wet from the previous night’s rain, but there was one dry spot that looked like a good landing place. I grabbed a tree on the bank and swung myself down, testing the dry spot with one foot before I let go.
My right leg immediately slipped out from underneath me. My weight came down on my left leg and my left ankle twisted and cracked.
I tried to put weight on the ankle, but it was obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to walk. The creek was already swollen, and any more rain would make it impassable, so I crawled into the water and sort of swam across to the trail on the other side. As I pulled myself out of the water, the feeling came back into my ankle. It hurt.
Lord, I prayed, please help me. I made myself a splint using my belt, a stick, and some fishing line. I tried to move into the sun to dry off, but it disappeared behind a hill early in the afternoon. I started thinking about bears that had been spotted in the area. I knew that my wife would call someone when I didn’t come home, but I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait for help.
It was a cold night. I didn’t have a jacket and I was still wet. I pulled my arms and head into my T-shirt and tried to sleep, but couldn’t.
At about 5 a.m. I heard voices down the trail. Soon, my son–who had driven 150 miles from Raleigh to find me after my wife called to say that I hadn’t come home–and his friend came out of the woods. They built a fire and kept me company until a local search-and--rescue squad arrived and called in an Army National Guard helicopter. It flew in around 3 p.m.–27 hours after my fall–and took me to a local hospital.
My ankle hasn’t fully healed, but I’ve been trout fishing a long time. I’ll be back in the creek this summer.
—As told to Jed Portman