Reading does not require words. It is an interpretation of symbols and images in a way that is universally recognizable. Moving water is like scrolling text along you computer screen, carving out a landscape of symbols that can mean something if you take the time to understand it. Every trout stream has its own language and every angler is a hydrolinguist. And much like how one can get by with a passing knowledge of a language while others has mastered every nuance of its grammar, an angler with a basic knowledge of the water can usually catch a few fish, while the true master appears to draw fish from impossible lies with near-mythical regularity.
Reading water is a logarithmic process: the initial gains are minimal for the time you put in, but eventually you cross a threshold– a limnic event horizon, if you will– when suddenly everything is understood. To call it an eureka moment undermines its significance to the angler. It is no longer reading, but being told. The incomprehensible babble of water across a riffle now whispers where to cast. The light dash of water from a rising fish now rings like a thunderclap. Fouling brush along the bank is now felt rather than seen. Your cast to things no other angler can see based on a hunch, and you catch fish.
It’s not a sense of understanding, but a sense of power. It cannot be fully explained, but in a single moment a stretch of stream becomes yours. It may be hounded by hundreds of anglers every season, but it is your stream. You are the trout Jedi of these waters and the Force is strong with you. You are connected to that stream and its fish by more than a tight line. Sometimes the Moment occurs when were are aware of it; more often it passes without us being conscious of its significance until much later, maybe long after we’ve left the water but we find our minds still muddled in its current.
The greatest part of this power is that anyone can wield it. Spend time on the water, listen to it’s voice, and it will eventually start to spill its secrets.