Tonight, it's important to me to make something beautiful.
This TR is dedicated to Destiny, one of my students who graduated three short years ago and today, left this world for a far better place.
By a good stroke of fortune, the work calendar this year allowed for a four-day President's day weekend. In recent years, this has been a good weekend for me.
Filled with happy memories and high expectations, the bride and I headed south Thursday after work. She had lined up a Saturday watercolor workshop with a fine area artist; I had a non-resident license for two states in my pocket and catch cards that needed some ink. That, and we were going to visit our oldest son and his lovely bride and take the opportunity to spoil them a little bit as they're living on the GI bill as he finishes his nursing degree. Good times awaited.
It's a five hour drive from my home to my son's, and another hour's drive from his place to the parking area on the run that produced my first steelhead ever, also taken on a President's Day weekend. And, for the mockers and scoffers, it was caught on a swung fly.
There's an uneasy sense of anticipation I feel as I drive that final hour in the dark to my destination. Did I get up early enough? Will there be somebody already there? If so, where else do I want to go? I realize I have no right to the place. Nobody owes me deferral given the miles I've driven or how long it's been since I've been there. I hope I'm the first to arrive.
As I parked, the elk grazing across the river seemed a good omen.
There they are, up and to the right.
I strung up the rod as fast as I could. Then, the layers of polypropylene, extra wool socks, jacket, waders, boots, scarf, hat. I unfurled a fresh leader, tied on a fly, and realized I'd missed the stripping guide.
Unstring the rod, and carefully this time, found all eleven guides.
Off to the river.
It's a fertile stream.
This is my fourth season as a steelheader, and only the second that I've owned my own spey gear. SouthFork has been kind to loan me some of his gear for the first two seasons, and I'm grateful for his generosity and friendship. Oddly, we have yet to fish for chrome together--something I hope to soon remedy.
It takes me a bit to get back in the swing of things (cough, wink) but soon, I'm laying out enough line to cover the run in ways that have produced in the past. As is often the case, my mind wanders to what's been burdening me of late, and as the patient repetition of the process engages my hands, my thoughts are simultaneously focused on the run, the beauty of this place, and the angst that has been clouding my thoughts for too long. I'm surprised to find myself at the bottom of the run and, checking my watch, to realize that nearly four hours have passed. My wife (the artist) tells me I've been in my right brain, the hemisphere disconnected from the linear sequential world of time. It's a good place to be, and as I break for lunch, I realize that I've reached some conclusions regarding the stuff that's been eating away at me.
I reel up and head for the car. There's a couple of bait fishermen who've been working the slick water below the spey run. They've been kind enough to give me my space. They're quite the pair--many missing teeth between them, ratty clothing, even rattier fishing gear. There's a cellophane bag of sand shrimp, many empty beer cans (they picked them up--I checked the next day) and a bottle of neon pink goo that I assume must be shrimp oil.
"Hello gentlemen," I say.
"Howja do up there?" they ask.
"Not a bite. You?"
"Three so far. Bill had a big one just straighten out his hook."
The one with the least number of teeth looks at my streamer.
"That color blue knocked the shit out of 'em last year. You oughta try green--that's what they're hittin' this year."
I thank them for the tip and head back to my car. I keep it to myself that I suspect that their fish were following their noses, and not their eyes, to find their offerings. I also note how perfectly happy these guys were, despite their shitty clothes, teeth, gear, and now, the car parked next to mine. I make a mental note as I do a quick inventory and determine that I've probably dumped nearly a couple grand into my combined rods, reels, waders, boots, jackets, flies, lines, and, well... you get the picture.
I realize that I haven't been focused on the right things, and joy isn't found in the stuff we own.
I'm sitting on the tailgate when a spey angler (multiple rods in the magnetic hood-and-roof rod rack were my first clue) stops and asks how I did. He and his buddies have been striking out too. He also notes that the river is picking up some color.
"Oh well--it beat's working." I note.
"Damn straight!" he grins, and with a wave drives away.
The next two days teach me that clear skies and muddy water are probably not the ideal combination for steelhead fishing. I am glad for the opportunity to practice the art and science of the swung fly, although I can't be positive that I'm doing it right at all. What does overwhelm me is the fact that, while it's mid February at home, it feels like mid-April here. For that, I'm very grateful.
After two days on this particular stream, I determined I needed to do something different. The water had continued to rise and perhaps get a little murkier, and I hadn't had a grab. Also, the forecast was changing, and a low ceiling and light rain was in the forecast.
I changed directions, heading east now. The distance was shorter to another favorite run on a different river, and one of the bonuses would be an extra forty five minutes of sleep. This is the first time my wife has joined me on one of these trips, and it's harder to roll out of bed at oh-dark-thirty when a) the fish haven't been biting, and b) there's a soft warm body laying next to you. Despite the temptation to just turn off the alarm, I roll out and head out.
Try as I may, I have yet to master Ephemeral's art of food photography.
My uber-cool reading-turned-knot-tying glasses. "I CAN SEE INTO YOUR SOUL!!!!!!!"
My initial run proved fruitless. I decided to head up river, visit Poppy at the Red Shed, and explore some new water. Poppy wasn't there, but his son-in-law was. We visited a bit, discussed his recovery from a gruesome chainsaw accident (happily, his hand is nearly healed and seems to be progressing toward a full recovery) and he generously provided spot-on directions to several tasty runs. I elected for none of them (but made mental notes for next time) and went exploring much further upstream.
Look out, little one.
To my mind, the conditions were awesome. Unlike the previous days, the skies were dark and the water was clear. I got into one of the best casting sequences of my young steelheading career, and out of idle curiosity took my outstretched line to the bank to see just exactly how far I was casting. Like the length of fish, I found that I over-estimated that distance as well. What I thought was 85 feet was an honest 75, but reasoned that this was a) covering the water I was trying to fish and b) not too bad for a guy with less than 15 days on his own spey gear.
I'd promised to take the kids out for dinner and I was an hour up river, so at 4:30 I conceded that I wasn't going to get a single grab on this trip. As I walked back to where I'd parked, I found the filleted remains of someone else's catch near the bank. Out of idle curiousity, I flipped it up on the bank and measured it with my wading staff.
"Thirty three inches" I said aloud.
I flipped the carcass back in the water and watched it drift from sight. Then I said, "I've caught one that big before."
I found myself smiling. And happy.
I'll be back.[/report]