Thursday, March 17, 2016

Rainbow's End

It went like this. At first, when the float slipped under the surface, I thought it was bottom. When I gave the line a little snap, my rig came up easily. I checked the bait: it might have been mouthed, or not. It was hard to tell. I drifted to the same spot, and the same thing happened again. This time, the bait looked somewhat mouthed, but I still had my doubts. After all, one gets inured to bad luck, and it had been a long time since I'd hooked into any kind of steelhead!

Little did I know, late last November, that the smallish 3 1/2 pound male that was yielded to me by a Lake Ontario tributary, would be my last for several months. It feels like years, aeons! This feeling is exacerbated by the fact that I've had a good many full days out, on several rivers all over the province and NY state, without a single fish to hand. But with my little family always in the back of my mind, each day on the water is very much a luxury - and lack of success just makes the "expense" more extravagant.

Bad luck itself can have a flare for the extravagant. For example, lightning can strike twice. I never thought I'd see the day when I would head up to the Saugeen and come back fishless, much less my good friend Mike B. - and yet we made two trips up north to absolutely no productive avail whatsoever. We moved around a lot and covered miles of ground and water, but all our efforts went for naught. The same went for an earlier trip that Khalid had joined me on, in early November. Legs tired, arms fresh: never the combination desired by any angler!

Then, early in February, I took the opportunity to float the Salmon river with Oliver, expecting a firm turnaround to my dire misfortunes - or "our" misfortunes, to be exact. But that was a laughable expectation. I should have known better. Our run of strange luck continued. In fact, it was almost worse than worst. Believing we could call a cab to pick us up at our pull-out & drive us back to Olly's truck, we only brought one vehicle. Imagine our consternation, when it turned out that there is no more taxi service in Pulaski! Luckily, the legendary Skeeter Scoville is an acquaintance, and he happily volunteered to help. As we waved good-bye
at the beginning of our drift, our morning's interaction resembled something like an NHL trade: one ride, roe bags, beads and advice for 20$ US, 3 cuban cigars and some good old fashion canadian conversation, eh.

Even Skeeter acknowledged that the fishing is no longer what it was. Whole sections of the Salmon are, according to him at the time, virtually devoid of fish. And of course, our luck happened to carry us through a couple of these. At the end of the day, Oliver seemed to turn the tide - a strike! or what he felt was one, which saw his rod bend quickly; and then just as quickly relax and go straight. Frustration mounting, we ended our day with our traditional stop at
Five Guys in Watertown, joking half-heartedly and scraping up as much humour as two luckless anglers could muster.

Certainly, two successive winters where most of Lake Ontario, Georgian Bay and Lake Huron froze over had their effect on the food supply of our favourite fish. Numbers are down everywhere, from the famed Salmon river, to the little tricklets close to my home, to the great Saugeen and Beaver rivers up north. But it's not like they've disappeared altogether. Such a run of apparent ineptitude as I've miraculously been able to put together, makes no sense. Sure there are fewer fish, but this is ridiculous! With a deep-souled sigh: enter despondence. 

After that February trip, I gave up. I turned my mind and heart homeward and tucked my rods and tackle away, resigned to the fact that with tough times in the rear view mirror, tough times were still ahead. Why suffer them with pointless hope? Paying greater attention to Laura and the boys made the winter more palatable, and I gently pried my thoughts away from my ongoing piscatorial futility. It was a good thing, too, since quite a bit of drama hit us on the home-front (and continues to leave a mark), which would have completely derailed any fishing plans anyway. 

So it was almost as an after-thought, this past Saturday, that I finally found myself on a river bank, after a late wake-up, with virtually nothing prepared on time; wondering for all the world if maybe, just maybe a slightly mauled roe bag might mean more than just a close encounter with an errant rock or two. Robotically dismissing hope as pie-in-the-sky, I put on a fresh sac and kept drifting, covering water in different depths and lines as I went. Then when the float tipped down again, to dislodge my offering from the bottom, I quite carelessly flicked the rod up; to feel; a pulse. Oh sweet, massive pull-and-pull of a heavy steelhead, shaking its head in surprise!

Surprise! That was the word of the day. If the poor fish was shocked, then I was doubly so. I was like an actor who forgets his script: was this supposed to happen? What are my lines? Do I just... wing it? Somehow, my arm and my hands remembered what to do, if my brain didn't, and within minutes the bright, glistening steelhead lay at my feet. It was sluggish from the freezing runoff, or the battle would have lasted much longer. 

As I stared at it in disbelief, a thought started entering my mind for which only reflexion would bring words: that this single, redemptive fish, scintillating in the late morning light, signified the end of a chapter. I'd reached the pot of gold at rainbow's end, at last. And though I had further success afterward, I will always remember that single hen as a small symbol of hope, and the repeated truth that even the worst of droughts can come to a swift, sudden, glorious end.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Follow your Bliss

I still remember a kind and patient John Kerr, in the old offices of Ontario Out of Doors at the corner of College and Bay in Toronto, trying to explain to me what it would take to get an article about steelhead published in his magazine. As I look back on it now, my arrogance was quite spectacular and I dare hope that he was at least amused - if not bemused - by it. I also hope that my passion for steelhead fishing, then as now, helped smooth over that little failing of mine...

That was 1995.

Twenty years later, almost to the day, I can prove that I understood, finally. If you happen to subscribe to the mag, or see a copy at your local news stand, turn to page 42 of the Nov/Dec issue. You'll find my first Ontario Out of Doors article, sitting there quite humbly amongst many other fantastic contributions. 

It's a little dream come true, for me as I've always wanted to contribute something to OOD. I owe a debt of gratitude to the centrepin crafters who gave me their time, to Ray Blades (Managing Editor @ OOD) and to Mike Borger (friend & publisher of Canada Fishing Guide) without whom I would still be waiting for this cherry on the cake. 

Regardless, it was one of the purposes of my little fishing blog to help me get something published someday. I always knew it would be good practice, and how else do you show what you can do if not by actually doing it? So I've always striven to provide some form of quality in my posts and in my pictures that would, someday hopefully, attract the attention of serious publishers.

It doesn't end there. The beauty of it is that the old saying is true: "it never rains but it pours." 

Not only have I finally published an article in Ontario Out of Doors, but I've also contributed to "Steelhead and Salmon Journal", which is a western US magazine published out of Oregon. My discussions with Pat Hoglund, Chief Editor of the magazine (as well as "Steelheader's Journal" and "Traveling Angler"), began over an old picture of jumping steelhead that I'd posted on a forum & quickly progressed to writing. So, I'm doubly blessed this month with articles in the Nov/Dec issue of not one, but two magazines.

Finally, there are two valid ways to see this: Santa came early (since this all happens in December) and whatever your bliss: persistence pays off. No matter how long it takes, don't despair and never quit. Sooner or later, at the very least, you'll look back and be pleased with your accomplishments. 

Thanks for reading!


Friday, August 21, 2015

Where have I been? - Petit photo-montage

Time for a new post! 

It's been an inordinate amount of time since my last entry, and there's been a lot of water under the bridge. Part of my silence is due to the fact that I've got some fishing articles coming out soon, and I can't really talk about it here until some time after they've been published. So, since the things I'm writing about are usually what I like to talk about on my blog... it's lead to this awkward "ahem" type of absence on this space. 

Still, tons of things have gone on and, since I'm also honing my photography skills (and having a lot of fun doing so),there's no better way to broach that vast compendium than through a photo montage.

Shortly after my last post, here is an image that represents the last few minutes of a great way to warm up in the clenched, frozen jaws of winter. Cheese fondue! We enjoyed the real thing, with grated Vacherin and Gruyère, Kirsch and Fendant. It is such a lovely feast that one almost pines (almost, but not quite) for the return of Winter!

My favourite hockey player, on a break, flying up centre ice! I never get tired of watching him as he progresses and continues to excel. He's a major reason why this space may continue to be skinny, starting in September; he's gone and made the rep team again, and that means sleep, eat, drink, dream, smoke, breathe (etc...) Hockey!

Then the thaw took place in earnest, and I took time to check out the local Spring steelhead run...

... things were spirited, as usual! The run actually snuck up on me a little bit, since I learned that the fish had been running in much greater numbers at least a week prior to these photos being taken. 

No. I don't really get tired of watching them. This can be an exercise in patience for those accompanying me. They practically need a crowbar to pry me away from the river!

Finally, there was a little bit of this, though most of it was spent on the road, getting material for my professional writings. 

Then, of course, the Khalidian Dynasty continued. This is his personal best, and the only regret I have is that I wasn't there to snap this pic! Awesome fish, my friend!

There's no better tonic for the "few fish" blues than a trip to western New York. Here, a drop-back hen rests up after a spirited fight.

Muscle cars anyone? At the Bowmanville Summerfest.

Oh wait! How'd that get there??? Hmmm....

Trip to the Bluffer's park. Enjoying a brief dose of sun and sand.

An excited Samuel overlooking his first Blue Jays game. Justin Smoak popped a homer that landed little more than 20 feet from where we were sitting. How cool would that have been, at your first ever game!

And now, for a floral break... (Ahhhh! I feel rested!)

Dawn on Rice Lake... and...

...bass on Rice Lake. 

Giggles at camping. Isaac saw something funny on his iPad.

A golden Lake Ontario sunrise, on a calm early-August morning. We were canoeing. It's quite an experience, when the lake is this calm and glassy. Look closely at the buoy and you'll see a tern sitting there.

A visit to a friend's cottage, to strengthen the quadriceps. 

Subsequently, Sam's first time ever water-skiing. Apparently, he's a natural!

Children fishing off the dock in the quiet evening. 

 Charter fishing on Lake Ontario. Sunrise on the canadian flag.

 My newest Cellphone background :).

 Magic with a wide-angle lens. 
 A competitor deploys his array, off the bow, in the easy morning.

Another fine catch for the day. All in all we landed 8, enjoying an almost unusually calm, hot and sunny day out on the lake. I can't tell you how many times it popped into my head to jump into the cool water, inches from my feet...

An image bereft of sound or fury, signifying everything! This is indeed an older pic, but one that neatly symbolizes the end of that hot day out on the boat - as well as wraps up this little post :).

More to come!


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Smoke in the Snow

Shoveling the driveway yet again, I paused to light up. Little halos of smoke fluttered away into the night as I puffed the little stogie to life. I got back to work. Push, scrape, lift, toss; repeat - pausing every now and again to luxuriate in what some would consider stench, though it will always delight me.

When all the white stuff was cleared away and the cars, swept clean, sat quietly in the driveway, it started to snow. Just a passing flurry, with only a slight breeze to disturb the peaceful descent of the large, white flakes, swirling like glowing moths in the dull city lights. In silence, I took in the scene, savoring the smoke, watching as the temporary fruit of my labor vanished under the fresh, feathery blanket.

When -3 degrees Celsius feels balmy, it's clear that we've passed through the
heart of Winter, even though we've yet to reach the other side.

It occurs to me that even these sometimes barren and unpleasant times are just part of the cycle, of the process of each long-awaited fishing trip. The realization imparts a certain ephemeral charm to even the mundane activity of the shoveling of snow, the early morning alarm clock beyond, the tawdry and pointless commute; endlessly repeated, as they are, and yet leading me toward...

I start thinking back on a few things.

First, and most exciting for me personally, an unexpected phone call from a friend, presaging something I've always dreamed of but never really hoped would happen: a professional request for my pictures and for my writing. I won't go into detail at the moment, but suffice it to say that when the email from the publisher arrived in my inbox, I was very excited. I remain giddy and enthusiastic, and I promise to share more with you in the following weeks and months.

The experience has spurred me to procure myself with a decent DSLR camera, and I will be obtaining a lens or two for it in the coming weeks. Whenever the next fishing trip comes, it's not only the fishing that will excite me! I've always enjoyed the photographic part of the experience, stopping now and then to take a few shots, but I never dared bring the family DSLR - just in case it went for an unfortunate underwater adventure - and point-and-shoot cameras are so much easier and less expensive to replace. So while my pics may have been interesting, they were never really suitable for the pages of a magazine.

I'm a little trepidatious as well, since this past Fall did not cover me in glory half as much as I'd hoped or expected. On the Georgian Bay, anglers complained the fish were underfed; on Lake Ontario tributaries, an overabundance of gill lice was claiming quite a few fish. So I have no idea what numbers of fish will be greeting my friends and I when Nature sees fit to send us a few warm days in which to find open water (and unfrozen guides)!

It wasn't for lack of trying. Several trips took me to a number of my usual spots, and even to some new water, but conditions were never ripe and fish tended to be scarce. Tenacity paid off, but there were no large-number days. A few times, recent snow melt had made water temperatures drop too much, turning off the bite; or the rivers were blown... There were some pretty fantastic trips nonetheless, all of which were spent in good company. As always, the silver lining to any mediocre trip is composed of the friends with whom I share the rivers I visit.

Salmon, by contrast, were much easier to come by, and I did quite well in comparison, when considering that I don't usually spend entire days chasing them, as I do for steelhead. A few hours here, a few hours there, stolen on early mornings when the family is still asleep: this usually suffices for me, where Great Lakes pacific salmon are concerned. On the canadian side of the Lake, for example, Coho salmon are usually harder to come by; but my luck was good and I caught a number of these feisty silver beasts. 

Ah well. New seasons come and go. Now, I cross my fingers and hope for at least a short window of above-zero temperatures, so that I can ring up a few good friends and head out in search of open water.

As my toes started to freeze and the cinders cooled in my hands, I tossed the dead, brown butt into the icy street. I turned in and shut the garage door, took off my coat so as not to stink up the house, turned a few techie tricks for Laura and sat down to write this. 

The clock stretches out toward midnight, and another early commute awaits me in the black morning beyond. As I prepare for a last wistful glance at a fish picture or two, before I head up to a well-deserved sleep, I leave you with an image: bright sunrise, breaking through the mists of Lake Ontario, swift and hopeful.

Good night!


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Spring Song of the Steelheader

Give us the beautiful coldness.

Give us a cool mist passing slowly, blotting out the sunrise.

Give us a chill morning when all others lie in the indulgent trance and warmth of their beds, and give us a river whose cold water travels over our boots murmuring memories of ice.

Then, give us the silver steelhead that have dropped down like living chunks from the shattered floes, to ply hungrily the current for springtime’s little denizens; the brazen midge and swift stonefly, the timid minnow, the worm curling in futile aquatic struggle.

Give us the Battle of them!

Give us all their cunning and grace, and their indescribable beauty!

Take away your echoes of Summer, your midday sun, your blue skies and your swelter. Take away your heat.

Or delay it all, just a little, we beg. We plead with you – please! Why hurry? What necessity to push out roses, so soon after the tulips have gone? A week, a day – nay! one sweet, cool morning extemporized out of the wreck of the past season, before the coming chaos and flowering haze and heat – is all we ask.

Then, we Thankful, will seek our rest elsewhere, leave the river in peace, put the rods away, tuck our waders into closets, hang our hats and put our tackle aside.

And wait;

For the multitudinous be-speckled ardent Mykiss to return; at the Fall, when the cold breath again blows down from the eternal North, before everything must die; and we are unfurled again among your vigorous children, in your vast, scintillating bounty.