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.