As I sat watching the shadows in the moonlit pool, awaiting daybreak, I pondered that having forgotten my camera at home yet again might not be such a big deal. The shadows that I was watching were not mere shadows, but dark Chinooks chasing one another in the tail-out of a pool. The water in the pool was far, far clearer than what I had expected to find. After Friday's and Saturday's precipitation, I was pretty sure that there would be quite a bit of colour to the water. But now as the moon shone I saw not only the black, frolicking Chinooks but the white gravel underneath them: "Low and Gin Clear," words of doom for any Steelhead fisherman.
It was also my luck to be sharing this prestigious bit of low, clear river with six or seven local fellows, some of whom had waded over in their running shoes and were already flinging their bobbers at the elusive shades, cursing when they turned out to be logs. The honour of the quick flick at the end of every 8 foot drift is ubiquitous, and I hear it practiced around me in the gloaming. But when my float goes under and a chrome flash is seen, cigarettes drop from mouths agape, the whites of eyes glow like stars. Language erupts that is all "he just had one on," and nothing like "that was a nice one, bud," no acknowledging the stranger who just lost a fish and showed you that they are present. And so, soon, there is my float and about four others hovering over the short pool, and the evidence of my folly is now complete. I can't take the fishing pressure, myself; I start down the river well before the sun breaks the horizon.
A full hour of doubt elapses, as I work my way down closer to where my car is parked. What should I do? There are other options than here, and certainly the water must have better colour elsewhere. I am indecisive, so I keep fishing. I get into a rhythm, despite the low flow, the shallow current and my pessimism. I reach a straight section of river that I've never fished before and spot what looks like a deeper drift, but it's hard to tell from the angle at which I begin to fish through it. I don't know it yet, but there's a straight line down the middle of this pool. Drift six inches to the right, and your hook digs itself into a wiry stump, but drift six inches to the left and; the float goes down. It is not the expected snag, at least. But it's a Chinook. The heavy, powerful headshakes are telltale. I consider snapping off, then the fish leaps - big bright chrome Steelhead! She fights me up and then far down to the end of the drift, where I finally tail her and get to admire her rosy blush and her bright flanks like freshly minted nickel. She goes approximately eight pounds, and after a short breather sitting comfortably in the current, she smashes at me with her tail, a big boil and she's gone.
Less than an hour later, two good pan-sized trout also fall to my wares, and I almost succumb to the desire to eat them... but I don't. A Chinook also grabs my bait, but I have no interest in disturbing him so I snap my line off as soon as I get a good look at him. But all I can think about is that first Steelhead.
It's funny how one fish can sometimes make your day. Or rather, what that one fish can do to your day is what's worth considering. Later in the afternoon, I will catch three more fish, two of which are bigger than the gorgeous hen from the early morning, respectively weighing in at 10 and 12 pounds. The 10 pounder will leap five, six or seven times and attempt a little tail-walk before he is finally subdued, and the 12 pounder will take me about fifteen minutes to land and he will bend the 13ft Frontier as I have never seen it bend; but the beauty of the first fish, the unexpectedness of her, and the mythical time of day when I caught her, all leave a deeper mark. One fish turned my whole day around, magically going from unmitigated disaster to jubilant success.
I haven't smiled like that for a fish in a long time.