Thursday, December 17, 2009

Folly Redeemed

Standing like
a forlorn ghost
by the river's sterile banks
the fisherman may seem
to the passerby
a fool
who has risen before the sun to
brave the wind the ice the
roaring current
to stand up in
water to his thighs
fish that the observer
does not see materialise

Instead the fisherman stands
there methodically
his tiny float down
and casting it up and floating it down
and casting it up and standing
lonely and intent
stupidly absorbed
a fool

And hours later or
sometimes days or
sometimes weeks and months
the little red float on
its passage through
the nebulous green
waters skirting
a seam or tracking
over the trench will
hesitate it
will tick or shoot down in
to the swirl
and the rod will bend upward
and there will be a great pulse and
muscular throb
of silver from the depth
and this is what
the fool
- now fisherman -
was waiting for.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Scouring of the Shire

As the gods would have it, I was recently blessed with an extra vacation day, the result of an office raffle of which I was the fortunate winner. Out of about 100 people, I was the lucky person who ended up with the One Free Day. That it also happened at the end of an uncommonly warm Nov, just in time for an equally balmy beginning of December, smacked of fate - or better, the subtle influence of the ineffable Valar.

What, to a mind in the midst of the throes of severe Mykissian dementia, could be more Precious than this One day, unlooked for and unforeseen? The action was immediate and unwavering: I dispatched a mail message to Mike advising him of my fortune, and we set the date for Wednesday, December 2nd.

Where would we go? A few cross-border locations seemed to beckon, and plans were close to final, when a precipitation event further north changed our minds. A river that I had never been to, and that Mike had only fished once before, had received a goodly amount of rain and was just rounding into form. The choice of quality over quantity, of wild steelhead over stocked ones, is simple. We altered our plans and made arrangements. We would assault the Shire.

Shortly after first light, on the fateful day, we issued from Mike's car, ready to don our gear; to be faced with a local landowner, who was quite agitated. He made his reasons very clear. It was hunting season in the surrounding forest, and he did not want anyone getting shot on his land. He forbade us from accessing the river from his property. Both facts, that it was deer hunting season and that the trail to the river was on private property, had been unknown to me. So I was very thankful when he nonetheless offered us a substitute path to the river, as well as loaning us each a bright orange hat and vest – so that we wouldn’t be mistaken for deer.

So, down we went, into a steep valley, surrounded by mostly deciduous trees and, here and there, the dark green apparition of a cedar, or a tall pine. It was tricky going, as the leaves that covered the forest floor were still quite damp, and we skied down as often as we walked. Now and again, the echo of a shot was heard, reverberating in the naked forest, attesting to faraway attempts at procuring venison.

At the bottom of the valley, the river sped languidly, laughing and gurgling over white rocks, slightly aqua-tinged and clearing swiftly. We did not bother searching for a trail to take us up river, where we wanted to be, but set off against the current, over logs and stones, and through tall grasses. Soon, I was lagging behind. I couldn’t help but take in the serene purity of the valley; and it quickly became obvious to me why some of the gentlemen who fish here often refer to it as “the Shire.” But as I walked and took pictures, scanning the river all the while for signs of any deeper pools or the manifestations of fish, I began to think that the nickname is a slight misnomer. A deep valley, filled with trees and a rushing, crystal clear river smacks to me more of Rivendell than of the bucolic Shire, with its quaint villages, hobbit holes, farms and well-attended pubs. Still, assigning it a name from Tolkien’s epics is quite correct: one does feel as though time does not pass there, or that one could expect the distant song of elves at any time. The river is so close to farmlands and highways; and yet on her banks it is as though one had stepped through a portal to a stream that is exceedingly distant, both in time and in place. The occasional fracas of buckshot, far away, and Mike’s bright orange noggin, bobbing up and down in the distance ahead, were the only reminders of reality.

As far as the fishing was concerned, I didn’t play a major role or cover myself with glory. I managed only three fish, one of which I am convinced took my bait twice! on the other hand, Mike had known exactly where he wanted to go. And by the time I caught up to him, he was already releasing his fourth fish. His next five drifts would all produce more electrically chrome steelhead, except for the last, where the fish overpowered the hook and got off. It was an incredible thing to see happen on a northern river, a feat that few could duplicate.

Technically speaking, I found that the good pools in this river are few and far between and, in order for it to be really exciting, much higher water volumes than those that greeted us would be de rigueur. And although I managed to “salvage” the trip for myself, when we fished lower down in the river and well outside of Rivendell – back in normal time – I will time my return with the rains. But from a poetic stand-point, the river is its own reward. There are few prettier places in southern Ontario, truly.

Oh! I almost forgot: just past mid-day, as Mike and I lounged on the riverbank, enjoying lunch, we heard cracking in the woods behind us. An epithet reached our ears: someone was making jocular references to my hat. We turned and who should we chance to see, approaching through the woods? Two hobbits: my fellow blog authors from November Rains and A Screaming Comes Across the Sky – Merry and Pippin if you will. They sat with us for a while, and after a short conversation all four of us made our way back to our cars together. Strange... these hobbits didn't seem to like pipeweed.

When Mike dropped me off, back at the Highway 401 car-park, it felt like I was awakening from a dream; or is it that I was going back to sleep?


Saturday, November 28, 2009

In a Flash

I had one hour this morning in which to test out a hunch (which was also a tip) and hopefully catch a fish. And it was a near thing.

One thing about being short on time is that one has no real choice as to the destination. I knew that I had no more than an hour today, because I needed a) a haircut and b) to be home in time (9:00am) to head for Santa Claus's Bowmanville hideout to have pictures taken with the boys.

I met my curfew, but about 20 minutes late. I'll explain later. But I should tell you now that the Christmas activities of meeting up with Santa and shopping at the Pickering Town Centre are anything but normal, when your prime reason is a special needs child. Most of my hockey games require less stamina than this. We didn't get a single picture where both boys were looking at the camera or even looking semi decent. In all the pictures, either Samuel or Isaac or Santa is out of kilter. At the PTC, I was amazed at Isaac's tenacity and stamina. I spent more than half the time wrestling with him - either to keep him from ripping open every shoe box in the mall, or from running off into oblivion, in the middle of the bustling crowd, indeterminately toward wherever without any consideration of where the rest of us (Laura, Samuel and I) might be.

When we got home, Isaac woke up on cue. As usual, after a long outing, he fell asleep on the way home, and as usual he woke up as soon as we parked in the driveway. Samuel, after my own heart, had no idea and slept right through. Laura took Isaac into the house & I decided to stay in the van & nap with Samuel. Angelic son! Not only did he help corral his brother all day, but he slept like a log when we got home; I woke myself up snoring.

I thought, then, as I was waking up, that I should take my roe into the house to put it back in the fridge, and I should rinse off my waders with the hose. I should probably also upload the few pictures I took this morning to my photobucket account. This exercise also reminded me that I had been rather lucky this morning.

The water at "river X" was extremely low. I had had a description of a section of the river that had fished well a couple of days ago, and I immediately went in search of it in the morning. It should have been at least 6 feet deep, but I found no such depth anywhere in the lower section. The reason of course is that the extended drought that ended just a week ago, caused all rivers in this area to clear and drop much quicker than usual. "River X" was no exception, and I was astounded at how dismally low and clear it was, even following a 20 mm rain - less than 3 days ago. In fact, the river was lower than I've ever seen it, even in Summer and, at first, the geese were definitely more interesting (and more numerous) than the trout.

Under no circumstance would I have gone out to fish it, if I had known how low it would be. I would have stayed in bed and woken up whenever the boys did.

In any case, in spite of my quickly vanishing window of opportunity (having spent most of my hour gaging the water in the section to which I'd been directed) I fell back on my experience: steelhead, having ascended a river recently and now being faced with low water conditions will congregate where? In the deepest water available, that's where.

It took me about 7 drifts in the water described above, before I got a "tickle," that alerted me to the presence of fish; then I took one more drift, in a slightly better line, and the float shot down. This is the best part: the float didn't simply shoot down, it rocketed down. Hooking this fish was like scoring an empty net goal in hockey. No amount of inexperience would have sufficed to cause any angler to miss it. Conservatively, the white "René" jig was dragged down 10 inches when the fish struck. Within a tenth of a second, the float was nearly out of sight. One moment, it bobbed gleefully at the surface of the pool, then it was gone in a laser beam streak.

This all happened at about the time I should have been leaving the river, of course. A "good boy" might not have even gone fishing, but he surely would have been leaving at the time my float went down. So the roughly 9 lbs male steelhead was largely responsible for my fall from the status of "good boy." He fought long, despite having been in the river a while and not being as fresh as he once surely had been.

Nonetheless, my hair is now cleanly cut, and our family's day's activities are done.

And I have something to show for it, too.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Delerium Oncorhychus Mykiss Tremens

Gone is the innocence. The bliss of ignorance was long ago taken under the float of sublime realisation, so sweet, so brief.

Yet not so brief that to taste it again is not merely delectable, but divine. Godlike the fish, godlike the strike of the fish, like lightning from a blue sky, mead where I expected water, wine where I thought there would be only dust.

In the short space of the great battle I lose myself in the maelstrom of jeweled fishes' armour, foaming waters, fins flying like wings, like the feet that walk on the water wherein it dances, struggles, darts. Ersatz, panacea, Eulalie, Tinuviel! Tinuviel! I am myself and not myself. I watch myself even as I live through the combat, the tug of war against the shining, unpredictable, powerful silver thing that pushes throbbing pulsations
through my line, the graphite, the bone, to the heart, the mind in a resonating hum.

Then comes the realisation that this is all and that this is not all, it is everything you want and nothing - for you will want more, endlessly more.

I cannot sleep without a vision of the bright red slender sliver of balsa, waltzing on currents, over seams, over riffles, over slow deep pools filled with deep, portentious green water. And when consciousness glimmers in through the morning fog, as somnolence recedes, and before I turn on the light, I see it still in front of me in the morning gloom, the river, beckoning, flowing regardless of whether I am there or not; and an echo of a dream somewhere that says I fished all night.

Friends come and go in the storm, others like me who number among the afflicted, who have seen the passage to Kubla Khan and know not the way back, and who search as I search, even in waterless summer, for that time again, that first time, when the wild fish first took the bait, scythed line through water and splintered it into fragments of cobweb. Leaving only the thunder of a heart beating away its innocence with every breath, every thought of what was that? how big was it? where did it go? and will I ever see it again? and the wrenching knowledge that we will not.

Miles upon miles we travel, to find the trout. We will eschew sleep, good stout common sense, logic. We throw them overboard. Sobriety, duty, despair. We launch these from our minds and join the search for the pixie creatures that scintillate in waters far away.

Cold wind, rain, sleet, snow, ice and frigid waters are merely unheeded companions,
minor irritants, necessary evils encountered along the way. They are not serious obstacles, nor do they deter the seekers of gleaming Mykiss. Hills we climb and we brave the fast water, we ski on the mud, we trample wayward brambles underfoot; for at the end of the journey is the drug, the prescription, the heartsfill.

Help me! help me!

But no, I don't want your help. I am happy in my dependence, my addiction, I do not want you to take it from me.

Because it is not really a drug, but a deep connection to the quiet of the way things were,
the excitement of what they can be again and again, and the hope of another day - on the water, with friends, with sons or fathers, or alone. To see again the gleaming fish, before the end.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Losing Streak ( a Conceit)

Poor me. I feel like the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite a few mishaps, I had a pretty good pre-season, with some unexpected conquests and the introduction of some promising rookies. All of this lead me to think that I could hope; and then the start of the real season comes & I can't win for trying. And to top it off, I actually am a Leafs fan. The Horror!

As I write this, the Leafs are losing (again) 4 - 1 to the Colorado Rockies, on their way to what is sure to be their worst start in franchise history. One more loss, and they will be 0-6-1, which basically ties their worst season. Or is it 0-7-1? No matter: they will achieve it. ...OR, will they come back in the Third? Was that a winged pig I just saw out my window?

Actually, they're kind of making me feel better about myself. There's no way my season's been so bad this far. I've only had 2 games, really. And both times I at least hit a few posts, with my float going down and coming up with nothing at the other end. Minimum, there was
the tease of success, which I would have to say has not been apparent for the Leafs since the end of their first game. And whereas my "losses" have all been low scoring affairs, the Leafs have been donating unspeakable numbers of goals to their opponents.

My only real mishap, which was actually quite funny but caused me not to have any pictures, occurred during my first warm-up trip of the year to a large river on the north shore of lake Huron. There were three of us in the canoe. My dad, my friend Luc (who was turning 40 that day)and myself. We like to cross the river, to get a better spot from which to catch the pink salmon that congregate there. To our surprise, both sides of the river were fairly crowded. This must have had some effect on our collective judgement, since, moments after the first swirls of current enveloped the keel of the canoe, we tipped.

The water was really nice. Surprising, in view of the fact that a man had perished in that same river, a few days earlier. His motor had failed, causing his boat to get dragged into a nearby waterfall, with lethal results. Maybe Frenchmen float, because all three of us merely noted how nice the water was. Then, by necessity, we started laughing. We carefully worked our way to shore & did an inventory. Lost: 1 cigar. All electronic devices were soaked through and through. So were we. Otherwise, the fishing stuff was just as wet as the rest, but it was present.

We spent the rest of the day drying off and discovering that, during off-years, the run is smaller than during ON-years. We observed some wildlife sporting various gut-sizes and speedo-style underwear that used to be white but is now gray, and that this somehow must have a positive effect on one's success at snagging multiple fish. Perhaps the absence of clothing helps shave some of those vital nanoseconds from one's hook set? Anyway, that was the "low" point of my pre-season.

For the rest, I managed a few Chinook salmon in my local waters. I also brought my sons down to observe piscatorial movements at one of the nearby dams. It was neat to watch Isaac & Samuel as they gaped in amazement at the large creatures that milled about, mere feet from where we were sitting together. Are they going to come out and eat us? Are they bigger than dinosaurs? Isaac is not verbal, yet, but he was much more interested than I thought he'd be: just another of the pleasant surprises he's been serving us lately.

Afterwards, Laura and I decided to "divide and conquer - so Samuel got to have some "moi et papa" ("me and dad") time, fishing for salmon. We didn't catch any, although some of papa's roe bags were mashed up pretty fiercely. Both of us were rigged with a float, split shot and roe - it would've been great if he could have hooked one on his Diego rod! I would've had to hold on to him! But in the end Samuel got to see more fish moving around, wear some really cool fishing gear, and enjoy a well deserved nap on the way back home. I wish I could do that! There are times when a nap would be just the thing...

Anyway, where was I?

Right. The real season has more or less started. Steelhead are slowly making their way into our rivers. I've spent two half-days, one with frost, poking about here and there, watching others like me not catching anything, but eying with at least a small amount of envy the few lottery winners among us whose fate intervenes in the form of a pristine, silver steelhead. My own luck isn't too bad, as I've at least seen my float go down a few times. I don't know whether this action is always from big fish, but it does keep me on my toes!

The third period is on now... Gotta go!

Just kidding. I have some chores to do and, if they're not done by a certain time, there could be more articles of this nature: not so much about fish as about the lack thereof!


Monday, May 04, 2009

Opener 2009, Finale: The Gift

At the beginning and end of each trip, before I can even start talking about fishing, there has to be a partner who is willing and able to support my madness. There has to be someone who goes through the duress of life alone for a day, for two days, for three...; so that I can take that first step in the quiet waters, in the early morning, just as the sun breaches the rim of the world, and the birds loudly and musically pronounce the glorious first notes of the springtime.

This kind of love is not easy to come by. It is the kind that enables the one who is infused with it, to persevere through circumstances that are often difficult, sometimes exhausting; not only to allow her partner to experience one of his great joys, but moreover so that others may come to experience it for themselves and, in part, through him. Generosity incarnate is my wife, Laura.

Without her, there are not the fish, the fishing stories, the cigars smoked with friends or alone, the laughs, the beers, the early morning drives, the satisfying half hour at the end of the day when we amicably discuss our conquests, the victories we scored against the fish, the victories they scored against us - verily, if there was no Laura in my life then there would be no Steelhead, nor so many of the joys that attend the fishing of Steelhead.

One could think very wrongly that special needs might not have occurred if in some other dream, one had married another - but some things are fated. And I cannot think of a better fate than to share what Life has brought me with the beautiful person I have had the privilege and pure luck to marry.

Our first kiss was better than a float going down, better than a million floats going down; from our first conversation I knew that I had found the woman for me.

And now, when I come home, and I sit tiredly on the couch after a long day on the river, to have my two smiling, handsome 3 year-old sons sat on my lap, I feel the full blessedness of my life. It could not have happened any other way. I wouldn't want it to.

Thanks, luvy, for putting up with me. Thanks for being here to share it all with me.

Ich liebe dich :).


Saturday, May 02, 2009

Opener 2009, Part 3: Dan the Man

Fishing with my brother is always fun and interesting because I like eccentrics, and Dan definitely fits that bill in his own way. Although he is my brother, he always manages to surprise me with one or another of his behavioral gems.

For example, this year: never mind talking to the man, because he's listening to some UFC podcasts on his mp3 player, even while we fish. I cannot count the number of times I had to repeat myself when addressing some observation to him, or asking him a question. In normal circumstances, this would provoke impatience, but I was amused enough to find it funny. It gets funnier every day, in retrospect, even though I struggle to understand how one so overtly and vociferously enamoured of wilderness should substitute the river's chatter and sweet morning birdsong, for droning voices recorded in mono. Such is eccentricity!

Due to unforeseen circumstances, we didn't get to fish much together this year. Although the fact that we only got to spend one morning, plying low, clear waters for only a pair of steelhead, might contribute to my sense of humour regarding Dan's podcasts, I wish we'd had more time together. The day I had planned for us on one of our eastern Ontario tributaries held all kinds of promise, but a flu (in one of my sons) prevented it.

Besides the fact that Dan is my brother, and we both enjoy and appreciate eachother's company, discussion and tastes in beer, I also relish observing his innate ability to catch fish, in action. I've always considered this ability to be far stronger in my brother than in myself, and watching Dan make minute and naturally sensible adjustments to his presentation over a few minutes or hours has always been a subject of keen interest for me. He does this whether he has been fishing for days on end, or whether he last fished a year ago. He seems to have some kind of radar which is not species dependent, but applies to all of them, and which guides him in his choices and his approach. I sometimes wonder if he has an unconscious "telepiscopathy," if he can actually read their minds...

Last year, when the previous day's rain forced us to fish for trout in what basically looked like mud, he was the only one who caught anything. This year, after I'd spent the first hour and a half after sunrise, plying a stingy stream, he appeared late as usual and picked up a steelhead on his first drift. It was all very casual, although it probably surprised him, if not myself.

After so many years, I pretty much expect it!


Monday, April 27, 2009

Opener 2009, Part 2: The Khalidian Invasion

I struggled only briefly for the title of this section of my Opening day 2009 Saga. The heading picture basically says it all. The gleaming, drop-back steelhead could just as easily be a double-barreled shot-gun!

Sometimes, when things aren't going well and you can't figure out why the fish aren't hitting your line, you need to drop into your comfort zone. This is what Khalid did for this year's opener, and it paid big dividends.

Instead of bringing out the centrepin, which he is still getting used to, he brought out his trusty old spinning setup. He rigged it properly, picked good current seams and pockets, had the right presentation and offerings, and ultimately he had more success than I've personally seen him have. He caught fish every day that we fished together. And furthermore, on the Sunday, he caught the biggest fish no less!

But the defining moment for him probably came when he tied on a jig and berkley's split-fin jig body, adjusted it based on the hits he seemed to be getting but not hooking, and ultimately had the float go down under the urgings of a hungry steelhead. He was understandably proud of having figured out what the steelhead would go for and eagerly and happily insisted that I get a few pictures of the lure in the fish's mouth.

All in all, it was as pleasant as usual to fish with Khalid. He is always a convivial fishing partner, making cigar smoke-breaks fun as well as full of steelheading discussion. What they've taken, what we think they'll take, what they seem to be feeding on etc... are all items of discussion and planning for our post-break activities.

Khalid's camaraderie is definitely one of the things that make me wish we had more river-time to spend, but I suppose that that's part of the reason that it's so precious: it's fleeting. It's over so quickly that one sometimes wonders if it was all just a dream...