Monday, May 10, 2010

Opener 2010: Epiphany

Low and very clear riverAs I sit here, finally writing down my thoughts on this year's opener, I still waver. I still doubt myself, and I still don't know quite what to write. I think it’s because I have suffered, and because I have had an epiphany.

Is it moronic-ironic to say that I "suffered" an epiphany? And yet, this is what has happened.

It will take me more than a few sit downs to write this entry, I know. I am in no mood to shorten things, so you might as well go to the fridge, get yourself a beer Samuel Fishingthen pass by the pantry and pull out a bag of your favourite munchies, before you sit back down in front of your computer. Because, unless this space usually makes you want to expel the full content of your stomach (in which case you're not even reading this), you will have full leisure to attend to your chosen drink and snack, and then some.

First, I must take down the ridiculous "countdown to the 2010 opener" counter. Done!

Then, I must tell you about this Steelhead from a rifflespring, how much I looked forward to it, how much I finally disdained the fishing conditions it offered when it did arrive, and what in truth were the redeeming circumstances. I don't really know where to start. I'm so late in writing this, mostly through disgust, and yet there really is something to tell. I have to set my nose to the grindstone and finally get it done.

Artist at workAlright then: what kind of an idiot books a week of vacation to go fishing - during a drought? And who goes fishing with a full blown pneumonia? Granted, I didn't know it was pneumonia at the time, and I thought it was just a foreshadowing of old age that caused me to lose my steam half-way through opening day. But eventually, even in my Success with the new rodfeverish mental state, I concluded that pulmonary difficulties don't usually persist beyond a couple of weeks and a full set of strong antibiotics. It took a second prescription of even stronger stuff to finally cure me. Even now, as I write this, the lungs are clear and the sinuses have finally begun to follow suit.

But fishing during a drought? Never,A surprise, early smallmouth bass ever, in my entire life have I seen our rivers so low. I have seen all of them in the summer, and they were never so devoid of flow. It is the terrible proof of the drought that has hung over Southern Ontario since September 2009. Even as most people (and my lower back) have been thankful for an easy Winter, I know what it means when we get no snow.

It invariably means low, clear conditions, skittish fish that fear even the faintest hint of the appearance of a float over their heads, regardless of what is dangling beneath it. Worse, when the fish are visible, everyone sees them. And whether you Going Fishing!are like me, more apt to release them carefully… or not - you will see them, too. And if you are so inclined, you can kick them at your leisure, after you beached them with a hook down their throat. You can slit the males' bellies to look for eggs. You can keep them all. No wonder those that are left fear your float even more than the sight of you: if the appearance of the white corpses of their peers is not enough, then the rush-hour-like congestion of floats and bobbers overhead is a sure sign that danger is nearby.

There is little or no true float fishing skill involved in presenting to trout that are readily visible. The firstFun with friends part of the equation - locating fish - is already resolved for you. You hardly need to read the water to determine where the fish might be. And if you are crafty enough to be the first to arrive at a likely pool, just as the sun rises, you will not be denied. One or another of the sleepy fish will engulf even your clumsiest offering.

But to locate these fish in high water, when it is not clear, when pools are not obvious and fish cannot be seen... that is a real skill. I trumpet myself a little, of course, because I know that I Recovered, post-spawn steelheadpossess a reasonable measure of that skill. And I can also tell you that, under these conditions, fish are rarely spooked; so that, if you find them in any number, you will surely have a good day. Give me any eastern Lake Ontario river in spate, and I will guide you to the fish. Give it me in a drought..... and I will guide you to the nearest beer-stocked cooler. Why bother panic-stricken trout? If they could partake, I would share the refreshing contents of the cooler with them, rather than whatever I might attach beneath the float!

And yet, and yet... Many trips are defined not only by the fish you catch, but by the quality of the company you keep.Springtime in the forest In fact, when the fishing goes south, your friends will more often than not salvage the whole affair for you. Their presence, and the fun you share, makes the whole experience worthwhile. And as such, what an opener it was! I walked more than I fished, and I got to share it with some excellent company.

Thanks to René, Dan, Jean-Pierre, Samuel, Marie-Eve and Khalid, I had a pleasant Locked in combatopener. Despite some surprisingly crowded conditions, rivers in an agony of hypohydrosis (no water) and a season at least 2 weeks early, we had fun. While it is certain that I thoroughly enjoy "double digit" days, it is equally true that days spent fishing with friends are never really fruitless.

I suppose that I've come to a cross-roads in life and in fishing life. I've long Victory! A post-spawn steelhead on her maiden voyagebeen in the habit of putting off the pursuit of angling perfection, for an extra hour or two in the company of my wife and of my sons. But this has solidified, now. Why go at all? If the gods do not deduct from the allotment of a man's life hours spent fishing, then surely they treat the joy of the fleeting years of the infancy of his children with the same indulgence. It is easy to forego a slow day of fishing alone, for hours spent bathing in the happiness of a hearth rich in the laughter of children and the love of an inimitable wife.

I've turned myself inside out. I don't want to go fishing in the heat anymore. I will wait for the autumn, and for whatever rain the steelhead gods are so kind as to Idylllet fall within the compass of my leisure time. Returning health has fueled my optimism that, yes, every drought has its end; and it has helped me understand that one should harvest always what is most in plenty and readiest to be plucked. During a drought, and with two funny, cheerful, adorable four year-olds, and with a wife who is still young and beautiful, I can readily discern the complete futility of chasing the shadow of past piscatorial successes. Carpe diem.

So I've just come in, now, from a warm May evening, that feels more like late July, Fronds in sunlightand I have smoked the first cigar since I don't know when - a gorgeous No.4 Partagas, and probably the best I've had in a long, long time. I don't snarl so much at the drought - which I can't control - but rather am inclined to sit in wonderment, enjoying the experience, and ready to wait and see when this dry spell will end, and what will come round the next bend...

Early in bloom