Sunday, November 21, 2010

Double Trouble

The best part about a good dose of November rain is that it brings in the fish. This goes for pretty much any river that is home to a run of Steelhead. The worst part about that very same dose of rain is that it causes a conundrum as to where one should go: suddenly, there are so many options!

Lucky for me, my dilemma was eliminated completely after a short, to-the-point conversation with Laura. A family engagement, on the evening of the chosen date, meant that faraway destinations like Lake Huron or Georgian Bay tributaries were out of the question. My only requirement for the day was that I remain close to home, so that I could make it back in time to honour my obligations.

This suited my partner for the day just fine. Khalid is still not hugely accustomed to the larger, northern tributaries, and he was quite happy to remain in his comfort zone. So, naturally, we chose to fish the eastern Lake Ontario tributaries which, so much of the time, are desperately in need of rain and resemble ditches rather than rivers or creeks. Close to 30mm of precipitation should change that, shouldn't it?

Not really, as it turns out.

It seems that we have not had a lot of rain this fall. All that last Tuesday's nearly monsoon-like downpour did was to replenish the local water table. All the rivers we fished were low and clearing. They almost looked as if there'd been no rain at all. The conditions appeared to be so bad that my reaction, upon beholding our initial destination, was almost to turn around and leave. Luckily, I didn't succumb to this pessimism. There was enough colour to the water to make it worthwhile, and by mid November there is typically no reason why fish would not be present at most of their landing pads, especially after a significant rainfall.

I've been fishing the eastern Lake Ontario tributaries for over 20 years, now, and I suppose that this has given me a good amount of familiarity with them. I've gotten to know their rhythm. If I stand on the banks of one tributary and observe the conditions under which it flows, I know what all the others are doing. And as I continue to learn, I've become aware of a loose timetable that these rivers keep and which basically allows me to pick fish off steadily, all day long. With my family responsibilities, in fact, it's becoming more and more tempting to eschew rivers farther afield, since they often represent a greater risk of being skunked!

Thursday was another nail in that coffin, so to speak.

Khalid and I did quite well. We visited three tributaries, both hooking well into the double digits, and landing a respectable total at the end of the day. As a matter of fact, my day started really well, right off the bat: I had a fish on within two or three drifts. But Khalid had me worried: at first, I wasn't sure that the Tim's "double double" I bought him had had any real effect. Every now and again, I heard his rod whip back, but I would look up only to see him shaking his head or shrugging at yet another missed opportunity. As we walked away from our first river of the day, we were both scratching our heads. Was he cursed?

For so many years, it had seemed that my good friend didn't really take the sport all that seriously. He was always just happy to be out fishing, and it didn't seem to matter much whether he caught one fish or five, or even none at all. But last Spring, that all began to change. He purchased an advanced steelhead rod blank and built his own rod; he turned to Simms for waders and wading boots; he picked up a fly vice and fly tying materials and started experimenting with his own jig and fly designs. And since then, he's been out fishing more often than I can remember, and he has steadily had more and more success.

So it was a mystery, as we approached our day's second destination, how it was that he had still not had even a solid battle yet. We set up on opposite sides of the river and started fishing. It wasn't long before my float went down, and I set the hook... on nothing; which caused the float to fly out and my line to get tangled up in some bushes behind me. As I wrestled with this situation, I looked up to see what Khalid was doing. I saw his float. It was there. Then, it was gone.

Fish on!

My buddy had found his groove. For the next hour or so, he was the only one to steadily catch fish. Again and again, the little red float would vanish beneath the surface of the water, and his rod would bend under the pressure of another strike. He outfished us all, during that stretch of time, and I could see by the look on his face that it felt good. It felt good for me, too.

His display of new-found ability didn't stop there. At our third destination, he did the same thing, again. He managed to locate a pod of migrating brown trout, hooking three and landing one. I think he's ready for the next stage; he doesn't have to feel uncomfortable with fishing the northern rivers. Fishing new waters demands that one be observant, and flexible enough to try something different in order to be successful. Khalid has now shown me that he can do that.

And the best part of it, in the end, is that not only do I have this good friend named Khalid - but he's a great fishing buddy to boot! To have this crazy passion, float fishing for Steelhead, in common is a tremendous gift. Not many people have walked as far from the path of "normalcy" as I have, always looking forward to the next opportunity to slip on my waders and head a-river; so it's nice to know that I have a great friend with whom to share this rare and finely measured insanity!

Welcome to the loonie bin, Khalid!


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tale of Two Rivers

What few people realize before they go fishing with Mike is that he is quite a natural story teller. Some people have the innate talent of spellbinding others, simply by the manner in which they present things to their listeners. They often don't even know they're doing it, or have even the slightest notion of the full effect that their stories have on other people.

Mike is one of these people.

And since I love a good story and tend to have a good memory where stories, movies, novels (etc) are concerned, part of my enjoyment of fishing with Mike is to hear all the good stories that come my way. This is a concept that has always been floating around in the back of my head and which I'm only now putting into words. In a way, I surprise myself by finally writing it all down; it's new and familiar all at once.

I became acutely conscious of it only today, when Mike marveled at how I could remember the "disappearing roe" episode. In fact, I remember much more than that, but the story of how the roe disappeared, and where it went to, is among my favourites.

It's quite simple, really.

One evening, before a fishing trip, Mike was tying up roe bags as usual. He likes to get comfortable when he does this, so not only did he have his roe laid out in a small container on the table, but he had crackers to munch on and presumably something to drink along with that. Before he started tying the roe up into the bags he needed, he decided to step out for a smoke - or he may have gone to the washroom. I don't remember.

In any case, when he returned, the roe had vanished. The container was still there, but it was empty. Minutes later, an acquaintance of his appeared and apologized for his rudeness. Mike asked why. Well, because the acquaintance had seen the caviar on the table, and the crackers, and... well... he hadn't been able to resist! Mike decided it was better not to tell this person that he'd actually been preparing those eggs for use as bait...

The flip-side of being a good storyteller is that you tend to use the same devices in your everyday speech as you do in your stories, especially if you're a subconscious storyteller like Mike. Grand vistas of opportunity will open before your eyes, as you speak to him over the phone before your next trip together. The number of chrome fish that you'll hook up with reaches wild proportions, and you feel your confidence soar as you listen to the fantastic creek conditions, how "stacked" the fish will be, and how epic or awesome it's all going to be.

The problem is of course that, for most of us, the end result is seldom as stellar as in the promising "trailer." This is not at all to say that there are not excellent days to be had fishing with Mike - because there are, and there have been (and will be) many. And this is no claim that any of these opportunities would ever have come to light if it hadn't been for that optimistic baritone at the other end of the line, describing all the great fishing that lies ahead. Rather, the point is merely this: the guy in the trailer is Mike, or some dude with the skills of a Mike, and there are very few of these dudes around on any given day. I've seldom seen him outfished, and I've never seen him get skunked.

Case (or rather "cases") in point: our last two trips together. Perhaps, as it pertains to me, the Steelhead Gods were unimpressed that I should have the opportunity to fish twice with Mike in any given steelhead season. So they withdrew success on the first one, and gave it on the second. I think, as I pulled a sizeable Georgian Bay "shaker" ashore, I heard some deity's giggles in the flow. But two weeks later, there was a choir singing as another Lake Ontario brute snapped my tippet or pulled a hook.

Oh but I've visited new waters that I would probably never have seen and hooked into fish that I otherwise would never have found if not for my guide. Yea though I caught nothing (or almost) on the first trip and hooked many but lost almost all of them on the second, I enjoyed myself immensely.

I enjoyed:
  • being outdoors all day
  • having my picture taken with fish, as opposed to the other way around
  • sharing hot capicolo and swiss cheese
  • being greeted with a cold "Blanche de Chambly" at the end of each trip
  • getting jibed about my "lack" of skill and the "poor" quality of my waders
  • wading chest deep into green rivers
  • the spring of my trusty "Frontier" as my spinning side casts gradually gain more "spin" and less "side"
  • getting into several long, serious and epic battles, in heavy flows, with primed, chromed and heavy fish
  • not having to drive
  • not having to push "send" or "delete" on 70 to 100 emails (140 to 200 if you count both days)
  • spending time with an old friend (seriously, the man is going quite gray...) :)
  • the many stories and recountings of recent and long passed events alike
However, overall, what I found most gratifying was not only all of the above, but the realization of the fact that, through it all, I've somehow managed to take my own place in the story. I too, "tuned," them in the tail-outs, or cast my presence on an uneventful day. I walked into the great Historia Mikus and added my 2 cents, or maybe 3, along with what I said and what I did, and what I recorded.

Indeed, this post is almost more suited to a diary than to a blog. It's a little navel-gazing exercise that, for once, I don't have to feel guilty about. The reasons are hidden in some of the events not recounted here, but that this entry will always serve to refresh in my memory. Good things, enriching things; the bright threads that serve to weave the roe bag - or spawn sac - tapestry that every angler creates, consciously or not, as he or she traverses this life of far too occasional fishing.