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.
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!