Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Fooling around with my template

So I'm fiddling around with my blog template. For a little while now, the Blogger service has been politely telling me that there's a new interface and new design options available, including how the blog looks. Mostly, I've ignored this because I've been more intent on contributing written content - and in fact finding time to do so.

Anyway, I've finally decided to make time to try the re-design, and so far so good.

I like the new design, but I've got a good base in xhtml, css and the like, so I can read the actual code - and since Blogger is so obliging, by offering access to the code, I will keep playing around with that until I have something more individualised. For example, the standard background pic was the same for everyone who uses this template. It was the first to go! 

Currently, the background is a pic from the Elk in December. 

Stay tuned!


Friday, December 02, 2011

The Tao of the Average Steelheader

In this strange sport that some of us call steelheading, given the passion it inspires, it is even stranger that there are days that make us want to quit.

I don’t know.

Maybe it’s because of the amazingly disparate possibilities that it can provide. You may be knee deep in chromers for five minutes or half an hour, but then find yourself empty handed for a whole day. And there is such an excitement in seeing the float go down, such exultation when it happens – and in the initial pull of the fish – that it sweetens the experience to have it take place over and over and over again. Conversely, it is dreadful to gaze feebly on the painfully wasted potential of a peaceful, buoyant float, a numbing pain that doubles and triples by the hour.

And it’s always after a few hours have passed, that thoughts of quitting start to surface. At first they’re not really all that serious. But with the addition of another few hours, maybe a bird’s nest and a blown rig or two, a stubbed toe and cold hands; then they start to get serious. Why am I doing this? What's the point? What the...?

Then like a giant wind-shield wiper dispelling the fog of doubt, there is a sudden strike - sometimes incredibly vicious - and we're as good as new. The fish jabs up in anger, splits the surface of the water in a white fury of foam, and the rod bends almost gleefully under the awesome pressure of a speeding chrome bullet. The heart fills with laughter and song. Out of all the doubt, the word "yes!" comes like a sudden ray of sunlight. Everything is alright with the world, as the fish struggles on. When it is landed, it is like the fulfillment of a prayer; if it gets off then somehow, when the Leafs were down 4-1 in the third period, they scored two quick goals and are now back into it, with 10 minutes left to go! The nerves re-engage and we are on the tips of our toes, eager for the next drift, the next shot at getting another serious hit - waiting breathlessly for the tying goal.

There is no better way to describe my morning, today, than this. With the promise of the previous day torn out by what seemed to me mostly dead water, I was unexpectedly delivered five minutes of glory this morning. And though I still lost the game, having to leave the waters for work, I know the tying goal hit the post; and that was enough.

There is a little lie here, of course, because I am being selfish in my description. This is the story teller's license: I get to tell it to you from my point of view, or - if you will - from my fisherman's point of view. And from that point of view, of course, yesterday was far less than what I had expected it to be, and this morning was a redemption; though only by the barest margin. The full story is quite different.

Enter Oliver and Richard, who meet me in the early morning at the designated spot. Richard, you may recall from my earlier posts, is my brother in-law (brewer supreme) who has fished steelhead with me many times (and by the way, who could ask for a better brother in-law than that? Here is a man who shares my passion for steelhead and brews some absolutely delicious beer - always from the best ingredients - of which full kegs often find their way to my fridge! Truly: a toast to my sister, for her impeccable taste in men, and in playmates for her brothers!). Oliver is a new friend, a real gentleman that I've met through this blog. Though he lives a little far from our eastern rivers, he gladly accepted my invitation to fish them with me on this day.

For these men, there is not a wasted minute to our day together. Maybe part of my lamentation was that I'd hoped to put them both onto more fish than I did; and yet they both equalled or surpassed my total - so maybe I can relax! Anyway, despite the rains that had promised throngs of hungry steelhead, we had the typical eastern Lake Ontario experience: early morning bite followed by mid-morning shut down. And yet, Oliver caught easily the biggest fish we saw all day, and Richard capped the day by catching the second biggest one almost right at sunset. Sandwiched in between was a fish of excellent proportions, which I fought for almost five minutes, before it pulled the hook.

At the end of the day, however, I receive such a collection of pictures of the Average Steelheader fishing, fighting fish and releasing fish that two things are driven home: first, we had a good (though not great) day; second, I'm usually the one taking all the pictures! Oliver had brought his DSLR, had taken shots and sent me such a great variety of pictures that I am truly grateful for the gift that they represent. Ha! Not that I cut such a striking figure, but one sometimes wonders "hey, what does it look like when I'M at the helm?" So, though you usually see pictures I took on this blog - or pictures taken with one of my cameras - this time, if you see a picture of me, it is courtesy of Oliver. Thanks again, Oliver!

Still, the entire day left me tired and somewhat weary of the sport. I'd have enjoyed the day just as much if we'd spent it at a bar, watching Hockey Day in Canada, as fishing. For me, the only saving grace for the day was the excellent company of my brother in-law and my new friend. So, hitting potentially barren water on my own this morning, before my late shift at work, did not really enthuse.

Thus, I woke up later than I would normally have, and assisted Laura with the kids, got them dressed, fed them, did some clearing of dishes from the machine and dropped Samuel off at school.

I then went to the nearest river and committed my first error. I mis-read the colour of the water from the road, deemed it too dirty, and decided to return to yesterday's destination, without stopping to have a proper look. It's an honest mistake, really, in view of the fact that it was raining at the time; I assumed that there'd been enough to raise all the rivers again. Unfortunately, I was wrong. So the culmination of mistake one was mistake two: opting to untangle a wicked birdsnest instead of just cutting it off and re-rigging.

But yesterday Oliver, who had brought some tricks of his own, had said something that stuck. He had said it casually, about a different way of tying roe that he was showing me; and now, on a morning when I had considered first my comfort zone and the easy decision to make, it wafted back into memory: "try something different." Try something different I did, and so on to my third mistake.

Mistake number three? You can't fault me for this one: having a job. Yes, the mundane things in life often outweigh our passions in importance. Though fishing brings me infinitely more joy than commuting back and forth to Toronto, the latter is far more important and in fact enables the former. If I didn't work, I couldn't even afford to go fishing. So there.

And the only reason my job is a mistake, today, is that my five minutes of vindication occurred 10 minutes before I had to purposely commit that mistake! Two hits in five minutes. One, unexpected and which I thought was a snag, produced the surfacing of what I guess must have been a 5 or 6 lb hen, which spit the hook instantly. You see? "Try something different." That was the 4-3 score. Still down one and with 10 minutes to go, I re-tied my hook and set to drifting the same spot; no go but there was better water just behind this, at the end of an arc, in the tail-out, just after that pack of brush - and the float literally whipped sideways when the Monster took the bait.

I've fished the Nottawasaga river and I know what "berserk psychotic" looks like at the end of your rod, when it's a steelhead and it's about 5 lbs; but this was "berserk psychotic"Check out the MO! chrome-bright and ultra-fresh 10lbs from lake Ontario. I can't even describe the first few seconds of this fight. But eventually the fish came crashing to my side of the river, turned and literally shot across; too quickly, because it found itself riding right up on the other shore, clear out of the water! In one motion, though, and still under the impetus of his flight he (by now I'd seen the kype) swirled mid-air and dove back into the froth. We fought for a bit, give and take, only a few feet beneath me in the pool and, being nowhere near spent, he dashed under the thicket. For a while, I applied the Michigan Dirty to him. I thrust my rod right down into the depths and used the water's force combined with the rod's flex Check out the MO!against him. He swept up. I pulled him down. But something was wrong. I was caught up in the bush.

Finally, all indication of motion ceased. The knot that held my tippet to my mainline had finally reached the last ounce of its strength, and it had given up. I pulled it out of the mess of branches, thankful for the behemoth manifestation of that awesome fish.

I vacillated for a few seconds, torn between the need to leave and the wish to re-rig and try one last drift... But I took apart the rod and stepped out of the stream, and I coolly walked away from what was probably the best water I've seen in weeks - big mistake, but needful mistake.

No regrets. And I look forward, now, to the next outing. "Quit"? What does that mean, anyway?

No idea!


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Adventures in a Dream

Several years ago, in his own way, Mike told me that if I was to take vacation time to fish for Steelhead, then it would be infinitely more intelligent to do so in the Fall rather than during the Spring trout opener. The argument ran like this: autumn fish are fresher and more energetic than beat-up drop-backs and fewer people fish for them in November than in May.

It took me years to apply this wisdom to my ways, and if anyone who reads this has also read prior episodes on this blog, then you will know that the catalyst for my metamorphosis came two Springs ago during that wicked drought. Unable to stomach the slaughter that I witnessed on gin-clear May-time rivers, I finally made the fateful choice to spend more time fishing at the opposite end of the calendar, and I put this into practice this November.

So it was that after many weeks of nervous anticipation, my Fall fishing vacation had arrived. In fact, I had almost re-booked it due to lack of rain - a familiar refrain - but in hindsight I'm glad I didn't. I needed a rest from work, to replenish my patience with certain things and ease out the stress. It was like programming, as if a subroutine was added where let "stress" = "force of the fish pulling on the line" and let "pressure" = "force exerted by angler on rod, in response to stress." I knew that to delay the time would not do anyone any good, and that a healthy dose of pure steelhead chromium was exactly what I needed. Not only that, but it rained on the my first day out - on November 9th - and it didn't rain for more than two weeks afterwards.

Being constrained hourly, whether by responsibility to family or to work, one forgets what it's like to spend whole days in the pursuit of one's favourite quarry. There is no time-watching, no nervous retying of hooks and leads in an attempt to shave off minutes in order to have time for one more cast. The feeling at the pit of the stomach, the helplessness before the inevitability of the early termination of a foray - successful or otherwise - does not take hold. Wading through this glut of time, one unexpectedly finds one's self not only at times wholly engrossed in the acute surveillance of one's float, but in the sounds of the water and of birds nearby, of the freshness of the air, of the feeling of the wind against one's face; the rigid focus of the daily militaristic routine and attention to pragmatic detail falls away like a doffed uniform. The little family bubble, the sole acceptable refuge of diurnal life from the mundane and the formulaic, is suddenly joined to this wide river filled with fish and every atom that fills it and surround it.

Isaac giggles in the splash of water as it spills over a boulder; Samuel plays everywhere around me in the wind; Laura gazes at me from the river's flow. Over and through the eye's focus on the bright cap of the float, as it glides over the surface of dark, inscrutable pools, images of these beloved faces appear, great smiles of childhood, clear eyes of most pristine innocence. Vanish suddenly; when the float scythes beneath the flow, and the rod swings up, and the pulse and pull of the fish begin.

Thus, many hours are spent as if in a dream; a passage through a collection of vibrant, moving photographs, where everything - or almost everything - that one loves moves and beats around me. What do I care that my legs are leaden, or that my arms are tired? In the activity of the prehistoric struggle for survival - taking fish - I have found a respite from the modern one, and I have separated myself from the oppressive, mitigated serfdom of the wage earner - transplanted on shores of light, a witness to the extraordinary bounty available to everyone, if only they try.

The first day is spent mostly in admiration, not only of those things that have brought such sweet meditation, but of the gift of piscatorial mastery with which the gods have blessed my friend. Mike catches fish under everyone's noses. He catches them every which way, with lures, under a float... While, mostly, I fish to empty water, and I feel like a novice who stepped onto the ice with a veteran from the NHL. His talent is that obvious.

Eventually, he hands me some of his roe and indicates the seam over which it should be swung out into the big river. Feeling sorry for me, doubtless because I haven't caught anything yet, he has stepped away from the best spot to stand, on one of the best pools on the river, and relinquished it to me. The float spikes down. I set the hook. Nothing. Well, not really nothing. When I reel in my rig and inspect the bait, I see that the bag has been shredded. I look up river to see if I have Mike's attention. When he looks, I sign: three fingers. "Three missed fish so far," and that in less than five minutes.

I get almost a dozen hits in this run, hook and miss a titan, and land two beautiful steelhead - and that's it for me on day one. To the pragmatist, intent only on catching, it is an irrevocable disaster. But, though I am disappointed with my luck, I feel only, at the end of the day, something that has been just out of reach lately, always seemingly close by but not quite within my grasp: peace. It was a good day, spent with a good friend (and superlative fisherman), on a good river.

And anyway, some days are a pre-payment for good things to come, and we should never lament them - especially when the price was easy to pay.

On day two, my passion for success is re-ignited, and I wake from an uneasy sleep - not feeling the slightest bit tired. I am fishing brand new water with Bill and Dave today, and my "get up and go" gets me up and gets me going.

We meet at the designated bridge, among the country side maze, which I studied several times before going. Dave is our guide, and he decides that we should start elsewhere. Back through the knot of roads we go. I follow them, finally to come to a stop on the side of a road, surrounded by tall pine and birch. Early morning birdsong wafts in as soon as I open the car door. We get dressed quickly, and my guides set off almost at a dead run.

And I am plunged into another surprise. Here is a thick wood, cloven by interwoven deer paths, growing on the steep sides of a valley - at the bottom of which the river gleams emerald lover's eyes to anyone seeking her copious gifts. Such as we three. And I am confronted by time; not yet the running out of it, but that I have had more of it in this world than my two companions for the day. They seem to skip effortlessly through the thickets and over the fallen great trunks of bygone Lords among maples and pines, oak and birch; while I trudge and struggle. Then I am no longer racing with them but rather strolling through the quiet woods. Distinctly, I think of my father. He would love this place. No other fishermen, other than we three, are within sight or hearing; here we enjoy the mellifluous combining of the peace of the beautiful forest and the chaos of the pristine fish, come from so far that their power seems nothing short of miraculous.

My count on this day is much better than that of the previous day, but don't ask me what it was. I don't remember, and I honestly don't really care. There were no extremely long stretches of inactivity, and while we fished together, there were only short intervals during which none of the three rods were active in some way. None of the fish were very big, and of the ones I landed only a couple of them grazed the lower reach of about 4lbs - but they might as well have been twice or thrice as large, for the battle that they gave. And, together with the deep green of the forest that surrounds them, they imparted a love of that place in me that I will never try to escape, but that I will now and then take the opportunity to requite.

Day three is like the slow return to reality, the waking from the blessedness of dreams. Everywhere, fishermen lined the shores of the little rivers close to home. I could not strike far afield on this day. There was business to look after, surrounding Isaac, in the morning and I couldn't - wouldn't - miss it. So I stayed close to home.

And yet, though the concrete shores of the first place I stopped didn't produce for me; the muddy confines of the second spot were surprisingly prolific. Somehow, a fresh run of fish had come in and, free to harass them until the day's end, I gave into the glee of catching them. I happily endured the other fishermen who shared the place with me, as we all had in success. Eventually, my two best fish came to me, after everyone else had left - two brutes in and around the 10 and 12 lbs range. The second one felt as though he might have already had a fight that day, but the first gave me a display of power that I will not soon forget.

At day's end, I walked down to the lake, and rinsed the mud from my boots by wading out into the clear out-flow. I calmly and happily got changed, once back at the car, and turned for home.

Just in time for dinner, and for the newest parade of photographs, of smiles and laughter, awake and living, love flowing over me as from the gentle flame dancing on the hearth.


Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Chrome-pilgrim's Progress

With two small children at home, one of whom has special needs, and a busy job in the City - with a daily commute of about 3 hours - there are not as many opportunities to chase after Steelhead as there used to be, for this tired "old man."

Often, it seems that I am losing my touch.

I go out for an hour or two, three if I can steal that much, and I try my luck. Sometimes I am successful, often I am not.

I map out my time and my attempts, though, not to cover places and conditions that I know; but to cover new conditions in nearby places. So I expect a measure of failure. With my ever shrinking timetable, I angle closer to home and therefore need to apply myself to learning the wheres and hows of those streams, how to glean from low, clear waters the quarry that I seek.

But this slowly turns me into a local, and memories of bigger, faster, meaner waters fade. More often than not, these days, my feet step off into the smaller trickles or motionless waters of eastern Lake Ontario tributaries. Even the Credit River, which is not that big but has a decent gradient, is on the other side of Toronto and therefore might as well be on the other side of the world. I can't even squeeze in the time to drive that far, let a lone fish. No: these days, I live and die by the 15 minute drive.

Every now and then, though, I get a chance to slough the mouse-like attention to schedule, the timid and fleeting outings on frisky local waters, and head for the larger streams further north. Rain comes, an invitation from Mike, and I throw myself a bone: "ok, count me in!"

And then, I measure myself. I measure myself against Mike and against my peers and against myself. I watch, I adapt, I learn. I know that this full day of fishing will not soon be repeated, so I apply what I've learned - focus. Focus on the conditions, on the river; look for the seams, feel around for the pockets; that snag may have been a boulder, cast 2 feet up from it, now 3, now 4 - fish on! The bright, brand new chrome fish fly out of the water and sprint downstream. I follow, filled with glee. Some get off, but only a few; nowadays, the focus of the father steelheader demands brand new, and therefore sharp, hooks, new line, and the patience to select opportunities to re-tie and re-rig properly. Presentation and preparedness are key.

On this past day, there is all kinds of water in the rivers, but not so many fish. Maybe we missed the big wave, or maybe it hasn't come. We amble from river to river, from lower stretches to upper stretches and pick a few fish off here and there. I am not without action anywhere, but the astronomical numbers that we had hoped to get into do not materialize. Patient as prospectors, we sift through the swift waters for the silver creatures we covet, knowing that there are some there but that we are required to work for them.

I do not equal my friend on this day, but I do better than most. Much of this is thanks to Mike, who is like a lightning rod; if there is any way that a fish can be caught, he will manage it - and one need only follow his lead to have a chance at success. Switch the focus to your tackle as it rides the current, feel for the bottom, be patient. And take the time to breathe; the other lesson of experience which draws attention to this most primal act, of capturing the pristine beautiful rainbow trout, far away from temporal, monetary, or other existential concerns.

The old cliché: it's not just about catching fish.

Charging the batteries, so to speak.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Of Half-days and Fullness

This past Wednesday was a day like so many others have been, recently. Time is of the essence. I get to a river by daybreak, fish for a few hours and leave. The forces that pull me from the flows are few, but they are powerful. Sons, a wife, employment, responsibility.

The worst thing about it is that, if I make the wrong choice, I don't have time to change course or leave one river and go to the next. I have to stick it out, eek what fish I can, or catch nothing. The best thing about it is that I am learning, more precisely than ever, how to pick the right place to go.

But even so, it may not always go so smoothly. I may be my worst enemy and wake up late; which I did this last Sunday, getting to the river after first light and finding two gentlemen already combing my favourite spot, under my favourite conditions, and basically in the place I love to catch them the most - right out in the lake - and they were catching ungodly numbers of steelhead while doing so. Fish where they were fishing, and you can do the same. Fish ten feet further out, and maybe you won't have any success. Still, experience says that if you don't throw your line in, you won't catch anything at all. I managed to score a small strip of palatable water on the fringe of where these two guys were working their piscatorial magic and, by dint of trial and patience, managed one lovely fish. The buck glistened like jewelry on the wet pebbles of the bank. Barely an hour later, when the time to leave had come, I turned my back on the river with only a wistful look over my shoulder at the two fishermen who were still fishing, but where things had slowed down somewhat...

Fast forward three days, to Wednesday (where this story began), and I am on a different river, with different conditions. I had expected dirty water, but find that the recent 20mm of rain only managed to stir up the slightest green tinge, and at least 2 feet of visibility present themselves to the eye. These are not great conditions, but they are good nonetheless. The wind is out of the North East, the sky is gray and dull, the waves on the lake are plentiful but not too big.

I start fishing.

In the first hour, I have some good success. I land a small hen, a slightly larger male and miss three fish. The male takes me much longer to land than his size would seem to belie. After a few leaps and a couple of zig-zagging runs, he points his nose to the bottom, finds the deepest water available and attempts to remain there as long as possible. Eventually, though, the pressure from the rod and line are too much and he comes meekly to shore. I snap a few quick shots and release him.

The next two hours are slower. I see a couple of fish caught by other fishermen, and things slow down overall. I move a little up river, a straggler behind the line of the other men, all sifting for the same reluctant silver. Things perk up a little. I miss another male fish, probably in the 6lb range: he pulls the hook just before I can get him to shore to take his picture. Shortly after - or before, I don't remember now - a small female of about 4lbs slaps my float down, comes up rolling and shaking her head, and escapes the hook. And things slow down again.

I look at my watch. Not a lot of time left. I have to go soon.

I look up river and down. There's a fair bit of pressure from other anglers. There are seven or eight of them, spaced neatly up river from where I am. The water is clearer than any of us probably expected, and as such the fish have likely responded to the pressure either by forging on upstream or holding a little further down. My positioning on the river gives me an advantage if the latter is true and, if it is, I have to switch things up a little and offer something slightly different. Maybe if I offer a larger roe bag than the others? Also, I've been using chartreuse and hot pink... maybe white? I decide to try it.

My strategy pays dividends almost immediately. Before my first drift gets past 10 feet, the float begins to bob a little. It looks like a sunfish has found the bag and is nibbling it. Sunfish nibbles mean one of two things: it is either a smaller fish, such as a goby or a smolt, attempting to engulf a gargantuan meal, or it is a larger adult steelhead (or salmon) cautiously mouthing the proffered bait. I wait a second or two. The float stops and I set the hook; whiffffffffffffffff! Air! Nothing.

I compose myself, making a slight adjustment to the placement of the roe, and try again. This time, the float has not travelled five feet before the nibbles recommence; then stop. My heart starts to beat enough to shorten my breath. A couple more feet and they start again. Pop, pop, pop. The float dances downriver for maybe a foot or two, then stops and surreptitiously, almost as with the most furtive touch of a mouse's tail, it goes down.


I set the hook. Nothing moves. It's a log? No, the log begins to stir, and shake its head. I put lots of pressure. The fish comes up a little, and the float crests above the water. But this fish has other ideas. He powers suddenly forward and the float zooms down under water. I am suddenly helpless, riding on the back of a bull. I can do nothing with this fish. For a moment, I fear that I've actually snagged it. It takes a run up river and I yell "coming up!" at which four or five of my compadres remove their lines from the water and watch my line careen upstream like the smoke trail of a race car. He goes up quite far before finally running out of steam.

Or so I thought; because his downriver course is suddenly far too swift. I find myself in a clumsy madness of reeling, trying desperately to keep some kind of tension on the line. Finally, he runs out of river almost at my feet and turns again. I put the "boots" to him as hard as I think my tippet will take, and I see his sides flash as he massively shakes his whole body, lighting up the deep green, in an attempt to throw me. I pull hard upriver and he responds by heading down. We're so close to the lake here, that I am risking him running for it. But I want to land him on cleaner gravel, not in the mud, and roughly 40 feet downriver is the only place that that can happen.

But he's getting tired now. He does make a run for it, but I stop him just as he reaches the deeper water off the gravel bank. My arms and my right shoulder, by now, are burning. I can only imagine how tired the fish is, putting all his might into his attempt to escape! I see his tail come up, and my heart wants to burst through my throat. The last time I caught a fish that big, my boys were one month old - now, they are almost 6 years old. Finally, I managed to heave the behemoth steelhead buck ashore, and I am tired but elated. The fight has lasted a little over ten minutes.

I give myself no more than 30 seconds, or so, to take as many pictures as possible; although in truth it's hard to tell when so much adrenalin is coursing through one's brain. He kicks before the photo op can start and gets some water and grit in the lens. I do the best I can with what I have, take five or six shots of both sides of the fish. On his left, he has a huge lamprey gash, and the vestiges of past attacks. I take one last snapshot, for posterity, straight along the length of the rod, so I can get an approximate measurement afterward.

From the silver line at the butt of my rod, to the furthest blue strip on the wrap above the hook holder is 26 inches. The butt itself measures 21. So, using this picture as an imperfect measure, the steelhead had a length of about 34 inches. The reel has a 5 inch diameter, so the thick-bodied fish also had a very good girth. His weight was probably close to 15lbs.

But while he's still lying on the river's edge, all I really care about is releasing him. I bend down, position his head in the current - marveling again at his size - and let the water freeze my hands for a few minutes. I give him ample time to revive. Such an adversary deserves no less. A fish like this is worth a full day of fishing, and then some. He has filled me with an elation that I seldom feel, but it has washed away so much weariness that his release is like the ending to a kind of ritual of renewal, the momentary return of the fresh newness of childhood.

When his muscles start to strain my grip on his tail, I waggle him a little side to side, then let go; just as he gives a mighty swoosh of his tail. He darts away, like a shadow and a memory.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer Synopsis

I did very little fishing this summer, as usual. Summer weekends tend to be for family and friends, and weekdays are for commuting - and when I did take a week off work, it was to make time for family and also to celebrate our wedding anniversary. But with Samuel and Isaac both progressing at their own paces, the whole of it has been filled with laughs and enough fun to make me forget about fishing...most days.

I managed to go fishing only three times, all summer. Here is a short synopsis of how all three events took place. I hope you enjoy the slide shows that I put together :).

Trip 1: All in the families
What has become a tradition between JP's and my families continued this year. For the past 3 years, we go camping trip together, and marshmallows, home-style breakfasts, campfires, swimming, laughing, playing etc... are all part of the show, but then so is fishing. This year, we did something really fun. We rented a pontoon boat. Although this is generally not a "fishing" boat per se, it is actually a great way to have the best of both worlds: swimmers on one side, fishers on the other. Throw in an on-board barbecue and coolers full of beverages, and you've got the recipe for a great all-round family experience!

Trip 2: Bass-tastic portage

What to do with five kids between the ages of 2 and 6? Why, portage through the trackless bush of course! Armies of deerflies and legions of mosquitoes, beware! And ye Largemouth and Smallmouth bass, run for ye lives! If you can believe it, this was one of the most fun trips I've had in years. It was also Sam's first chance to catch a really big fish, as opposed to sunfish and rockbass.

Three dads and 5 kid, and 30+ bass, 200+ deerflies and 500+mosquitoes. Recipe for disaster? or recipe for unforgettable fun? You decide!

Trip 3: Charterboat Fantasy

Finally, as the fall season approaches and before the full-boot onslaught of salmonids can take place on our local rivers, four of us decided to take them on out on Lake Ontario. For the first time, I booked a charter on our famous lake; and I/we were surprised to observe that this was indeed my very first time to actually go fishing out on the lake. All my previous experience has been from shore. Go figure.

I was surprised at the number of fish marked on the sonar. Some areas of the lake looked like veritable constellations of fish, when viewed on the tiny screen. Not surprisingly, we boated 16 fish and hooked into 21, over a span of about 5 1/2 hours. Coho, steelhead and chinook comprised our catch.

Also, if you take into account the speed at which these fish transition from 75+ feet of depth to the surface, the mortality rate is quite high. Distended air bladders were obvious on most of the fish, and there are very few successful releases, so far as I can tell. Easy creek-side catch-and-release seems almost impossible under these conditions, and the experience gave me a brand new perspective on the debates that often rage on fishing forums about proper methods of catch and release. I can tell you this: any fish hooked and released in a river has a much, much better chance of survival than the poor devils who get wrenched out of the depths of our lakes!

Still, the experience was rife with spectacular fish, sights and company. Fishing from a 24ft boat was certainly preferable to sitting on an aluminum seat all day long. And speaking to Guy Parenteau, our guide, brought me fresh insight on these fish as well as on our fishery.

As I write this, summer is ebbing, and chinook salmon as well as the odd brown trout are starting their ascent of our eastern Lake Ontario tributaries. With luck, I'll tangle with one of them tomorrow morning... stay tuned!


Saturday, May 21, 2011


It's been at least a month since the trout opener, and there are still fish in the river, but the 2011 spring steelhead season's done for me. Most of my little friends have made it back to the lake, or made it to someone's table, and less than a third are still in the rivers.

With summer's imminent approach and spring's undeniable presence, nature has made up in a couple of weeks what it would normally have taken more than a month to do. Plenty of rain followed by plenty of sunshine, followed again by plenty of rain, and full grown ferns grow where even fiddleheads couldn't be found just a few weeks ago. The grass in the back yard is like a savanna, and most trees have unfurled their verdure. If May 1st felt like mid April, May 21st feels like... well... May 21st. She has caught up with herself, and the fish alone are ample sign that this is true.

When I saw the river gauge, after the most recent rainy period, I knew instinctively that I needed to get my buttocks down to my favourite river pronto. Consciously, I thought that this was because I should expect a bonanza, the first big wave of the late spring steelhead exodus; but I think my bones knew otherwise. This was going to be my last chance for the spring, period.

There is a little bit of irony also in the fact that yesterday was the only full day of fishing that I got, throughout the entire opening season. Any other trip was over before 1:30pm, and some were over even before that. If I could have had a full day of fishing on May 1st... But then again, if I count the eggs in my basket, there is no reason to feel disappointment - unless it's the usual disappointment; that is, the current steelheading season is over and we have to wait for the next one. October is now so remote as to appear eternally distant.

Time to turn the Mind over to other things, the yard, the house, work, etc... I don't mention the ones that are always on that list: Laura, Isaac, Samuel. Ubiquitous as always.

All the fish I hooked or caught or saw, on this last day, were for the most part very well recovered, bright, silver and energetic. Acrobatics ruled the day and were welcome distractions from the otherwise monotonous routine of eeking out drifts in every nook and cranny. Free spinning casts, feeling the load on the rod at every cast, gauge the landing of the float, watch it and guide it as it follows the flow down; repeat. Repeat and repeat.

So, yes, when at the end of the day the float went down to a dubious rock, a loose hookset on which I felt a sinewy back-and-forth, and reeled in a bit; and set it right - to watch the bright male, the last fish I catch this season, crash up out of the clear flow; with the rod up high and backing away to get more leverage and more tension in the line - it must have been a sight even just watching little old me doing this microcosmic "River Runs through it" routine. Yes, it was the perfect ending.

It occurred to me as I made the leisurely drive home, over the local back-roads; I couldn't have scripted it any better if I'd tried.


Monday, May 02, 2011

Big Wild Great Lakes Steelhead

Let's start this one by saying that it almost didn't happen.

When the clock struck 5am, I was really tempted not to get up. I hit snooze a couple of times. The bed was warm, and I was tired enough: we have 5 year-old twins, still very young and very energetic. And on the previous evening, I'd found out that all my prospective partners for the day were either incapacitated, disqualified or otherwise occupied. Dan, Bill, Dave, JP, Khalid, Richard, Mike; no one was coming with me. How much easier then, to just turn off the alarm clock and go back to sleep...

But I owed it to myself to get out of bed, and I guess I owed it to Laura too. She almost stayed in Peterborough for the whole weekend, instead of coming home on Saturday night as previously agreed. One of her cousins had not been able to make it to the Friday night Royal Wedding Mulligan ladies' jamboree, and her arrival on Saturday evening almost spelled doom for any trip on Sunday. We had to be at my sister's on Sunday afternoon (so I only had a half day anyway) and I certainly wasn't going to deny Laura an extra day's rest: if she decided to stay longer, I was going to take my lumps like a man and go fishing some other time. But she had missed her little boys and, though she didn't say it, didn't really want to disappoint me. So she came back.

So she came back on Saturday night, and I got up on Sunday morning at 5:30am. I packed my things into the trunk, slipped off the driveway, swung out to Tim Horton's and sped down the highway. As I neared my destination, I caught a glimpse of the sun rising over a hill in a farmer's field. I stopped and took a few pictures. Except for birdsong, the world was quiet. What is the saying? "Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning." But it was going to be an entirely different kind of storm that I was going to get into.

It started with the first drift, in the same stretch of river that Dan, Bill and I had had to ourselves on Friday. The float went down, and in minutes I had my first fish of the day on the bank. It would be the only male of the day, and the only one to take roe. After that, things got a bit blurry. There was a good deal of see-sawing, as I went from pool to deep green pool, of fish on and fish off, fish landed and fish lost.

There were two very notable losses. First, a large hen that seemed like it had only recently arrived in the river. She leapt a few times right in front of me, then zipped down river, between two thick, tangled stumps. My line got messed up with one of the stumps and she pulled further down river. We fought like this for a while, and I saw her big tail come up - with not a mark on it - but eventually the tippet could no longer take the pressure, and she was gone. Magically, my rig came free from the stump and I was able to resume fishing without too much re-tying. Only a few moments later, my float went down for what I first thought might be a log but turned out to be one of the biggest steelhead I've ever seen! She seemed somewhat grizzled as she took to the air, and my heart stopped; and skipped a beat when she hit the water. Anyone walking by would've attributed the sound to a boulder or a heavy log falling into the water. It's hard to tell how big she really was, since emotions tend to magnify everything, but I'll never know now: the hook pulled, and I was left shaking a little in dismay and amazement. The fish, in the picture above, I landed a little later and, though it was around 7 or 8 pounds, it seemed tiny in comparison to the behemoth that got away.

Eventually, though, the lightening coloration of the river started to dawn on me, and by mid morning I thought I should try a different spot, lower on the river. It's one of my favourite stretches and I thought to myself that it could be holding more drop-back fish than the upper stretches and so, possibly, offer even more action. Either way, I'd had a brilliant morning so far and I was not concerned about not catching anything else, if that were to happen. Which it didn't.

Let's fast forward to about an hour later, and there is a madman sitting in the river. He looks up wistfully at the trees, and down again at the river, surveying the eddies in the current, the deep green of the water. His waders protect him from the cold flow, so he is impervious to the current that flows all around him. He pulls out a schtoggie and lights it, and he sits there a while longer. Sighing and going on about something big, to no one in particular. Of course, that was me and I was enjoying the moment.

Fifteen minutes before that, I had gotten myself into an unprecedented string of hits, of stolen worms and solid takes. I think that the two or three drifts that preceded that fateful take had all produced a fish and/or a fight. In any case, when the float went down for this latest one, the extreme power of the fish was immediately evident. In a split second, my line and rod went from being limp and loose, to nearly breaking. The pulsing in the line and rod was electric. The fish broke the surface and somersaulted two or three times, came at me, decided that that was a bad idea and shot downriver like a train. I could not keep up. The reel spun so fast that it knocked my knuckles and I could barely keep it pinced. She flew down past the end of the run, through a pool, over a shoal, down into another pool, under the branches of a fallen tree and finally pulled and tugged and battled with me in the deep, fast water behind this tree.

I thought for a long moment that she might be snagged, as I had so very little control over her. After I caught up to her, though, I could see by her zigs and zags that I well and truly had her in the mouth. But she was quite large, and I don't think that our small size 12 hooks hurt bigger fish as much as they do smaller ones. I hauled and pumped and pulled this way and that, and I was finally able to reach down and grab her. Victory! She was a gorgeous, thick-bodied, almost fully recovered post-spawn steelhead, and a classic example of a wild eastern Lake Ontario fish. Large head, big and slightly hooked tail, well rounded and thick; somewhere in the area of 14 to 16 lbs; many of these don't make it out of the clutch of their captors. But I took my time reviving her. My shoulder was still screaming at me from the strain of the fight; I can only imagine that it was ten times worse for the fish, and so care was needed in the release. I think I did a good job of it, because she eventually left me with a powerful stroke of her tail - swoosh - leaving no doubt as to fullness of her strength.

I did catch a few more after that - you can see some of them just above (whereas the big hen appears below)-, but I was only out for a half day. So I eventually folded up my rod and headed back to the car. By quarter to two, I was home, and now there's a fresh bouquet of tulips on the mantelpiece. It was the least I could do. Mornings like the one I had don't come often. Getting to enjoy them is a gift, and that sort of thing always deserves a thank you.