It's very early, it's dark and I'm still groggy. I dress up as quickly as my sluggish fingers allow, wash my hands, rinse my face, suck my contacts into my eyes, tip-toe downstairs and find the cell phone. I text,
Within seconds the cell phone chimes, new message.
Good. Disaster number one has been averted. Memories of the beginnings of our last two trips can now be erased. Twice Jean-Pierre and I have gone fishing together for the day, and twice I've woken up late, and twice I didn't deserve the patient friend waiting at the doorstep. I've scoured all the synonyms for "idiot," and I would say that on two occasions my favourite self-descriptor would be "muttonhead." I like that one.
But this time, the muttonhead is up on time. My things go into the car, I go through the list one last time - rods, reels, waders, boots, coat, cigars, brandy, beer, salami, cheese, grapes, roe, roe, more roe... I've got it all. I drive to JP's. He's waiting at the door, and five minutes later we slip smoothly out onto the road.
A few hours pass. Obviously, we're excited, so we talk a lot. Mostly our conversation is not fishing related. JP is a ravenous conversationalist and topics range from shot patterns to kids, to politics and sports. I eat it up, and before you know it, the drive is over and we are here. We park the car, and we're the first ones. Nice. A few minutes later, two retired gentlemen show up. We shoot the brown stuff while we all put on our waders and get set to go. I notice that I forgot to bring my famous red hat. The two retirees go up river, we go down.
Jean-Pierre starts fishing first. I have a technicality to take care of, shot not properly balanced, float too small, hook too dull; so I set up and within a few minutes I am ready to cast. Up it goes and down, swinging close to shore. It's deep here, I notice, as the float sails peacefully without the slightest hiccup. But there's bottom now, no. That's not bottom! I set the hook, two head-shakes, maybe three, and the fish is gone. Too bad I missed it but what a harbinger! It's gonna be a banner day!
There are still a few things I don't like about my rig, so I fix them, and I start fishing again. "Drifting, drifting, endlessly drifting." I look around. The water is like glass. There is as much wind as in a closed room, and even the lake is flat, like a giant window gazing down into the deep blue. Clouds move slowly across the sky as the sun rises, peeking now and then between them, casting ever brighter beams into the high, green, and gradually clearing water. There are all kinds of ducks everywhere. Buffleheads and mergansers cruise the edges of the current at the far side of the river. Every now and again, a few of them fly away and I see flashes of blue on the backs of the mergansers' wings. I keep on fishing.
Suddenly my float starts to shake. It looks like the offering below is skidding across a bed of gravel. But there's no gravel, there. So the rod swings back, and the hook sets into a heavy jaw. The fish is no slouch. The head-shakes are large and strong. It zags a bit across the current, comes up, then blisters down. I hold on. The new Rainshadow XST is performing as advertised - almost too well. It's easy to tell when the fish will turn, and that's what I make it do. It gradually comes closer, and I can see him. Big male, maybe 10lbs. Hard to tell, because the glimpse is brief. He turns again and this time he smokes me for more than 50 feet. I turn him up again, and now I can feel him ebbing. He comes back up against the current much easier this time. Finally, I swing him out and slightly further up, then quickly in and on shore. A few quick pictures and I opt to cradle him for a bit in the glacial water, enjoying the feel of life returning in him. At last, when my hands can't take the cold anymore, I let go and watch as he smoothly disappears into the flow.
My hook is bent and my leader is wrecked, so I sit down and take my time re-rigging. It's a fine, rare morning and I want to absorb as much of it as I can. The fish has already set much bad luck to rights, and I know that even though I should catch little or nothing the rest of the way, I will be content. And I know that such quiet mornings, as still as a baby's sleep, are equally fleeting.
One of the older gentlemen pops around the corner, and we talk a little bit more. He remarks that he has no taste for centrepin reels, preferring bottom bouncing and chucking lures. Could never get into those damn things & 'd rather feel the hit than watch one ' them goofy floats go down. Somehow, he manages to express this in a way that doesn't offend me in the least. To each his own, eh. He settles in lower down in the drift, then gradually works his way to the mouth.
An hour passes, maybe two, during which no fish are caught. But as the old fellow comes back up river, just as he crests a great big rock to look down on how we're doing, my float gives a savage spike. I set the hook and a rainbow trout comes up almost immediately. It shakes its head a lot, quick shakes, not big ones. It occurs to me that I've got it well positioned to just tow it in, before it can swim down to capitalise on the force of the current. I clamp on the reel and go for it, and just like that she's on shore. No release this time.
No eggs either. When we clean the fish later, we find not even the barest trace of an ovary. Strange. Must be a "croker," or at the very least a fall spawner. It yields beautiful, bright orange fillets that look better than the most expensive Sashimi. Half of it has a date with JP's freezer, the other half with my barbecue on Sunday. It's been a little more than a year since I kept a steelhead for the table, and I think that to keep one for that purpose, from time to time, far from being non-conservationist, rather does them homage.
And that's all there is to tell about our piscatorial success, sadly. On a freak accident, I missed another one which took my entire rig when I set the hook. I had probably scythed my line on a rock, after I caught the croker, and there had been just enough power left in the mainline to allow me to cast. Then, shortly before we left, Jean-Pierre had a wicked hit. He set the hook, had too much slack, reeled in frantically and set the hook again. The fish shook its head, bob, bob, bob, swing! and the hook was free. That in itself guarantees him a guided trip to one of my eastern Ontario favourites, come opener: the rivers are smaller here and the drift is much less technical. Nonetheless, he came about 6 feet of line and 1 second short of having the best piscatorial battle of his life, though he doesn't know that yet.
A couple of hours after lunch, we debate: where should we go? up river, down river? Then there's another text message on Jean-Pierre's cell phone,
Daddy, when are you coming home?
That's the end of it. The rods are packed in, and we change into our non-fishing clothing.
Exhaustion, stress, confusion even, these things lead us out onto the fishing zones. And we enjoy friendship there, focus on simple things - a float drifting down the river - hope of fish, and wonderment of nature. But love calls us back home. Love always calls us back.
And isn't that, finally, the point?