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.

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