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!



p.-

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