Sunday, November 25, 2012

Of Chrome and Other Things

The oddest thing about steelheading - and this can be said about almost any discipline in which a fairly high degree of expertise can be achieved - is that we sometimes forget the basic principles. 

Despite all our best laid plans, we proceed with all confidence into - well.... - a situation that is somewhat less than we expected.

If I start at the steak dinner in Southampton, which was to be got only a short walk from the Maples cottages ( you might not have any idea. You would not know that it took me at least a week to heal the frostbite from the blackened web skin between my baby finger and my major; you might not know that though we got fish, it was hard work; and you might not know - though you may suspect - that it was all worth it.

In my life, there is no such thing as a free pass. With a special needs child at home, it is exceedingly rare for me to experience what I got to experience - a day up north, toasting pleasantly overnight in a cottage that may as well have been my grandmother's, with no care other than to make sure that I had enough roe tied for the next day. 

If you think of autistic kids through their documented inability to recognize facial expressions - or of Downes syndrom kids who tend (not always, but in general) to be warm towards other people - you would aim off the mark. In our case, our loveable Fragile X child is neither; in his case extreme anxiety forms all his behaviour, and it is almost impossible for the lay person to imagine what it's like to raise a child like this - who is always on edge, always a danger to himself and always prone to behaviour that is socially either difficult or impossible to fully accept. But he has no choice. He sees everything at once; so your face, though he instinctively recognizes its significance, may convey joy he has no idea how it pertains to him - and he sees every other face in the room, and all of them with the same unbridled intensity. Think of it this way - there are 1000 mosquitoes around your head and there's no deet; ever. How easy would it be for you, then, to answer even the simplest question!

Believe this. This summer alone, we have saved him three times from being crushed by moving vehicles. Look away for two seconds, then turn and... STOP! STOP! - and by some merciful will, the car or truck stops, and Isaac walks lackadaisically off the road and back onto the sidewalk; then swats us for having upset him so much by screaming - to basically save him!

So what a miracle it is, isn't it?, to be on a river - on one of the greatest in Ontario - and indeed possibly in all of Canada - the mighty Saugeen; and on a two day pass, to fish it not only for one day but to stay overnight and fish it the next? And not only to be here, but to share it with a good and constant and faithful friend like Khalid! 

We've been fundraising for Isaac recently, and the fundraiser is nearing its end - and yet one of our most active and successful advocates is my good friend, Khalid. He indefatigably pursues all comers, showing off the advertisement that I concocted several weeks ago, to fund the visit we've already had from one of the foremost authorities on Fragile X in the world - Doctor Elizabeth Berry-Kravis, from Rush University in Chicago.

But there we were, Khalid an I, feasting on steak, in Southampton after a full day of fishing the Saugeen. I was taunted with not being a "true" francophone because I'd never asked for dijon with my NY Strip and, having tried it, figured out why. It's quite delicious - especially if you like your steak anywhere close to rare. 

The river had been stingy, not just with us but with most of the people we saw; float, fly and lure fishermen alike. I was graced with four fish landed, and saw noboby all day land as many - not that it wasn't done, but when this river is ON the most successful fishermen are usuallyl easy to spot. Mike, for example, often seems to be constantly fighting the same fish, purely because his tally may be well above 20 fish for the day. 

And this is where that little bit about forgetting the basics comes into play. I don't know how many times I've read in Ontario Out of Doors or been told by Mike or Wallacio that any severe drop in temperature will also hamper the bite; and yet, Khalid and I ventured north quite confidently and knowingly (and forgetfully) into the teeth of such a frosty snap. Rain overnight, turning to snow, turning to run-off from said snow, probably cooled the river by more than two degrees; which in turn switched off the bite. And though we saw several rises here and there, the coloration of the water further exacerbated our hardships.

So in retrospect we did fairly well, though our total tally for the two days probably looked more like a single morning - in prime conditions - on one of my local tributaries, for just one of us. 

We eeked it out. We battled with the river and pried its jaws open, as if it were a giant clam. We walked it up and down, tossing roe into it, slipping beads and tandem beads, ripping spoons and spinners over its boulders, searching out every nook and cranny that we knew how to inspect. The exercise, for me, exceeded patience but became one of faith... I know that, on the right day and with the right conditions, I have finally learned enough and seen enough, that I would easily have exceeded my mark. So, like my typically developing (or a-typically, as he does well both in academics and sports, the alter-ego to his brother) son, if I only persevere I will almost certainly succeed some day.

But only numerically.

Because the mark of "success" is not merely numeric, but qualitative. This is why even the most exceedingly expert anglers always invite someone to come with them. True anglers know that solitude is not mere loneliness, or being alone; but it can be shared. In fact, the best moments of solitude are those that are shared with only the people whom you appreciate most, and in whom you have more than a faint glimmer of hope, that they will understand.

Need I say more? Perhaps... and who to thank? Haven't I now said it all!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chromium Verum

Of Great Lakes steelhead, it cannot be denied that True Chrome is found at its most resplendent in the Fall. 

But if one month owns this most truly, though often more in quality than in quantity, it is October. One October steelhead, freshly over the lip of the river mouth and with room to run, is worth two in November and three or four in December. 

An October steelhead has not yet begun to feel the freeze of the approach of winter. It lives in its chosen temperature; it is livelier than a November fish and has taken on none of the half-somnambulant sluggishness of its December alter-ego. It's like a stick of dynamite, awaiting the first spark to explode from the water in a literal storm of white shrapnel. 

In the flesh, the October steelhead scoffs at the King salmon. Every pound of it is worth double. I would wager that the poundthrust of one of these Mykiss would equal that of a fresh Chinook in early September, though that King were twice its size. In fact, in my case, roughly 120 yards of 12lb nanofil says it is more than that. 

In battle, it is unpredictable and exhilarating. The only certainty is that the fish will shake its head wildly upon hook-set. Thereafter, if the fish will leap immediately, run, zig-zag, speed and boil, charge the angler, or execute a combination of some or all of these - it is useless to foretell. 

If, as in my favourite saying, it is true that "the gods do not deduct from a man's allotment those hours spent fishing," then perhaps it is equally true that through the gift of a battle with one of these piscatorial masterpieces, the gods have found a way to restore whole hours to the ledger. 

There are only Three Commandments: 
  1. Savour thy encounter with this beguiling and powerful athlete!
  2. Adjust quickly (lest thy hook through slack line betray thee)!
  3. Hold on!
And the fourth, perhaps in these later times: "Treat them with mercy." Let them go! Let them swim! Release each one gently; and if you do not release one, then be humane and let it not suffer overlong.

I admit some level of frivolity in this regard, if I am judged through the eyes of a hunter, since I have great difficulty bringing myself to ending the life-cycle trajectory of one of these torpedoes. I will only kill if it is necessary, otherwise I wish only to share the wonderful and precious creature that I was given the honour of subduing through rod and line.

And once the fish is released, and you have watched it swim away; and if you are lucky enough to be fishing near a Great Lake, take a moment to listen to the waves, and to the flutter that can still be heard in the wind from the flaming leaves that still cling to the branches of nearby trees - a music that will be altogether absent from later trips in the fall. Breathe in the cool, clean air presaging frost but still warm with the fragrant musk of expiring foliage. Cast your senses outward, like cramped limbs luxuriating in a much needed stretch. Later, you will find that you have stitched these minutes into the hours that you have regained.

Although presently, the float lances down again below the surface and the laughter of battle resurfaces somewhere on your soul, as you have again been reconnected to the deep pulse of antediluvian instinct; which resonates at the cellular level, defying description. And if it could speak, it would say:

"Just enjoy it!" 

It's time to listen to it! Get out there quickly, because the True Chrome - Chromium Verum - will soon begin to wane and tarnish. While it's still here: enjoy it!


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

So it Begins...

Summer, though it's only just starting to feel like it, is coming to an end, but one might have problems convincing the Chinook salmon of this. A couple of cold nights in early August seem to have been enough to call them up from the deeps, into the little hot-tub creeks of our little stretch of the eastern shore of Lake Ontario. But this was followed by only very few nights with temperatures less than 18 degrees Celsius, and many days exceeding 30C.

The salmon did not fare well. I fished a local tributary, just as a veritable monsoon rolled in, causing the river to swell up and vomit its ghastly flotsam of white, stinking, bloated salmon corpses. Most of them showed no signs of having spawned or even having fought with an angler. They were mostly casualties of the ungodly heat that has descended over our area since early May, and which seriously ramped up in the weeks after the first cool nights of August. Still, good numbers of them are in our rivers, now, and they provide an opportunity for all kinds of different anglers to catch something big.

For myself, after a couple of eventless outings... Well, not entirely "eventless." On Labour Day, I was fortunate to be able to spend the morning on one of my favourite rivermouths and - though the fishing was quite slow - I managed to hook into one fish. I was toting the thickset 3-piece XST, strung up with 12lb nanofil; and the force in this blank, in concert with the bony mouth of the salmon which took my offering, equated a flat tip on a hook that appears to have been far too soft. It pulled out quickly, and I had no more takes after that.

Later, while attempting to cross a deeper section, I slipped and fell and took a refreshing bath. Only last night, I found out that the only thing I lost was among the most precious: the cigar cutter that Ed gave me so long ago, for being the M.C. at his wedding. I still have hope that I somehow forgot where I put it, after pulling it from my sodden waders, but a couple of hours of scouring the car and the house have so far failed to reveal its whereabouts. Most likely, it's with the ashes: at the bottom of our little river.

Anyway, on the morning of the 6th, I had no real plans to fish - except that Oliver and his friend, Kevin, were going to pass through, and I couldn't resist the temptation to wet a line with them even if only for an hour before heading into work. Oliver was very keen, as he's mostly fished for Steelhead and had never really targeted Salmon.

Oliver's morning started a little slowly. Although he had a couple of hookups, he didn't manage anything solid. He tried a few different things, but none of them succeeded to ignite the fish. I managed to land one myself and, having to leave almost as soon as I released the fish, I discussed rigging and presentation with Oliver while he walked me back to my car. As I left, I could see the positive energy in his step: so long as the fish kept coming - and they were coming in droves - I felt that he would have a good day.

So then, my day descended into the doldrums that are so ubiquitously imposed on adult life, through the daily processing of the routine of basic subsistence: to eat, you must work. And while I worked, Oliver was also working; his biceps mostly. 

Back at the river, he had adjusted his rig and was hammering fish in earnest. He and his buddy cleared a swath in the river, fighting fish up river, down river and across. When I was in a meeting discussing the administration and implementation of measures toward mitigation of impact on shareholders of various cost saving initiatives - Oliver and Co. were wrestling large, swarthy, brawny Chinooks onto the riverside, hauling them up for pictures.

Between them, their conquests exceeded forty fish, by day's end - and somehow fresh skein found its way to my doorstep - imagine that!

I would be way more jealous if I didn't know how much fun was had, and I didn't receive almost too much thanks for it - I'm not the "Rain God," Oliver... you are!


Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Opener 2012

One of the nicest things I've had the pleasure to hear, in the past month, was "I don't want to look at the fish. I want to catch the fish." This statement was issued by my 6 year old son, Samuel, when I offered to take him and his brother for a walk, pre-opener, to take a look at spawning steelhead in a nearby creek. My reason for taking him on this sight-seeing tour was to whet his appetite for the coming opener, but it seems that it was entirely unnecessary: the little man is already wired for sound.

We saw many fish on our little walk. But all of them had apparently finished spawning and were merely holding - this, almost 4 weeks before the opener. Although it was comforting to see good numbers, it reinforced my pessimistic outlook for the 28th of April. And I held out little hope that the two days of vacation that I took would turn out quite as well as the ones I had taken last year...

Day 1 - Opening Day, 2012

As unthinkable as it seems, Laura had an engagement on the morning of the opener that out-ranked fishing. Why people would schedule "important" things on such crucial days as the trout opener is beyond me. But this year, that was ok, because our fishing partners for the day - Coach Steve and his son Simon - were not going to be available until around 11am anyway. This was also fine because it meant that I could sleep in until 7am at least - a relative luxury when you have young twins.

So, of course, when the time finally came, it was more about learning about float fishing than actually float fishing. Steve sat comfortably on his porch as he patiently worked his way through my rig-tying instructions, putting the float at the right spot, spacing the shot, tying on swivels, tying on hooks. Sam and Simon were chomping at the bit, asking questions and running around the bushes, while we made them wait. Finally, it was time to go and we made the long walk down to the river.

We had a small pool specifically picked out and, once there, instructions on how to cast and drift a float began in earnest. The boys, still coddled at school and unused to the slimy things of Earth, didn't offer to stick hooks into anything squiggly or gooey, preferring to leave that to the dads; although they did look on with fascination whenever we were called upon to refurnish bare hooks. 

Children are impatient and discourage easily, so we heard a lot of "I'm not good at this," or "I'm not a very good fisherman." It will probably take many years before the adult explanation of "it takes time," begins to make sense to them. When fish don't bite on the first drift, or a tangle happens on the second drift, or someone forgets to open their bail trip etc... to little guys who are not used to exercising patient activity toward a specific, though attainable, goal - the immediate reason is lack of talent; but in fishing lack of skill means only lack of experience, not talent. 

Nevertheless, one steelhead did make a serious grab at Sam's line. I hooked it for him and was giving him his rod back, when the hook came loose and fish swam away. It was a fortunate hookup, though it was too bad that we didn't get to land that one. 

When Steve and Simon had to leave, Sam and I forged on for a while. But cool weather, a tired little boy and lack of opportunities accessible to a 6 year old all took their toll, and we gave up and headed home. Sam still wants to get back out there - so quitting early on the opener did what I hoped it would, sparing his eagerness for the sport and keeping him more willing to go once again.

Day 2 - Sunday, April 29th

Day 2 of this year's opener for me was to be a longer day out, although still with a definite "home" time - on which I would easily over-achieve. I was really looking forward to it, as I was going to be spending it with my good friend, Khalid.

The morning dawned bright and clear, if somewhat chilly. One thing I had yet to experience on any opening day I've fished (south of Algonquin Park) is ice in my guides. Yet, there it was, necessitating that I shake the rod tip in the water every now and then, almost til 10am. 

The fishing was slow. And, as the sun rose and began cascading light into the water, two things became terribly clear - the water was too clear and it was also abysmally low. As the day wore on, this situation did not get any better. We walked miles of river to find far too few fish, although it did afford us an opportunity to see a lot of river-bottom; which is knowledge that we will be able to use later, when we return and the water is at healthier levels. We saw many dips and grooves that are prime candidates to hold fish when the river is running higher. This is what caused me to cut the day short, in the end. We'd had a good day walking the river, but when the fishing's this slow one might as well go home early and over-exceed on one's wife's expectations...

Thanks to Khalid, however, we did manage to get into a short flurry of steelhead glory early on in the day. At one point, as I decided to ply pocket water and deeper drifts for a lucky fish, my friend forged ahead in search of faster and hopefully more productive water. He was gone a while before my cell phone chimed with a text message from Khalid - "1 for 2." In a flash, I left my spot and almost jogged up river to meet him. Seeing him on one side of the river, as well as a few other fishermen holding the prime spots, I crossed over and selected a likely riffle. I shortened my lead a little and started drifting my float into the seams of the riffle.

I was rewarded almost immediately, with a bright, chrome, well-recovered drop-back steelhead. She leapt out of the foam with such electric fervor that, for a moment, she seemed much bigger than she was. When I finally landed her, I took a few pics - not great ones, as the situation didn't allow - and released her gently. 

I would catch another, smaller fish - at a spot that we both now call the "Khalid Pool" - but I released it without pictures. 

Day 3 - Monday April 30th

To be quite honest, over the few weeks that preceded the opener, I had had many internal debates as to when I should take my days off, and where I should go. It must have been confusing for Khalid, who shared my dilemma, listening to me as I externalised my thoughts. Right up until we parted company on Sunday afternoon, I was almost sure that I was going to re-plan my Tuesday vacation day and move it to Friday. I was ready to do it, in fact, except for a small detail.

Oliver, who had expressed a desire to fish with me again, came through on an email with the message that Tuesday was the only day he could come, and that he wanted to fish some of my local waters with me for the first time. So, looking at the weather forecast for Monday, I saw the writing on the wall: 1mm of rain predicted for the area meant that we were going to be stuck with low, clear conditions and spooked fish. 

So, somewhat demoralized despite the prospect of getting to re-acquaint myself with my new friend, I declared to Laura that I would leave the river shortly after noon on Monday. I saw no purpose in spending an entire day tapping spooky fish in gin clear waters, other than to reconnoiter for stretches with fewer fishermen and better cover. For what I had in mind, it would take less than half the morning and a good walk.

What Monday did offer, though, was a stretch of river where I felt reasonably confident that I could finally try some beads. So while I looked for new waters to share with Oliver on Tuesday, I worked a long stretch of river with nothing other than a bead. 

As expected, the day's harvest was not considerable - unless you measure sighted fish. I saw plenty of frightened, hesitating and or panicking fish on Monday. I did manage to catch a few as well. Two fish stick out. The first, because it was my first on a bead, took the offering in a slight eddy where the activity at the business end of my float rig was not readily apparent in the movement of the float. The fish must've hit while the float was stationary and it must've been convinced enough of the authenticity of the bead to keep it in its mouth for more that a few seconds; because when the current re-engaged the float, the down-river pressure caused the fish to shoot forward, resulting in what seemed for all the world to be a vicious strike!

It didn't take overly long to land the fish, but it delivered exactly what I would expect from a well recovered drop-back steelhead: plenty of air time, lots of unpredictable zigs and zags, and more than a few desperate runs.

The next fish, and subsequently my last of the day, hit just before noon. This one was quite a bit bigger, and much better recovered from its spawning voyage. He was this year's "unmanageable" fish, for me. Once he got it into his head that he was headed down river, I could not stop him. I tried, but he was very strong and used the available white water to his utmost advantage. 

The hookup on this fish was similar to the last one, where nothing seemed to happen to the float immediately - when it suddenly shot down with exaggerated velocity. The fish immediately jumped, zigged, zagged, held in the current, swept himself up under a boulder; then when that failed to throw me, up with a few more jumps - at least 5 in total to that point - he then suddenly turned tail and sped down river. I had to jump in, dangerously close to heavy current, to keep him from snapping me off on an intervening river bank!

I kept up with him as best I could. A couple of times, I managed to turn him, but he would still find a way to get the better of me, swing himself into a plume and then deliver a powerful burst that would propel him downstream. 

At last, the hook held; and his strength finally gave out. I got him to shore to take a good look. He wasn't overly huge, maybe 8lbs at the most, but he was a marvelous sprinter. I kept him in the water for pictures and unhooking, and I took a long, long time to revive him. When I felt that his strength had recovered enough, I let him go.

Then on my way home, on the windshield, something almost unexpected. Rain drops.

Day 4 - Tuesday May 1st

At first, it was a fitfull rainfall. It was on a bit, off a bit, not really doing much but rinsing some of the dust on my windshield. But as Monday evening came on, and then Monday night, the precipitation became heavier and steadier. Ultimately, it seems that our meteorological diviners had erred and, instead of dooming us to gin clear conditions on Tuesday, Mother Nature was wrapping Oliver and I a gift.

We met at the designated spot before sunrise, shook hands and started getting dressed to go. Shortly, we were fording the river; blindly, because you couldn't see the bottom. The rain had stopped a few hours earlier but, still, if I didn't know the river as well as I do, then we would never have attempted to cross in those conditions - high and with visibility less than 8 inches. The graph would later reveal that the water was actually still rising.

I don't recall, now, if it was on the first drift; but it can't be, because I still had a bead on from the previous day and, out of laziness, I tried it. It got no love. And after a dozen drifts, I slipped it off and tied on some bait. After that, the day began to unfold. Oliver followed my lead. Floats went down, rigs were adjusted and re-adjusted; bright silver bodies blazed through the air and, wherever they surfaced, turned the entire width of the river into a boiling cauldron. There were more than a few double-headers between Oliver and I, and enough activity that, at one point I sat down just to rest. 

For many years now, I've fished the opener in either poor conditions or with less than a full day (or both). But on this day, the stars had aligned. The conditions were spectacular, and I had free rein from Laura to fill the entire day. So any given flurry of activity, where it seems every drift produces a reaction, was never in danger of being interrupted untimely; and at the end of each one, we could just wait for the next one to come up. In this way, it was a lazy day. If you were fishing a pool and it seemed to go dry, you needed only to wait; steelhead were migrating lakeward in droves. One needed simply to wait for the next pod to come swimming through. 

We didn't get any of the massive fish that I seem to find so many of at this time of year, but most of them were solidly between the 3 and 6lbs range. A few fish exceeded this bracket, but not many; and they made a sizeable difference when you had them on. Oliver's last fish of the day was just such a fish - and it kept him busy for a long time before he could finally land it. Again, fully recovered and with barely a mark on it, this fish had been waiting for just such a rain as this, to head back to the lake. In passing, she graced my friend with a wicked case of sore shoulder!

Again, as in our past trips together, a treat for me was that Oliver is quite a good photographer, and he served up quite a few dainties for my ego. Low focal length shots abounded, where the background is dark and unfocused, etched with the bright silver sides of the fish and punctuated by my red, father's day fishing hat. And as the day wore on we lost count of both pictures and fish, enjoying the day for what it represented - a rare gift; long stretches of green water, filled with hungry steelhead and that we were for the most part not required to share.

At one point, Oliver did something that surprised me - or at least it afforded me the opportunity to learn something about him. Toward the end of the afternoon, a few anglers suddenly appeared on the stretch that we were fishing. Two gentlemen settled in above us, float fishing as we were, and one fellow pushed up from below - only, he wasn't float fishing but tossing a spinner. Normally, I don't think anything of this, but this guy was tossing his hardware pretty much in the path of Oliver's drift. I don't know what I would have done, in his place, but it would never have occurred to me to do what Oliver did. And what he did rather gracefully solved the problem: he started chatting with the fellow and, within half an hour, had gotten him rigged up for float fishing! What's best is that he also turned the fellow's day around. Whereas he hadn't had a single bite till then, within an hour he landed 3 or 4 fish - and with Oliver and I cheering him all the way!

It was a great way to be taught a lesson, and I will certainly keep it in mind the next time I see a chap who's in some piscatorial difficulty. 

But alas! All good things come to an end, and this day was no different. We could've stayed until night-fall, but both of us had families to get to and by roughly 6pm we knew that we needed to leave. Certainly, after a full day of such glorious fishing, it's almost callous to be greedy and try to squeeze another fish out of it. The day had already been filled with such blessings that the time had merely come to change the source of the blessings, time to leave the river and make for the hearth. 

In parting, Oliver's words float back to me now. He spoke them in the middle of the day when I sat down on that log for a break, well before the tail-walking hen that crossed the entire width of the stream as if it were on a jet-ski, dove, then swirled up and shot out vertically toward the sky; pulled a bit away then turned, sped straight at me narrowly avoiding my knee, skipping off the edge of the river, to come to rest 3 feet up the bank. She lay there motionless for a moment, and I reached out to tail her; upon which at the first touch she shot up again, bounced down the bank, shot under some branches and snapped the line. What any fisherman would tell another who had just had that kind of fight:

"You look satiated!" -

and I am... for now!


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Seize the Day

Steelhead fishing in April and May is always a “hit and miss” proposition. Miles of beautiful, beckoning river can betray the angler into fishless pauperism. But when the timing is right, schools of hungry drop-back fish can make everyman (or woman) feel like the King (or Queen) of the fishes.

The former is a lot more likely to be the case, this spring, given the general lack of rain in the area. This time of year, we normally average 99.1mm of rain, but have had just over 21mm so far. Two heavy rains would fix this quickly, but a promising forecast has just been scaled back from rain to drizzle – so my expectations are as low as the water table.

That being said, carpe steelhead: seize the steelhead while you may.

So when Mike recently invited me to join him, as well as one of our forum buddies (Fidel), I deemed that it would be foolish to resist the temptation. It took only minimal, and rather cordial, negotiations with Laura to obtain permission, and I quickly answered in the affirmative.

On the chosen morning, we met up with Fidel at the agreed upon parking locale and carpooled our way without issue all the way to the fabled shores of our target tributary. There was a small bite of frost on everything, and as we pulled on our waders and wrapped ourselves up in our gear the cool breath of the morning made us shiver. The sun cracked open the horizon and cast its light through the trees, as we took up our rods and set off through the woods.

As usual, Mike walked quickly ahead. Fidel and I enjoyed a few minutes of eager conversation as we kept up with our friend, going over our hopes for the day as well as our plans. I cautioned him that steelhead were unlikely to be the only denizens of the river to take our offerings. We were just as likely to catch a few bass, as well as sucker. He was concerned about what kind of rigging he should use. So knowing that he was going to find out that this river is bigger and more flowing than most of the eastern Lake Ontario tributaries we are used to, I gave him a few pointers, emulating as best I could what Mike had taught me years ago.

When we got out of the woods and started picking our way across the wide open terrain that borders the river, I was struck by the vision of the fine morning into which we had unwittingly set foot. The sun had just begun to sail over the crown of the nearest treeline and was shining pure gold, through the mist laden air, lighting the bright fringe of frost that adorned all the plants, logs and stones. I couldn’t resist the photo op so I paused a while to snap a few pictures, while Mike and Fidel forged ahead. You can see some of them if you click the thumbnails on the left, my favourite of which is the bottom one where Mike is setting up for his first cast of the day; there is something to be said about letting a camera do the best it can in a confusing situation - as I forced it to focus elsewhere before panning over and taking that shot. The results were at once unexpected and gratifying. Moreover, it was lucky that I started clicking when I did. By the time I felt I had enough shots, the sun had moved up slightly, the primeval morning scene had moved on and the moment had vanished.

It didn't take very long, once we were all set up and fishing, that the floats started to go down and the action began. We did especially well in the morning, which is typical for the spring. We kept pace with one another, hitting a few double headers and almost a triple header at one point. Giant leaps and hard takes were the norm. If anything marred the morning for me, it was a bad case of the rubber hooks, and I was at a loss to figure out why the Daiichis weren't holding on as they used to. Late in the morning, after an unprecedented streak of misses, though interspersed here and there with successful landings of fish, I switched to Kamasan specialists. This remedied the situation, although a knot in my leader quickly became a problem when an angry steelhead with size tore off on a savage hit from close range. Though I would rather have caught that fish, I was immensely pleased by the intense flash of silver it gave off as it made its escape.

In the afternoon, when the steelhead bite turned down, Fidel became the bass master, landing well over a couple dozen feisty smallmouths for the day. Most of them were in the 2 to 3 lb range. I only caught a few bass but, ironically, I may have missed one that was much bigger. I had at first taken it for a smaller fish, decided to horse it and gave it plenty of pressure - with the thought of bringing it in quickly and releasing it. It refused to comply, and when I added more pressure I got a good look at it; just as the hook came loose. It was probably close to 5lbs - a real treat if I had had the smarts to play it with more patience!

We ranged up and down the river all day, guided by Mike, hitting a few fish here and there - and watching as Fidel lay waste to the local horde of smallmouth bass, everywhere we went. But in steelhead terms, we never equalled the success that the fresh and cool morning had given us. 

My favourite moment of the day came just before our first switch of locations, after the morning had pretty much gone dead. We had virtually finished and were heading to the car when we came upon a stretch that I've always liked and which, in my opinion, seems often to be overlooked and/or improperly fished. I adjusted my lead to what I felt I knew would work and, within a drift or two, life returned to our day in the form of 4 or 5 steelhead - one of which you can see in my hands (left). It gave a good battle, long and difficult, with a few aeronautics thrown in for good measure. 

It has been a while since I visited this river, and it was nice to finally take the time to fish its waters again, and in the company of friends both old and new. Time itself being such a commodity, and this year's trout opener not boding extremely well - though I still hope to be proven wrong (the best experience of learning through one's mistakes is when the mistake is that of having a pessimistic outlook) - this was very much a case of seizing the day and valuing it for everything it brought; a day away from the regular pressures of daily life, spent in good company, laughing, learning and catching fish.

Altogether too soon, it was over - just as everything else that's good. The picture that Mike took of me, at the end of this piece below, embodies this feeling well. It was taken just at the moment when a fish was released, by a happy accident, in an attempt to get a normal run-of-the-mill fish pic. As it happens, it has become a fitting coda to the battle and the central activity that draws us all out to the waters. In the picture, as in life, the special moment has passed. The surface of the never-ending flow closes in over the fish's momentary turbulence, like a door; then it moves on, as it always has, unchanged.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012


It is always very disappointing to spend hours writing something that you feel is important, only to have it vanish into the ether. I have no idea how it happened, but I know now that all my posts will go to Word before they come here. At least, there is no way I'm not saving a backup anymore.

Also, because I thought I'd work on it through Isaac's iPad, I wonder if that wasn't the source of my torture - as it has proven to be so many times before. Slow, unresponsive, incompatible with seemingly endless applications and websites, the iPad doesn't do well with Blogger. It may very well be that it accidentally blanked out the post when I tried - in vain - to access it with the device.

Anyway, when you love fishing
as much as so many of us do, all that time on the water lends itself to thought. And being individuals, our thoughts meander, like the rivers we so often stalk, through the same course, more often than not, and they only change after some cataclysmic event. We come to the same conclusions and re-enforce them with our experience, until the day when something big happens – or a conglomeration of small things – and we change our minds. But this is rare – as rare as changing something as insignificant as one’s blog venue.

However, something significant will do the trick, such as when you have children and one of them, like my son, is born with Fragile X. This is the equivalent of an earthquake, or of the foundering of a great cliff or, better yet, the opening up of a great chasm that sucks the river up and leaves the downstream riverbed dry. Things that you used to take for granted just don’t apply anymore; and things you might have hoped to expect will now never come to pass.

I can go into a long discourse, with examples, of all the challenges that exist in a life like this – or I can tell you simply that I have a 6 month old baby of 6 years. Speech is not yet a reality, independence is unrealistic, and there is a hefty diaper bill (and load) at the end of every week. This is not a complaint. My baby is very charming and usually quite a lot of fun; but he creates a reality that few other parents – and maybe none who read this – can truly understand. And unfortunately for this fisherman, part of that reality translates into watching fishing opportunities from afar, reading other people’s blogs and emails, watching TV shows…

But I do still get to go. It would be foolish, in my opinion, to give up on all the things that bring you joy, for any reason – especially the things that constitute a main tenet in your life. From the river that slipped into the crevice, there is still water and it can still flow somewhere. With luck, that somewhere leads to fish; and sometimes I do get lucky. Sometimes I end up on a real river somewhere, with a real rod in my hands, and I sound the seams and depths for my scintillating and favourite quarry, the charming and beguiling rainbow trout.

I do it with friends or acquaintances, alone with strangers or by myself. Sometimes I watch as others catch fish, and sometimes they watch me. I may stop fishing a while and look around, at the world as it moves on regardless, sun rising, sun setting; watching the surface of the moving, breathing stream and the foamy wisps of confidence that shred themselves apart in its turmoil. How the questions can rise Will I catch any fish today? Am I doing something wrong? Should I fish here or further down? Am I fishing deep enough? Is this the wrong colour? Is this the wrong day? Has my skill wholly left me?

Exacerbated by the rarity of the occasion, my fishing is always caught in the same grand ebb and flow, meandering and twisting through winters and springs of confidence; anxiety rises and falls, and the questions come and go. New things come up sometimes by accident; and then sometimes because I acted on a hunch they happen as I wanted them to, as I’d hoped they would, and they re-ignite me and quell the doubts for a while. There is no better feeling, especially after a dull morning, than to happen upon a section of stream, full of hungry “chromers” who are only too willing to take on the challenge of my offerings. And then there are good questions: “how long will this last?” “Is today THE day?”

And always in the back of the mind, how are things at home? I hope Isaac isn’t driving anybody crazy. Fat chance!

But it is only recently that I’ve come to the full cognisance of the fact that the insecurity of the angler doesn’t belong only to me. Just as success itself is shared and passed around like a bottle of wine, failure and the insecurity it brings almost inevitably follows – like a morning in the doldrums.

I don’t know how I came to this realisation, because I don’t remember a single event that could account for it. Rather, I think a conglomeration of smaller events took place that helped turn on the light. I finally listened enough to fellow anglers, watched them succeed and fail – and the effect this has on them – and then compared to my own successes and failures (trips to the Salmon river, where I can still dream of catching a steelhead vs. odd-chance exploratory visits to nearby rivers that produce surprisingly well). And I can see, now, that we are all as enthralled by the mystery of the fish, we all fear fishlessness in the same fashion. That little red dot at the crest of every float holds so much promise. When, at the urging of a fish, it vanishes beneath the surface – great glory ensues. When it meanders aimlessly over the surface for hours and hours – “drifting, drifting, endlessly drifting” – it’s like watching your own heart slowly crystallising in a freezer.

That little phrase – “…endlessly drifting,” is something that Mike said to me once when we fished the Cattaraugus together, long before I picked up a centrepin reel or even a decent float rod. At first and for many years thereafter, my insecurity took it as “aimlessly” drifting and a comment about my skill (or lack thereof). I was a little bit irked, but went along with what he obviously thought was funny. Now, years later, I know my obloquy was quite out of place as Mike’s words were just the mirthful bubblings of a happy subconscious, at work on what it knows best. I've now gone so far the other way as to acknowledge that, if he had really said "aimlessly," then it wouldn't have been totally uncalled for.

And it was Mike who introduced me to the line of thinking that many who claim that a day fishing is better than a day at work – or who go by the old saying that the gods do not deduct from a man’s allotment those hours spent fishing – are merely trying to squeeze even an ounce of silver lining out of an empty day. His quixotic belief in this has relaxed over the years, even as I’ve witness his skill and – shall I say it? – “supremacy” on the rivers wax and flourish. He emails and calls out of the blue, to see if I will go with him because in truth a day spent fishing successfully does take a back seat to something, which is a day spent fishing successfully - with a friend.

All of which has now become my refrain, especially if you look at the posts I’ve written over the past year – another proof that the epiphany didn’t take place in a moment but was sculpted by many events, not the least of which was fishing with my son, Samuel and a recent winter’s trip to Pulaski with my friend Oliver.  I caught nada on both occasions, but I wasn’t overly disappointed in either case. Both times, I was fishing with someone for whom I have high regard; spending time with them, seeing how they worked out the day, and what it is that makes them tick. Although my object was not achieved, both days were fishlessly successful, and I not only knew it but could feel it.

There was a little quivering voice that whispered to me that I am getting complacent. And, though this may yet bear itself out, recent successes have quelled that voice completely. There is no reason to worry about your lack of success today, because there is always tomorrow and if you keep watching and learning, expectation of success is not only reasonable but inevitable. You WILL succeed. Keep at it. Keep enjoying your time out there on the river. Find all the reasons you need that make you want to return, including catching fish. Make it a positive place to be, a quiet place; and eventually, the fish will reward you for your patience and tenacity - as with anything else in life that's worthwhile.

Worry about catching fish?

Such minute fretting is nothing compared to the genuine anguish I sometimes feel about Samuel’s twin’s future. Poor Isaac!

Poor Isaac! Everything is golden now, and lovely statements from friends, family and acquaintances alike – that he is lucky to have such good parents – deck his path through life. It all works today. But the fingers that animate this space will not always be here to do so. What then? Nobody knows.

All the better reason, then, to make my periodic pilgrimages to the swift shores of the rivers that will give me trout. Lining my own life with worry will not benefit anyone, and – here’s a good and realistic hope – he will grow to be ready to come with me, and there is still a chance that he will be my best fishing buddy someday. But until then, there’s no excuse for letting myself go soft and losing touch with the beating heart of one of my most compelling passions. Continue, I must, to keep it all in balance; never lean too much on Laura, but always keep the equipment ready. Because you never know when the next chance will come, and –

Oh when the float slips under the surface, and the returning hook hits true – what a moment! Joy!

Well worth the wait, the worry, the work!