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 (http://themaplescottages.com/) 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!