it's the sluggish current and location smack dab in the middle of town that gives rise to the name. And speaking of rises, when I eyeballed this section from the Spokane Falls Boulevard Bridge (in the background), I was treated to a multitude of rings stretching from where I stood (about halfway across said bridge) to back upstream as far as I could see. Midges seemed to be tops on the menu. The surface was thick with #18-20s. The sighting prompted me to make this spot my destination the next day, which was forecast to be another one of those so-called 'chamber of commerce days. And, it was. But,
I first had to get ahold of my friend Richard the Fish Carver, carver of beautiful, lifelike trout. He wanted to be there to see me fish it, and I was more than happy to report to him what I'd seen and that he'd better get down there ASAP because I was rigging up and eager to get to it.
This section of TDR is not what I, or anyone without a little rock-climbing experience, would call 'wader friendly'. The banks are high-angle concrete fields running from high above the water line out into the river for distances up to and sometimes exceeding 20 feet, and topped with a dense layer of igneous scrabble, obviously poured in great slabs to fortify the hillsides back in the days of few, if any, diversion-type activity (dams, there are now 3). During run-off, it must have been an incredible sight to witness the volume of water running through Spokane in those late springs, basically unchecked. I've seen pictures and read accounts of huge salmon and steelhead being netted by the natives downstream from where I stand. It is also recounted that for several days in late spring the air was thick with salmon flies(stoneflies to most of us), causing a bit of mayhem through many areas as they migrated. Now, if you see more than one or two, it is a day to remember.
On this day, however, despite the numerous rising fish, I was unable to trick more than a couple of trout into sampling my offerings. Upon later reflection, it struck me that although I had a pretty good idea that these fish have not seen many artificial flies, what they do see day after day has really caused in them a type of tunnel vision, as far as variations on any given food source are concerned. It will take some earnest investigation on my part to more fully understand just what I need to tie for the future when I go back. It can't be just close, it's got be right on. Richard did get some excellent photos, though, and I am grateful for his presence, and company. He is a good friend.
" The question, of course, is how you make your soul clap its hands and sing."
Jim Harrison, The Road Home
I still have the very first fly I ever tied, perched like a sentinel above my tying table. A very primitive affectation of a pheasant tail. Not even a very good likeness. It never made it to the end of a fly line, so it never caught any fish. But, it caught me. And as the days flow past, having that fly there marks my passage, finally, into a world I am so comfortable being in.
Somewhere in the detritus on the bottom of Squalicum Lake rests whatever remains of the first fly I tied that actually hooked a trout. The crude olive-brown representation of a dry fly landed somewhat softly, centered itself in the expanding rings, then disappeared into the mouth of a small cutthroat. It was at this point, then, that my life changed forever. The feeling then, as it is now, as it has been every time since, is what I, purely and simply, live for. It is what makes my soul clap its hands and sing.
Learning to tie flies is not at all what it sounds like. In fact, to say it that way, to think of it that way, in my mind, trivializes the whole thing. "I think I'll learn to tie flies", like in oh, say, a few days or weeks you'll have constructed a workable methodry, some flies and are now a 'fly-tier' and can go about the business of catching fish. Which is, to say, not entirely untrue. You can indeed go about the business of hooking a fish with your flies. And indeed that is precisely what most of us do. Without a second thought, look, back, or deep inside, we 'learn to tie flies', and then we go 'fish'. I guess it's got more to do with a shallower outlook on the art, or craft, maybe coupled with some ego? I also know that not everyone is going to so totally immerse themselves in this particular art as deeply as have I. And indeed there those who have devoted much more time, effort, and money to fly-tying than I. I have met some of them. But, what we have in common is a genuine, never-ending fascination with those entities surrounding the catching of trout, or steelhead, or any fish, with a fly. And beyond that, we share a seat at the table of what-ifs. What if I tried this... what if I tie it this way, or that...
And then one day you see, across and a bit downstream, flowing past the rock that's providing a break in the current, a line of bubbles. And within that bubble line appears a nose, leaving a ring. And then it is gone, momentarily, and then there it is again. You mark its position, and decide to cast your newly-designed emerger to a point just above the spot you marked. It is a decent cast, and your emerger settles into that bubble line, riding low in the current as it drifts without drag. You watch, praying for a few more inches of drift, and suddenly, a dark shape appears, and instantly rips the green water into a million shards... and your fly is gone...
"How irreparably changed the world becomes when the loves of one's life are dead."
Jim Harrison, The Road Home
I have, over the years, given all the runs and slots, notches, and pools, names. Behind me in this picture is indeed the cemetery where my father and and my uncle's ashes are interred. But I have been coming here for much longer than they have been here. In fact, as I drive in, I do not stop to visit their headstones. Not that I do not respect my dad and his brother. Far from that, it's just that I think I'm doing them more justice if I am close by, and doing what it is I was put here on this earth to do. Besides that, the eloquence of allowing those who are passed the ability to understand and appreciate that which is the joy of our existences is not lost on me.
So I have come here, in the late summer, before the river runs high with the flow-out from the lake, to swing the soft hackle.
For 12 years I have been coming here. For the first several, I did not even touch a fish. I hadn't the faintest clue as to how to fish this area. All I knew was the feeling I got as I watched the currents funnel through the rocky chutes into the darker water downstream. As frustrating as it was, then, the years were all the while flowing through me; experience gouging, shaping and clarifying that which had been formerly hidden. What still amazes me is the sheer clarity now, and how invisible it stayed until such time as I realized that indeed I had acquired a lot of knowledge through investigation, albeit unconsciously, and quite haphazardly. I will most certainly elaborate on this in future writings, as it is so humbling to be taught so much about life while pursuing that which brings such joy.
Another Adams. A parachute. It's close to 10 now, and I'd like to put a couple more in the box before I'm too rummy to wrap hackle. The temperature is dropping as the darkness intercedes. My circulation-challenged right hand is already posting warning signs, but tomorrow will arrive and this coolness will be just a blip on the memory screen. The freshly tied Adams' will be center stage, again, as they were today, drawing many strikes from interested cutthroat almost wherever we cast; the beautiful fish my son landed as he worked his way down a slot on Michel Creek...
How blessed am I!! To be in the company of my son, who happens to also be my favorite (I have few) fishing buddy sharing experiences that will stretch through our lifetimes and beyond in such a beautiful setting as this! Would if I could slow the hands of time so this might never end...
Aaron and I drove south downstream from Fernie about 25 kilometers (this is Canada, remember), to fish this section he had so aptly named. And, it truly is just that; such diversity in flows and water speed! So many long runs (buffet lines), and, on the highway side, where they're hidden from all but those who really want to investigate, are some beautiful undercuts! We stood there for a good half hour into the gathering darkness watching noses poke the surface in so many different areas that if we hadn't done so well earlier that day up on Michel Creek, I'm sure we would've said the hell with darkness (it was after 9 by then), let's slide down this hill and go for it!
But, cooler, more tired minds (and empty bellies) prevailed. Besides, at this point we were dangerously low on our Adams supply. I had some late-night tying to do when we got back to camp, which was way the hell upstream near Sparwood.
A note here, about the parachute Adams.
Both Aaron and I had taken notes earlier on the trip when we stopped at one of the fly shops in Fernie for some tippet material. As is the case with so many shops that are literally right on the banks of blue-ribboned trout streams, a chalkboard next to the front door is always replete with current hatches, the corresponding flies (and time of day, too) with which to entice a beautiful cutty or two or three.
I was struck by the sheer numbers of options as far as flies were concerned. That old insecurity rumbled in my stomach. God, I thought, I don't have even half of those. All I'd really been concerned about prior to our trip was making sure I'd tied up enough Adams' and brought enough stuff to tie up more should we require them. And now, as I 'casually' perused the chalkboard, a small lump began to form in my gut, but
I, as usual, should've known better, and that would be made crystal clear the next day.
After all, this is cutthroat country. No, I'll go that one better; The Elk epitomizes all that is good and right, and true about cutthroat country! Cutthroat country is, and always will be, Adams country!