November 24, 2010


Humans live through their myths and only endure their realities.
Robert Anton Wilson

Sometimes you have to look reality in the eye, and deny it.
Garrison Keillor

Reality is a quart of icy water in your waders. Deny that.

It was inevitable. Now, or...

Early one morning in a string of blazing hot days late last summer the decision was finally made. My aging waders, my beloved Simms Guides, were leaking. In both feet. In both legs and both feet (type 'both' often enough and it ceases to look like a word).

Not just leaking. It's more than 'just a leak' when I realize that I'm wet wading, in my waders, after ten minutes in the water. And I'm realizing this over, and over again.

Truth. And, looking back, I have to laugh. It was really becoming an arduous task to make the simplest wades; the extra weight of the river water that seemed to be (very quickly) insinuating itself into my once impervious waders was playing havoc with my already age-challenged balance, and the weight I carried back to the car, or as far as I could go before stopping to pull them off and dump them out, was more and more of a hassle for my increasingly age-challenged legs to haul around. Not to mention the pile of wet socks (that I could not for the life of me remember to grab) accumulating, stinking, in the back seat of my car.

So, after convincing myself that (in the long run) it was okay to miss a couple of days of fishing, I took a deep breath and stayed home, setting about the time consuming task of first drying, then finding, and finally patching (after proper assessment) a few 'minor' leaks I'd been 'enduring' through the previous month (or so) of fishing. Said leaks were not, at that point in time (the weather being what it was) anything I considered serious; yes, but all of a sudden it seemed there were more than a few. The cooler temperatures of autumn were silently stealing closer. A few days prior I'd 'come to' and realized that my policy of 'putting it off' was very soon to be in question. But, being the 'selectively' obsessive compulsive that I am, well, I somehow managed. I fished, and fished, and got wet, but kept fishing.

I'm not sure what the rest of the fly fishing fraternity considers the best and most 'proper' method of fixing leaky waders to be. That more than one of my 'fraternity brothers' would likely volunteer that my beloved, beholed waders should really find their way to the wader graveyard (a hanger in the basement), and I should 'move on' to a new pair is not lost on me, but, sorry guys, I'm not throwing in the towel without first attempting to save them.They mean that much to me. And these are the same guys, by the way, who show up every year with a brand new pair, mostly, I think, because they think it looks really cool (my take on that).

Maybe there's another, more efficient way of locating those pesky pinhole-sized holes, but for now I'm content with my process, thinking that I'm getting pretty damned good using my own time-tested technique. It's based less than loosely on the 'flying by the seat of your pants' theory.

First thing I did, on the morning of Day One was to actually get the waders out of my car and hang them up to dry; to actually get them totally dry. I hung them over a lawn chair on the patio in the shade, wondering how long it had been since they were last (1) out of the car, and (2) when they were last 'totally dry'. That's probably why it took so long for them to get totally dry (on the outside), even with afternoon temperatures reaching well into the nineties. Then, I turned them inside out and was shocked at the quantity of sand and tiny pebbles that had somehow collected in the feet (oh, that can't be good), and repeated the process.

By mid-morning of Day Two, I was busy (even worked up a pretty good sweat) with the whisk broom, making sure that any of the surfaces I might need to address were clean. It took a little longer than I thought it would. Upon turning them inside out I couldn't help but be more than a little surprised by how much sand kept falling out as I whisked. Amazing how far into the fabric those tiny grains of sand can get. When I took into account how long it had been since I'd done this, my initial surprise was replaced by a growing concern that procrastination may have irreparably damaged my beloved waders. The idea that I'd been walking around (for how long?) grinding those tiny pebbles and grains of sand into the bottoms of the feet made me cringe, and that shot adrenalin into my cleaning efforts. I thought of the princess, tossing fitfully, tormented by the peas under her mattress, with some chagrin, wondering why I hadn't been blessed with a comparable sensitivity, or, in this case, some common sense. But, after all, the fact of the matter, the overriding reason I expedited such a procrastinary move, as it always is for all things and not just the repair of waders, was because of the fishing, which very simply had been so good that I wasn't about to take a day or two much less three to fix anything unless the failure to do so had a direct ability to prevent me from being on, or in, the river.

But the piper now demanded compensation.

It is still Day Two. Noonish. High eighties already. My waders hang from a hastily-designed and constructed pair of wooden L-shaped stands, connected and supported by a piece of ash handrail. All the materials were easily available (thanks again, dad). I stand, poised with the garden hose; Sharpie and White Out pens ready in my back pocket. The plan is to gradually fill each leg with water, stopping often to search for any telltale signs of a leak. I italicize gradually for a reason. The first time I attempted a repair job it went badly. Ignorantly, I filled a leg, without stopping, right up to the knee. The droplets of water that did appear ran, acting on the request of gravity, quickly down, blending in with the ooze from other leaks closer to the foot. As a result, albeit getting the upper holes marked, I missed most of the more serious pinholes in the black foam of the bootie that were masked by the tiny rivulets from above, especially in the area of the heel; a sobering discovery made, of course, only after so confidently wading into the river.

It took quite awhile. I don't think I had more than a couple of inches of water in the right bootie when, and not surprisingly, I began to see dark areas appear, and there were several, some bleeding profusely. I marked them with the White Out, and proceeded upward, repeating the process. I worked my way up past the bootie onto the fabric of the leg, switching to the Sharpie, and didn't stop until I'd nearly reached the apex. Then the whole process was repeated on the left leg. It was close to four, and over ninety degrees when I finished this part.

Well, it was no wonder why I got wet so quickly. I couldn't help but wonder how I could have put so many holes in them. It was like I'd been hit by the shrapnel from an explosion. There were more than twenty tiny black and white circles when I finally satisfied myself that I had finished.

How utterly disconcerting!

Good thing I'd used some of my employee discount at the shop (before we shut down) on repair implements like tubes of goop and patch material. I actually do look down the road once in a while; just enough to keep me from wondering too often what it is that does run through my head most of the time.

There were several holes in the fabric just above the bootie that required some special care. They were rather large. I was going to have to actually apply a patch, and that entailed some dexterity as far as making doubly sure that there were no wrinkles or folds left in the patch as it dried.

One of the 'gushers' was the result of a slip during a descent to the river through a dense thicket bordered on the downhill side by an old barbed-wire fence. I'd navigated my way successfully through the thornberry bushes and then stepped clumsily over a decaying cottonwood log right into that fence. I knew it was a good sized puncture as soon as I entered the water. Damn.

Some of the others were wind-related. Casting in a crosswind with a heavily-weighted number two marabou leech can be risky, even when you think you know what you're doing. I was at my favorite spring creek early last spring casting down and across into a strong, freaky cross wind. I'd try to time my casts with the gusts, and of course got a little cocky. Next thing I knew I was staring down at my leech as it dangled in the wind from my left leg. I remember thinking that it would be wise to mark that spot immediately because I'd probably forget about it. That was sage advice. I forgot anyway, until my repair project came up, although my memory was jogged each and every time I went fishing until then.

The others were easily attended to by simply working a copious layer of Seam Grip into the area affected. I worked fast. I had to. The goop was almost drying on contact with the material because of the high afternoon temperatures, which dictated a flawless and rapid application and distribution of product.

By about seven o'clock that evening I was satisfied, and therefore done. The thermometer read eighty-nine. I adjusted the waders on my rack to keep the legs from coming into contact with each other. The patches would need at least twelve hours, preferably a full day, to completely set up and dry. Until then all I had to do was to for my sake be patient, which was going to be tough because I was eager to see how successful my mission was. I was hoping for nothing less than perfection. After all, winter is coming faster than I will still admit, and while I will be on the river then, it will be an even better experience if I'm dry.

I was heroic. The very model of discretion. I did not pull my waders off the rack until the afternoon of Day Three. After gingerly testing the patches with a finger, I turned my 'new' waders right side out and threw them in the now sockless car.

Test time. I remember the anticipation as I turned into the parking lot. For the very first time I can remember, fish were the secondary reason for this trip.
As I suited up, I decided to fish a spot where I had pretty easy access, not wanting to risk doing any further damage, at least not until I knew if I'd been effective in stopping all those leaks. Plus, it was perfectly calm, and I was rigged with a soft hackle. A small, lightly weighted soft hackle. Perfect.

The trail here is wide, pretty flat, and leaves me only a hundred feet or so of obstacle-free descent to the river. I'm careful as I go anyway.

It was a warm, clear evening. I stood on a round granite boulder and sized up the area. Directly in front of me was a fifteen foot wade into waist deep water that would take me out to a set of three rocks. Directly downstream is a shallow where the deflecting currents have deposited a ridge of sand and smaller rocks. This is my testing ground.

The shadows creep down the side of the hill across the river now. My watch tells me it's close to nine. Amazing how time flies right by when you're fishing.

And you're dry.

November 15, 2010


Bad weather always looks worse through a window.
Tom Lehrer

There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.
Aldous Huxley

Fall teeters on the edge...
I walk quickly over the fallen leaves, under and around bare trees and bushes. The river seems loud, whether it is because of the lack of acoustics or the increased flow is a toss-up. It is starkly visible as I go, in places where up until very recently I could barely hear though still not see it.

Dark days.

They string together monotonously, deceiving my sense of time, of perception; passing innocuously into each other without pause, leaving time behind, unrecorded, unremarkable, waiting, each day, for this, the slow, steady descent into winter.

I reach what is left of the rocky promontory where just a few weeks ago I ruled the seam curling away from the now submerged point. The river has tipped the scales again. Evened the playing field. Changed the game. Cooler, higher water. The character, the peculiarities, are now hidden beneath flows that will not reveal their secrets again until well into the summer of the coming year.

I wade in. Look for white rocks. Find viable purchase on the granite that was for months exposed to the sun, that has not yet acquired the slippery patina of microscopic growth. Waist deep is again a bit of a gamble. I took a fall, and then a swim here last December, simultaneously hooking a nice buck, slipping off a precarious perch, jamming my foot into a crack between two rocks and creasing my forehead on another as I fell, nearly losing consciousness for a moment. Figured I was in the water for about two minutes. I've heard stories about 'dry drowning', although I admit to not having faced up to the reality of it happening to me. Sobering thought. I tell myself I'm more cautious now, but I wonder. I know about the risk I take, but, even at this age, well, here I am. And by the same token, nothing ventured, nothing gained, even if it's just a memory. Besides, when the snows blanket the river's edges it will become that much more difficult. But, as I already know, that will quite simply make it more enticing. Something about just my tracks, about a tight line, and weight. Something about a lone figure profiled against the whiteness tight to a trout in the middle of a city living life for real.

The swing will be deep. And slow. The river is colder, and deeper. Its inhabitants move slowly, preserving resources. The take, should it occur, will be at the end of the swing, where my weighted soft hackle will dangle at the end of its arc, moving back and forth in the fluctuating hydraulic for several seconds before I begin a slow, methodical retrieve. I roll a short cast straight out into the flow, and mend, watching the end of my fly line. The arc completed, I wait several seconds before beginning my retrieve. Each cast carves an arc further from me. The rhythm is narcotic. Time passes, carrying my wandering thoughts surreptitiously downstream.

This is not the season for swinging flies. It is not the most efficient method. It would be to my advantage now, should I be so intent on hooking fish, to drift two, or maybe even three small weighted nymphs or chironomids, or a combination of the above, under an indicator. Lob the whole assortment upstream and watch it pass me in its drift, waiting to see my 'bobber' do its thing. I have fished this way, and have had success. I guess it's really a matter of the relativity of that success, though. The desire to go through the expansive task of first finding then affixing a certain set of weighted flies underneath an indicator that will be somehow (given the severe lack of casting room available anywhere on this river right now) be transported, usually by an ingenious cast of a hybrid nature upstream to land safely (without fouling) several times before either hooking a fish or, after a lengthy but frustrating trial being hauled out and completely refurnished... well, let's just say, at this particular point in time I'd rather not put myself through that. Success isn't always measured in statistics, although I know I'm here of the minority opinion.

I continue to cast, and mend as my mind travels itinerantly across the landscape of my life. Over and through the fields of memory, the webs of interaction, the scope of joys and losses. People in my life who have come and gone, those who have left an indelible mark, come into view. In one way or another, they all have left me with something. It should be a requirement that at some point in our lives we acknowledge all of those who have affected the substance of our existence, and, for me, there have been many. And then I think that it probably would have all been infinitely easier to do this had I the quality to know then what I know now. Maybe the fact that even though it's later rather than sooner, I still did have this thought, although unless there's some kind of magical way that this epiphany gets relayed to the subjects in question, how much real good it would do is up for discussion. I quietly vow to give this further thought, even though I cannot imagine now where I would start, or where it would take me could I d efine a way to do that.

I travel on, down the dusty, dimly lit corridors, here and there stopping to open doors and peer inside. The smiling young faces of my sons as they chase the big Malemute around the back yard... their comfortable attentiveness as I read to them... the horribly painful years of conflict they were subjected to...

... and it is again made clear to me that just as there are those who have effected changes in the substance of my life, so too have I been a factor, (no matter how important or insignificant)in the lives of those I have known. I still really have a hard time with this one, not being one to ever put much stock in the importance of my life in general, especially when it relates to interactions with those around me. Talk about feelings of insignificance! But, that's something for me to work on; to continue to work on. The idea that I have ever had anything of real substance to offer is, to me privately, sometimes more than a bit of a stretch. But, also privately, I'm okay with that. All I can do is work with what I've got, which is not really a lot, but it is what it is.

I think forward, as I tie another soft hackle, a smaller one, onto my tippet below the heavier, larger one, into the days and years to come. I think about what it will be like when I am gone. There is a relativity here that I have become aware of in the months following my father's passing. I think of my brother, and my sisters, how they, in my eyes, have changed since dad's death. I wonder if they see a change in me. I wonder if they miss him. I find it odd that he seldom,if ever, comes up in conversations that take place between us. My mother rarely, if ever, speaks of him. I wonder why. And although I have asked her would she care to visit his interment site, while appearing to be eager to go, has yet to do that. Neither have any of the others. I wonder why.

I miss my dad. Still. Odd, too, in that we were, for so many years, not close. But his absence has exposed a huge hole in the fabric of my life. I wonder why that is. I wonder if my siblings feel the same way...

There is presently a strong, jerking pull. My rod bends, and pulsates. The coils of line on the surface of the water at my feet are quickly ripped up through the rod as the fish strikes out across the current. I realize that my hands are cold. They react slowly to what needs to be done. The last coil of fly line snaps upward, loops around my reel, and the line goes taut. Urgently I attempt to unwrap the line, unsuccessfully. I feel one last strong pull before the tippet, stretched beyond its limitations, snaps. The line goes limp.

Across the river a Great Blue Heron jumps into flight, turning away downstream.

I wonder if he's grinning.

November 1, 2010

The wander of it all.

Not all who wander are lost.
J.R. Tolkien


Aware of the silence coming from the fireplace. This room is just a garage without a fire going. Pull back the curtain to peer through the rain dabbing the window. The trees sway, shedding needles which fall randomly around a squirrel who seems very busy either burying future snacks or digging up somebody else's, I'm not sure, until I see something in its paws being delicately adjusted for consumption. To the victor...

Fire duty. Still have some nice coals. Keep the home fire burning. I check my inventory. Only 3 good chunks of red fir and a couple of birch left in the box. The birch burns too fast all by itself. I select one of each and arrange them accordingly on what remains of the grate.

Just then an idea comes to me. I quickly retrace my steps back to the Mac and get it into print. After reading it back out loud, I just as quickly highlight it, hit the delete button, and reach for my hat. Maybe a run out to the woodpile will help. In this case, one of the secret joys of aging is that I know I'm going to forget everything I was thinking about prior to going out to the woodpile so when I return it'll be a whole new ball game.

A classically-tied number twenty-two baetis sits, drying, clamped in the jaws of the Regal. Four more are snagged on the styrofoam angle board awaiting dispensation. Now and then I wonder how many of these I've tied over the years. I'd probably be amazed. But, then again, maybe I wouldn't. I guess I'd be more amazed by the number of flies I've tied at different junctures thinking that they might work better than this particular pattern, or, better still, at the number of times I thought something else would. Impossible to know, right up there with how many more times I'm going to be so inclined as to do it again. And again.

I remove the classically-tied number twenty-two baetis from the vise and snag it next to the others, pausing for a proud second to admire them. Lucky thing I'm not a trout. I wouldn't last very long out there.

I have this rather cumbersome Sterilite box. I chose this model over the next size up which is on wheels. That, for some reason to me, seemed like a bit much, although secretly in the years hence, I wish I'd gotten it. I keep some of my important feathers and fur patches in there, and when I go on the road, I pare it down to only what I deem to be 'the essentials' and pack the rest of my tying stuff in there, too. It still takes up way too much space according to just about everyone I've ever traveled with, but I'll put up with the needling. It goes where I go, and that's that. Besides, the needling invariably ceases when that oversized-box supplies me with the materials that enable said needler to hook a fish or two when his supply of flies runs out. I particularly enjoy that circumstance. Call it a smug smile.

There is more than a bit of my father in me. I can tell there is when I look at my collection of tying materials and tools. I remember at some point deciding to actually sit down and sort through all of it. I would keep what I thought I could use, and find a way to dispose of the rest, either by donating it, or by just plain throwing it in the garbage. That was the plan, anyway.

It went bad, or should I say good, almost from the beginning. I'll save you the details, mentioning only that the stuff in what started out to be the 'discard' pile was examined, then re-examined, and finally then put back before I'd gotten a tenth of the way through. I still shudder when I think that I could've actually thought I was going to somehow 'streamline' my stash of stuff. What a colossal error in judgement. I've used some of the stuff I almost chucked, but the important thing to keep in mind is that yes, I did use it. The same might not be said for the rest, should I have been so remiss as to think hm, I'll never use that... Safe to say I don't ever think that anymore.

Thanks, dad.

October 28, 2010

Trick? Or treat.

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.
Henry David Thoreau

There were at least three types of caddis fluttering about. They danced and bounced across the surface, hovered close by, or crawled across the lenses of my sunglasses. I know there were at least three types, because this is the number of differently-sized, shaped, and colored caddis that simultaneously perched near the bottom guide on my fly rod. The largest was a dark mottling of grays and brown. The smallest was almost black, with long antennae. The mid-sized model was a mottled light gray, almost a peppery appearance. All three of them contented themselves, as long as I held still, with crawling around and around the shaft of my rod. I had a lot of time to closely examine them in between bouts of removing other, blurry ones from my glasses, but none of them were in a hurry and didn't seem the least bit nervous about my presence.

I should have taken a cue from this behavior, and later, rather than sooner, I did. I'd just finished working my way down one of my favorite fall runs, fishing my usual go-tos; all of my now increasingly wide-ranging types of swingable caddis imitations which according to my observations, experiences, and inclinations for this time of year have nearly always provided me with some great fishing. I repeat. Nearly.
So, you wonder, why the above picture of a diminutive, classically tied baetis, Steve?

Because about an hour later, as I stood pondering, by now quite frustrated, at the bottom of this particular favorite fall run of mine bemusedly perusing those three dissimilar caddis, I noticed, perched near the tip of my rod, a perfect, quite authentic number twenty-two baetis imago. I carefully lowered my rod, and brought the tip slowly, hand over hand, closer to me. And as I performed this as delicately as is possible(taking into account my current level of frustration), rings began to appear on the surface of the water just fifteen feet or so downstream from where I stood. Hm. And as I was about to start wondering what it was that these fish were rising to, and good Lord look at just how many fish are rising all of a sudden (because indeed it was just as if someone had flicked a switch), I bent forward a little, swatted away a cluster of fluttering caddis, and focused my aging, far-sighted eyes up and downstream along the bubble line I'd just worked.

And there they were. Baetis.

Thousands of them. A veritable carpet layering the surface, spinning this way and that in the convoluted hydraulic that carried them along. A river-wide flotilla of tiny mayflies silently, discreetly, sliding past me, some of them now getting airborne, escaping the grasp of the surface tension, while others were meeting unfortunate ends in the mouths of trout.

I looked at the sky and laughed. I really did. I stood there in the midst of all the rising fish and spinning, drifting baetis, tilted my head back, and laughed.

I'd been had. Big time. And I'd been had by none other than me. All the lessons that had supposedly found permanent purchase in my book of knowledge. The careful, patient methodry supposedly stitched together through practiced, careful adherence to the rules of observation. The understanding accumulated from years of trial, and error. All this ran through my head, as well as the creeping awareness that even as I was making all this supposed progress as a fisherman, I was also slowly, but steadily, blinding myself.
The large hat, while comfortable, will eventually slip down over the eyes.

I saw, as I waded into the top of that run, what I wanted to see. And then, having had my preliminary inclinations validated by the many visible caddis, got busy with what I took for granted to be the correct course of action. Little did it matter that prior to seeing the tiny baetis on the tip of my rod I had seen no surface activity. Little did it matter that if I would have been alert, I would have sensed that a change was in the air. I mention this, and deem it important enough to do so because of what else but prior experience. I've been there, experienced the 'calm before the storm', seen the river go from eerily quiet and empty to flush and vibrant.

There was still time. I lengthened my tippet, found the box with my tiny baetis, and with humbled, shaking hands set about the task of redemption, or more aptly, salvage.

But it was already almost too late. While the sheer numbers of baetis on the surface make for easy pickings by the trout, it adds a difficult dimension to fishing. Your artificial must very closely resemble the real deal, no matter what stage you are attempting to imitate. It must sit on or in the surface film and drift in just the right way. And even if you are successful in doing this, there is the one big unknown; will my fly be the one out of hundreds of bona fides that will be selected? I guess all I can say about that is yes, there is indeed this thing called luck. You can do everything right and your chances will improve, but yeah, a little luck definitely comes into play. I think, at this point in the hatch, that you can improve your chances by looking for rising fish that are separated from the others. Sometimes, however, these fish are in lies that can wreak havoc with a good drift. But, having said that, I have often found that these fish are worth it. They can be the biggest ones in a given area.

My attempt to salvage a modicum of success was short-lived. As prodigious and well-attended as the hatch was, it was all too brief. Even before the flotilla had wended its way downstream, the trout had decided enough was enough. My fly made several perfect, albeit fruitless passes down through various channels. At one point I counted six rings that appeared in close proximity as my drifting artificial was carried along. Like tiptoeing through a minefield. I applauded its successful journey, and reeled in my line. Today's lesson was a good one. One I'll not soon forget. And in that regard, I gave myself a treat, in that after all was said and done, I'd found a way to come away with a positive.

Be aware of your hat size.

October 25, 2010

On the need for change.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
Albert Einstein

There is, happily, no happy ending. It goes on and on. Seldom, if ever, is a point of stasis attained, or even sought. Pleasure is pure but fleeting; weaned from passing moments, promontories. The real, lasting joy is found in the reward of the constant movement; not letting, or allowing, one's proverbial boots to get 'stuck in the mud'. There is but one thing that will never change, and that is the need, the necessity, for change, and the ability to do so. It is my passionate belief that here is found the truest and simplest, but most powerful form of gratification.

When applied to tying flies for trout, this philosophy trumps all others. I suspect that it probably works well in life, too and I promise to try it some time in the future, maybe after I am no longer able to tie flies with which to fish for trout. And that's the trouble with getting too philosophically inclined. I'm liable to overstep my short-sighted bounds, somebody's eventually going to take notice, and call me on it.

Oh well.

I'm not really sure that 'progress' is a good word to attach to the expanse of time I've spent tying. In some ways, I've 'progressed' very little in the past several years, and in others, I feel quite the opposite. But generally, as I take an overall unbiased look at the body of work I've amassed at the vise so far, I come away feeling pretty good about it. And that has a lot to do with not being afraid to experiment a little, now and then. Sure, I could've spent some of those hours perfecting some of the hundreds, nay thousands of various techniques that I may or may not ever employ, but I find that the growing body of tying know-how I've accumulated to this point not only serves me well for my current needs, but is a solid foundation making it much less time-consuming should I, when I decide to add some new wrinkle to my repertoire, or tool box.

I think back to those years I spent at the shop. I know I've mentioned this in earlier posts so bear with me while I boast one more time, but The Blue Dun Fly Shop had, without a doubt, the most quintessential collection of fly-tying materials. We were unsurpassed as far as selection and quality were concerned. Fly-tiers came, e-mailed, and called from all over hell to purchase you-name-it-we've got-it and if we don't we'll get it for you ASAP. All three of us at the shop had a passion for tying, and our individual interests covered everything from saltwater to fresh, be it moving or still, tropical or subarctic. We figured that between us, we had close to seventy-five years worth of fishing/tying experience. We loved playing with it all; the new stuff that would constantly arrive and the old standards, exploring all of the possible applications, combinations and tendencies so we'd be better able to showcase them should a customer have questions. It was a time of exponential growth as far as my tying skills were concerned. I was in heaven. Imagine, being paid to do that! And, I learned how to do things then that have served me quite well ever since.

But, it's what I've learned since then that has allowed me to really grow both as a fly tier and fisherman. It's got nothing to do with tying or fishing. It has everything to do with what I've learned about myself.

I'd like to think that we are all as passionate about those things in our lives that drive us, that we all have things in our lives that drive us. I'd like to think that part of the magic in whatever it is that drives us lies in its never-ending ability to fascinate, to pull us in, closer, and in that spirit our exploration becomes the drug of choice. The journey we take in this direction sharpens the senses, hones our tools, and presents us with new sets of opportunities to add experience, thus more tools to our boxes. And, as some of us have learned, they serve us well for far more than what we originally thought.

This curiosity, this unceasing pull to understand, is at the core of my growth. It is the engine that drives me. It is the reason I tie flies. It is the reason I have such an undying passion for fishing with flies. And, most importantly, I discover over and over, in its power to continually pull me in different directions, an irresistible, yet delightful force. I welcome it with open arms, believing not for a second that I will ever attain such a place as to know that I am closer than before, and that's okay. I'm okay with that, and the reason I am is that I firmly believe, now more than ever, that the strongest magic truly is revealed in the journey, and not in the attainment.

And so I will go. Change is good. There will always be a space in my box for the classics. But they are someone else's epiphany. I will continue to seek my own. There will be setbacks. How can there not be? After all is said and done, the trout have the final say.

They make all the rules.

October 19, 2010

On being blessed

When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.

As I stood there, fumbling with the two ziplock bags I employ to keep my camera dry should I slip and take an unwarranted swim, a nice trout stuck his nose out of the water about ten feet downstream from the furthest rock to the right, in the seam formed by the current deflecting off the shallow shelf these rocks are a part of. It was a very deliberate rise, and I had the distinct feeling this fish would come to the surface again.

I didn't bat an eye, determined to get a picture of the rising fog before the sun burned it away, deciding that down the road, this picture would be the best way to preserve the memory, although I had no idea as what this particular memory would hold as yet. So I lined it up, held the camera still, pushed the button, and by god it worked. One shot. That would have to do. There was some pressing business to take care of.

I stood there for not very long before he rose again, and with a lazy swirl turned back upstream, blending in perfectly with his habitat. My next thought, as it always is when trout are coming to the surface, was to eyeball the water in hopes of seeing, and hopefully identifying whatever it was that had attracted and was holding the trout's attention. And since I was standing right in the middle of the same ribbon of current he was working in, all I had to do was look down.

And, I saw nothing. No bugs of any type that I could see. Not even a midge. But, there he went again. And then again. No hurry. Nothing to get excited about, but my hands started to shake a little. I wondered what it was he was so unhurriedly continuing to eat out of the surface film, and, much more importantly, how much longer I had. The fact that he'd been at his current station feeding in this manner for this long already was not lost on me.

The trout on this river come to the surface and feed occasionally just like any other trout on any other river. And that's about where any similarity between the trout feeding on the surface of this river and those in other rivers ends. Whereas groups of trout in other rivers will congregate in areas where hatches are occurring and whereas those trout will feed on or in the surface for sometimes extended periods, that is seldom the case here. If you see one riseform, call it a hatch. Call it the morning, or afternoon, or evening rise, because that's probably about as good as it going to get. And if you are so blessed as to witness the same fish rise more than twice in the same half hour period, well then you're seeing something special. Better find out what's being eaten in a hurry because time is of the essence. Every subsequent rise could be the last one you'll see here for some time.

So when I saw this trout come to the surface again, I couldn't help but think I am truly blessed.

Okay. I'm blessed. But being so blessed still didn't provide any visual of a single living entity on or in the water's surface that might give me a clue as to what this trout was dining on. It began to get to me. I ran through a quick list of go-tos, ending up where I began, with no idea. So, as is often my standard mode of operation here on this river when faced with a lack of evidence, I pulled out my box, extracting from it my solution.

A soft hackle. Big surprise, right?

Okay. No surprise there. Experience is a good teacher. Having been in this situation before though not necessarily with figuring out what a steadily feeding trout is eating but having been through enough frustrating sequences where I swore I knew only to put the fish down straight away or have him run silent run deep because I put something over him that he found utterly disgusting. I've had success in these situations by simply swinging a very lightly weighted soft hackle over the fish's lie. I'll go bigger or smaller dependent upon what I think the fish is eating. Most of the time it works, which is also very unlike any trout in any other river I've ever fished. Those fish want the real deal, or something that very closely resembles it. I think the reason it works here is that we are, for so much of the year, blessed with caddis. There's very rarely a day that goes by where there aren't caddis flying around. That will be reinforced in my mind later when I return to the bank and brush the now leafless branches of the bushes along the water's edge.

As confident as I am in my soft hackle, I know I'll have one, maybe two swings through. More than likely just one, so it has to be spot on. The nice thing about this situation is that I have a really good idea of his location, thanks to the regularity of the rings. The only thing problem I might have is with the direction of the flow as it passes the edge of the shallow shelf. A quick downstream mend at the right time should negate any deviance in the path of the swing as it arcs over his position. Sounds easy. I smile. Sounds easy.

The cast has to be made almost perpendicular to the flow. From where I stand, the current comes from my right shoulder to sweep across in front of me to the left as it passes until contacting the shelf some thirty below, where some of the energy is captured in an eddy directly below the shelf. The rest is reflected off the shelf bending the main current back in to the main flow. It is right at this point where the seam between the two areas, the eddy, and the current, is most viable, and lucky for you I can't draw a diagram, so nod your head like you understand perfectly.

It's a short roll cast. I throw a little line out behind the cast and wait for the line to start to bend. I throw a quick downstream mend when I see the line closest to me start to bulge upstream and then the faster water toward the middle of the river arcs my fly line. There is nothing to do for the next second or so but wait, and watch, and shortly there is a flash, and a swirl. I lift my rod. There is a jolt, and with it weight.

Yes. I am blessed. Blessed to have this river. Blessed by its inhabitants. Blessed by the time here I have spent. Blessed with the simplistic sense of what I need from this life. I am so truly blessed.

And God bless my soft hackle.