January 29, 2010

The Take

He is winding the watch of his wit; by and by it will strike.
William Shakespeare

I believe that all of us, no matter who we are or what we do, share a common dream. The circumstances and actualities may vary wildly, but the thread links us all. To feel alive. To experience the quintessence of a thrill that can never fade from our memories. To find that sanctuary of satisfaction only available in that place we run to; our dreams. And some of us even have the chance to live this dream. At first thought it is as though a certain level, or plateau has been attained but, still, it recurs, probably now more intensely, over and over again. We become slaves to its power, seeking the intoxicating pleasure of its sweet nectar over and over again.

My tiny dry rides the crest of a loop to land quietly, perfectly, a medium distance away near the top of a deepening trough that parallels a shallow shiver of faster water, and begins its journey. It reminds me of a tiny sailboat, wings eloquently catching the morning sun as it is carried effortlessly downstream through the convolutions. Shortly, its destination is close at hand, the journey nearly complete. There is another who waits for its arrival. Two rocks dividing the current at the end of the shiver hide a predator. In the shadows, he masks his presence with supreme patience and coloration, biding his time, waiting for the perfect moment...

January 26, 2010


While you are experimenting, do not remain content with the surface of things.
Ivan Pavlov

Success at any level demands a degree of proficiency acquired through the attainment of knowledge. Knowledge is hopefully absorbed through sets of experiences. My desire for many years, because of my infatuation with tiny flies and their ability to attract large fish, has been to become proficient in the area of tempting trout with all of the stages of the chironomid. From larval worm through pupal ascendancy right up to and including the emergence of the newly hatched adult from the surface film, this insect's life cycle is of keen interest to me. Take into account the sheer numbers of different members, larger and smaller, all uniquely colored, of the same family that will be a food source in the same body of water, moving or still. At first, the basic understanding of this fact alone was pretty intimidating. Add to that the experience(s) of being faced with finding a solution when poorly armed with proper flies because of the lack of knowledge. It doesn't end there, either. Simply fishing a fly that may indeed be a perfect imitation of the specific natural doesn't guarantee success. One needs to understand so much more. It's then that the sheer scope of the learning curve can really get in the way, because with a limited knowledge level, it's often impossible to know just where to start.
It's quite satisfying when a trout is fooled by your fly, and made that much more so when it is one you have conceptualized and turned into a reality. I live for that. But, for the same reasons, this modicum of success can also slow the learning process. See, for much of my flyfishing life, I have been too easily anesthetized by small, or short-lived success. Many times I would not understand what it really was about the fly that prompted the success. Being blind to the possibility that what I thought had been the cause might not necessarily be the case, I'd merrily tie many more the same way only to discover later (to my chagrin) that its overall performance was only marginal, at best. Add to that my frustrating proclivity for staying with a particular fly too long after enjoying only the briefest moment of success. I'm still working on that one, but I do believe I'm educating myself to a level whereby not only am I more tuned in to the most critical nuances when it comes to really 'dialing in' a pattern, but I've also gained a better understanding of the characteristics exhibited by the natural in its environment. So, now I tie a better imitation, and fish it more effectively. And when faced with the thought of fishing with the venerable chironomid, one needs all the tools, education, and skill he can possibly bring to the table to help provide him with success. It's like the rabbit after the carrot at the end of the string hung from a stick. Success breeds the confidence to persevere. Some of us need a bigger bite out of the carrot than others. Fortunately for me, I made do, at times, with the smallest of bites.

January 22, 2010

Fishing (for) Wisdom

If you realize you aren't so wise today as you thought you were yesterday, you're wiser today.
Olin Miller

It is not dissimilar to being caught in the ceaseless rise and fall of waves. They toss me indiscriminately this way and that, taking me at their will. One minute I am high on the crest, with clearest of view, then only too soon staring up from the darkness of the well between sets. Highs, and then lows. And on and on it goes.
No, I'm not describing my emotional status. Merely a small section of it; the part that is me, the fisherman.
There was always a jigsaw puzzle in some stage of assembly on a card table in my parent's house. They were always the ones with at least a thousand pieces, designed with similar colors and patterns. It was not enough to have so many pieces to search through. Finding similar colors and/or patterns was of little advantage, as the same colors and patterns would exist in several different sections, which made progress utilizing those themes hard to come by. But, little by little, if patience was taken, certain nuances in the shapes began to emerge. They became noticeable enough to provide enough success wherein with each subsequent sitting it became important to establish yet again a kernel of trust in that particular process, which would usually breed further, however tenuous, progress, making the decision to continue on using that strategy much more agreeable.
But, as with any method that has no definable, lasting parameters, the guarantee was not always quantifiable; the pre-eminent paradigm now a hoax. What was working is suddenly not. The eyes wander over acres of itinerant puzzle pieces that now, even when severely scrutinized, seem to all have the same shape and no connection with the current project at all.
I can draw a strong parallel between those puzzles and my fishing. Such conjunctivity. Not that I am in need of laws, or postulates upon which to base any theory I might construct as products of my experience. I do not pretend for a moment that when speaking of fishing, and flies, that one can build an airtight case for absolution, especially when part of the equation concerns the mind of a fish. One would seemingly need only to revisit his established sets of guidelines when specific situations demand a re-thinking of strategy.
It is in those times, however, that I most often stumble into the dark corridor of indecision. Where confidence borne of success struggles with lessons yet to be learned. Where the paradigm evolves endlessly. Where the only rule is that which states there are no rules. And finally, in the process of experiencing, I begin to assimilate what I have learned, feeling that knowledge subtly draw me closer to a high ground where I will see what I have always known. There are no absolutes. There is no wrong way. There is only knowledge. Through experience.

January 20, 2010

Trout and the Theory of Relativity

Art may imitate wild nature; less often does it dare to place itself in the midst of it, and when it does, it may come out second best.
John Hart

Chironomidae. The family of non-biting midges. It's a large family. In the Pacific Northwest alone, there are more than 1500 variations, of which almost 80% spend their entire, albeit short lives in and around water. That's why I've always been so absorbed by them, or perplexed, or frustrated, depending on my success with tying imitations. Some of them look uncomfortably similar to mosquitos. Some are very large, and some, well, they're just plain really hard to see. I know when I'm doing a good job or not, and I have the best critics, trout, to thank, or curse, for that. Chironomids are often the major food source for them, and at the very least a staple. That's amazing, especially when you see first hand just how small some of these little guys are. How could any respectable trout ever get enough to eat? But when you witness a hatch and are awed by the sheer numbers whirring about their anchor points in massive dark clouds, or see the surface of the water almost percolate as they burst from their pupal shucks, well, then it begins to sink in. Add to that the fact that they hatch all year long. Yes, even in winter, too. And to further complicate matters, there will usually be several different types of chironomidae hatching at the same time. So, when you have thousands of pupa arriving at the surface simultaneously, it's your job to figure out which specie is, at the moment, the preferred snack. For which fish. For how long. On the surface? The bottom? Somewhere in between? All of the above? I guess you get the picture. The more I learn about this particular food source, the more intrigued I become, while at the same time battling this undercurrent of doubt and hopelessness.
And so I arrive at the theory of relativity. To a trout, especially one who spends his life in an environment where food, and lots of it, is always available, what's relative at any given moment may change each time he spots a different tasty morsel. Or, he may decide that only the brown one with the black stripes will do. He may get so absolutely dialed in on that brown one with the black stripes that nothing else appeals to him. That's when everything not brown with black stripes ceases to be food, for him, at least. That doesn't mean all of his possible competitors will agree.To some of them, only the slowly rising olive pupas close to the bottom are the delicacy, while others rise unabated to the surface. Of course you also have the younger, less experienced and therefore more aggressive fish who are still in the buffet stage. They cruise, an eye out for anything they see other fish drawn to, then try to beat them to it. It's about learning through what's relative to others, which can sometimes get them in trouble, or caught, or both.
Lots of food. Lots of other choices, too, apart from the multitudes of hatching minutiae. What's relative? What's not? See? It can be mind boggling. Or, it can be amazing. Amazing when you solve enough of the riddle to enjoy the reward, which is to observe in your indicator a subtle quiver, or downright violent submersion. Then you know, that for this fish, at this instant, your offering was indeed relative.


Fishing is much more than fish. It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.
Herbert Hoover

Every time, now, as I begin the walk down to the creek, I am reminded of my dad. He was here with me only one time, but, it turns out, that every time I get to this place, I remember that morning. Before working our way down through the large stones that dot the trail, we stopped. I pointed out the location of several of my favorite spots. He, in his usual, almost impatient way of being adamant about wanting to know precisely, got close so that he could look down my arm to see exactly where it was that my finger was pointing.
"I can see fish jumping", he said, in spite of a huge cigar wedged in the corner of his mouth, referring to the rings he saw intersecting on the surface just upstream from our vantage point. I call them rises now, but, for as long as I live, I will always remember the excitement in his voice when he'd see rings caused by feeding fish. Images come back to me from my youth... dad, in his straw hat, cigar crushed between gritting teeth, cruising slowly through Distillary Bay, looking for feeding cutthroat... I heard that same excitement in his voice that morning. That's a good memory. I also remember a sad one from an afternoon not long before he died. I'd been telling him about a recent day fishing at 'The Ford'. I'd always bring the flies I used, to show him, thinking that he'd appreciate seeing what it was I caught fish, or got skunked with. I think he did. One day, as we sat watching the fire slowly dying in the fireplace, I said to him, "... so we gotta get you better so we can go out to Rocky Ford again", and he looked at me for the longest time through a hopeless half-smile, before telling me, "I'm trying as hard as I can"...
We never did make it back out. But now, even though I am alone when I go there, I don't really feel that way when I stop, above the large rocks that dot the trail, to watch the fish jump.

January 4, 2010

New Year's Eve

Last year I went fishing with Salvador Dali. He was using a dotted line. He caught every other fish.
Steven Wright

New Year's Eve, in my mind, has always been 'Amateur Night'. It's a time to stay out of the eye of the 'storm'; storm being the definitive I attach to this peculiar period of time immediately preceding/following the advent of each and every 'New' year. A few hours of time each year, when, more than ever, common sensibilities and reason are thrown out the windows of all the vehicles and establishments inhabited by those who make this holiday a true danger zone. So, if I'm going to be out, I make damned sure I'm back 'in' before all this breaks loose. And, as is so often the case, it usually does. Even when it doesn't, the mere fact that there are so many folks out there doing things that drive me nuts, well, that's reason enough to lock the doors, snuggle up to my tying vise, and let Tom Waits serenade me until the danger has passed.
"Oh the river
knows your name..."
My way of bringing in the Newest year was to spend the last few daylight hours of 2009 at my place of worship; The Church of the Rainbow Trout, Spokane River Chapter. The early afternoon was a misty drizzle, and even though the flows were good, I couldn't coax a single fish to any of the many flies, using as many different methods. And, as time passed, the realization that I was getting chilled (leaky waders) couldn't help but put an exclamation point on the overriding thought that I might possibly finish up '09 getting stinky (skunked).
I looked down at my very red, numbing hands. It was decision time. Should I pack it in, reel up and call it good? There had been some great days here recently, and maybe that's what I would have to take with me into next year. I smiled at that. Seemed symbolic for some reason. Of exactly what I'd have time to figure out, but for now, well...
So. I checked my watch, then made a fist with each of my hands, pressed my left thumb and forefinger together. Hm... still a little opposition there...
... and then dug into my right hip pocket, extracting my secret weapon. My Lamson Waterworks reel wound with a type 3 - 9 ft. sink tip.I got busy, working as fast as I dared because not only was daylight fading, so was my ability to be dexterous enough to trade reels, thread the line, and tie on a new offering (pictured).
Casting a sink tip is not easy. There is nothing poetic, or mystical about casting a line that is at once a dry line and a very dense, heavy, sinking line. It's a totally utilitarian process. Your line wants in the worst way to hinge at the spot where the two types merge. Either you know how to avoid it, or you don't. There is no in between. And, if you're prone to hurrying your backcast, or have not enough line speed, well, you're in for a real snappy macrame project or a new earring, or both.
Fortunately, having dealt with this for several years, I've come to an 'understanding' with my rod. If I don't hurry, the rod doesn't buckle, and if the rod doesn't buckle, my cast stays in the air. If my cast stays in the air, I can deliver it. Distance is, however, very nearly always another story, although this particular cast carried my olive bugger almost 45 feet across and downstream. I tore another 25 feet off the reel and threw it in behind the cast with the rod, watching the current pull an arc in what remained visible of my fly line.
There are these moments that may occur now and then in the life of a cast, as it is swung across the current. They are few and far between, these fleeting moments, but they bring with them what can be almost surely defined as a sense of clairvoyance. Everything slows down. You are transported to a place where all the stars are aligned and in their proper house. Where all is good and right and you know, you know that something's about to happen...
Wham. Solid. Shock of the pull. Line peeling off my Lamson. Yellow giving way to white, as I watch the backing knot exit the top of my rod. Adrenalin. I can feel my hands again...
Fish of the year. On the last day. How very fitting. A sweet end to a great year on my river.