June 22, 2010


A man who is a master of patience is master of everything else.
George Savile

It is a bright morning, finally, this second day of summer.
I crawl, squinty-eyed and wary, out of my sodden hole, staring at the sky in disbelief. And why not. This has been, for the area, the third wettest May and June ever recorded. More rain has fallen in this time period only twice since someone decided it would be fun to accumulate this type of data.
It occurs to me, as I stand above my river observing, that the debt of moisture accrued through the winter months is now being dutifully repaid. In full, with interest.
The island directly below the bridge is submerged in the swift-moving waters. Ten days ago from this vantage point I watched a white-tail and her two youngsters moving with ease about the island, having taken refuge there from predators who also frequent the area in search of a meal. I wonder when it was she decided that the rising water was going to usurp her sanctum, if her young ones made the what must have been an arduous swim to higher ground safely.

Downstream a couple of hundred yards a blue heron stands knee deep, eyes focused at his feet, in a softer flow. Last year on this date, according to my journals, he would have been standing in slower, knee deep water some fifteen feet closer to the lies of hundreds of adolescent trout, patiently waiting for that split second moment of distraction and a tasty bite. I sense his frustration, although it is probably closer to the truth to say that it is mine I am attuned to.
For the past several days, as I walked the muddy trails to my scattered viewpoints, my thoughts inevitably turned to strategies. It is apparent to me, especially after today's observations, that it's still going to be a decent stretch of time before my usual venues will be fishable. Oh, I danced around with the idea of altering my modes of operation, but this river is the type that won't allow any application of methodry until the flows have receded enough to at least allow access to the fishable waters. Years passed and flies hung up and lost on submerged vegetation have taught me that. At low flows, the bushes that line the prime spots are right at the edge of the rocky shorelines. Now, they are four to six feet beneath the surface yet still begging me to 'go ahead, Steve, swing your soft hackle here...', which in the past would impatiently attempt, often with frustrating results.
This is a frustrating river to fish when the flows are still high for a number of reasons, even when a viable entry point can be found. History has taught me that despite the relative security offered by the shoreline and its proliferance of vegetation, most (not all but close to it) of the trout residing here choose the deeper water. One of the main reasons for this are the rapidly increasing populations of osprey and blue heron, who have been here now for several weeks in search of food for their young. I have, so far this year, also sighted a number of otters, whose abilities in the water are really a sight to behold. They are amazingly swift, agile swimmers who have no trouble whatsoever in catching unwary trout who venture too close to the edges looking for safe haven. I have seen it first hand, and the spectacle is humbling.
Also, the deeper water also provides a more constant food source. This is a river whose flows, and therefore edges, shrink considerably as the summer months progress. The countless millions of blue-winged olives, caddis, midges, and others who have deposited eggs in the periphery of the river's early season flows are not likely to see their offspring survive. These rocky edges will dry in the heat of the sun as the river recedes, leaving only a skeleton of water with life perpetuating ability as the nymphs mature. And, as the flows grow again in the late fall, those lies that were once so easily in reach are now a lengthy cast, if not a pipe dream, away. It is so frustrating to watch a late September mid-river flotilla of blue-winged olives being casually gulped by trout that are suddenly out of reach. But, that is the reality of the season of fishing here. So, when the flows decrease and the river allows me more choices, I am here constantly, searching out avenues of travel to access areas where often the hatches, and therefore the trout have often gone unnoticed. Even though I am fishing in the center of the city, there are still those places! That will always draw and amaze me.
It is the twenty-first of June. Last year on this day, flows were less than half what they are today. By the first of July, despite the heaviest snowfall ever, I was well into my third day on the river. This year's rains have delayed my beginning, and have also deigned that I change my way of thinking. I will not wait until flows are what they were a year ago. Instead, I will alter my method.
My type three full sink line is now in my vest, along with a new box brimming with big uglies. My twelve foot five-weight will probably be the rod of choice for a couple of weeks. In fact, all this re-alignment in thinking has gotten me more than a little excited about the prospects...
It's a long walk back to the car. I stop to watch an osprey circling downstream. It is soon joined by smaller version and I hear the high-pitched lessons being administered.
Summer has come to my river. It is nearly time.

June 16, 2010


A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that 'individuality' is the key to success.
Robert Orben

Last Thursday I took a road trip. Not to go fishing, but to witness my son's graduation ceremony at the University of Washington.
Yeah, sure, I packed all my gear just in case, and in an earlier life could have easily succumbed to the temptation to wet a line in either the Yakima or Cle Elum rivers as I traveled west. Moving water will always be a magnet, but, this time, a few heart felt sighs, as I very 'maturely' and steadfastly continued on my way, had to do. I took it to be a good sign that I wasn't able to see any rings. Moving water is hard to drive right on by, especially when there are rings.
But, on this occasion, my vision was focused on one thing. Get to Seattle (in my aging, tireless Honda) to be there as my son walked the stage to be collared and receive his Doctorate of Philosophy in Pharmaceutics. I don't know if I even stated that correctly. And, I'd have to have the program in front of me right now( which I don't) in order to relate to you his specific dissertation.
I made it. And, I cried. The emotion was/is overpowering. As I watched, I was somehow able, for those few precious moments, to really grasp just what it took for him to get there. Those of us who think we know what work, or what academia, or what perseverance in the face of the rest of a really full life are all about cannot fully imagine, thus appreciate what total immersion, and sheer will, are all about. I try to think that along the way toward his goal, I was connected enough to somehow share in his journey, and thus more fully enjoy his accomplishment. But if I said that, I'd be misrepresenting the truth. The truth is, he did it all by himself. Through the frustration, angst, lack of sleep. Through it all he stood tall, like a man, and dealt with the obstacles as they came, in addition to the absolutely special relationship he has with his wife Jan, who herself deserves credit for her patience and understanding. And, through all those months of pursuit, he still found the time to pursue his passion for triathlon, Namely, Iron Man. How many folks who are devoted, passionate triathletes can say the same?
I am overwhelmed by his life. yes, he is my son and maybe I'm boasting here a bit. But then, how can I not? When I see and hear the respect coming from those who have instructed, and worked with him for the past several years, it brings home the fact that indeed here is a man who is destined for greater things. And I have an idea that all mankind will eventually benefit from his efforts.
Returning home, I unpacked my fishing gear and sat down at the vise. I began tying some soft hackles and some Adams Classics. A whole box full of both.
They will be a gift. They will also be an invitation. After all, even though he is now a Doctor, he's still, and always will be, the best damned fishing buddy I could ever have.

June 2, 2010


Life could kick you in the ass brutally hard and a day spent fishing a creek or a river and you forgot the kick.
Jim Harrison, The Farmer's Daughter, Brown Dog Redux

Saturday marks the beginning of my sixty-first year. That's privately a little amazing to me. I remember an early morning many moons ago. My then best friend Ray and I are blasting along in his convertible yellow bug sans headlights (a la The Green Hornet and I date myself) connecting ethereal dots and waxing as philosophically possible as it is to do so when influenced by the cubensis we'd harvested less than twenty-four hours ago nearly three hundred miles to the west. Just another day in the life.
At some point, as it invariably did, our conversation bent toward our lives,
as lived so far, with a then-thought searing insight into what was to come.
I watched a ten foot tall clown replete with blinking red nose crouch in readiness and then leap straight up into the sky as we approached and passed underneath him.
"Nice nose", I screamed, turning in my seat to watch him land on his toes, wave in our direction, then saunter off into the trees.
"It was blinking in time to the music", Ray stated matter-of-factly. And I took this all into account then thought aloud, " I won't live to see thirty."
He looked at me, grinned, shifted down and turned onto the cabin road.

I suppose all of us have stories to tell about our youth. How we cheated death, challenged the acceptable rules of behavior, or just plain walked around not feeling but being, really believing, we were so god-damned immortal. I stare at the pile of soft hackles accumulating on the foam pad behind my tying desk. Their lives are rather short. Unheralded, and very definitely short. Soon they will go into my boxes and life for them will change. Some will meet heroic ends in the mouths of wild trout whose death struggle snaps my tippet. Others will adorn trees, bushes, and submerged detritus. A few will be severely damaged even before getting to the water as my impatient backcast snaps them against the ancient rocks.
But, most will find the moving water. They will travel downstream to swing in the arc proposed by my tightened line. They will flash in the mind's eye of trout suspending clandestinely in the hydraulics, awaiting just such a chance for sustenance.
And the dance will begin again.
I don't know where my friend Ray is now, or where his life has taken him. I am sure he is alive and, knowing him as well as I once did, am sure he is doing well. I have not kept in touch with any of the people I once knew. Their lives, should I choose to wonder about them, are mysteries. As would be mine to them. I live clandestinely, suspended in the hydraulics of my life, casting flies to others who do the same.
There was, though, a bit of truth in my declaration in that early morning long ago. It just happened later on in my life.
I did die. And mercifully so. The man who walked away from that life is the real me.
Not immortal. Terribly terribly mortal.
Like my soft hackles.