July 26, 2010

Happy to be Here

All the best stories are but one story in reality - the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape.
A.C. Benson

It is the twenty-sixth day of July, and I sit here staring at the picture of the osprey I decided would befit this post. She has guard duty while her mate fishes downstream. He will return shortly with a fine trout and I will hear their two young ones scream for a tasty morsel. They are not old enough to fly as yet, which puts them a few weeks behind schedule. As I've previously stated, everything is happening later into the summer months this year, thanks to the slow abdication of spring.
I am still sitting here, having recently returned from another morning's fishing. This was the fourth straight day I've risen earlier than usual so as to be standing in my river before daybreak; earlier than usual being at three rather than four, in the morning. Gives me a couple more hours of prime fishing time before the heat, which gets oppressive way before noon now, sets in. I don't know why that's important, if any of this really is, or why I felt the need to reveal that tidbit of nonsuch to you. But, there I was, and, to be honest, I'd not ever wish to be anywhere else, except maybe on the South Island of New Zealand in a spring creek, but my son tells me it's too expensive to live there, so there I am standing in my river spending not a dime and blithely loving it.
I see obstacles now. I'm desirous of planting in here as I construct this, a few tediously selected superlatives in order to most graphically, sensationally describe how good the catching has been since the now rapidly decreasing flows have once again allowed me access to those places I could, up to very recently, only gawk at from perches far removed. As they like to say, the fishing's always good, sometimes it's the catching that's not. But, in the context of the past four mornings, that's most definitely not been the case. I used to keep a pretty comprehensive tally of fish brought to hand for each day. I don't do that anymore. It seemed a bit too ego-oriented, at least for me. Hell, I'm the type of guy who may have several great days of catching in a row and then the day arrives where it's a little slow and I'm wondering what the heck I'm doing wrong. Actually, I'm not as bad as I used to be. In fact, if I remember correctly, which may be a stretch in itself, I've had a few days quite recently where I completely forgot to chastise myself for almost being skunked. Where did that attitude shift come from, anyway! I wouldn't say I've fallen into the 'just happy to be here' category just yet, but maybe that's not far off. I'll keep you posted. Could be the age thing, I don't know. I'll probably have a clearer idea about that when I begin waking up happy that I woke up.
Or maybe that's all just drivel from the brain of a hermitic madman who's experiencing some of the best fishing he's ever had in his life. I think it's easy to wax philosophic when the line is mostly tight. Catch up to me after a lengthy dry spell and we'll see what spills out of my mouth, besides the time-honored expletives. You'll find me, muttering incoherently, there at the vise, squinting into the magnifier at yet another possible 'Sure Thing' to add to my forever expanding and now quite formidable assemblage of 'Sure Things'.
But that's not really true, either. Truth is, with the exception of a subtle change in the color of the tungsten bead on some of my soft hackles, there has really, for the first time in many years I might add, been very little change in what I'm fishing with this year as compared to years past. Could it be that I'm fishing them more effectively? That statement, if you're not tuned in, is my deft way of kind of patting myself on the back, because I think I am indeed fishing those time tested patterns much more efficiently than ever before, which is proof that yes, even a slow learner like me can effect positive changes in fishing technique. Trouble is, when I look back on the past several years, most, if not all of the occasional improvements I made were accidental, or, at the very best, nearly unconscious ones. I was simply astute just enough at the right time to realize that what I'd discovered, whatever it was I'd done or tied or thought, maybe it'd be a good idea to replicate that long enough to see if some sort of symmetry existed. And, happily, usually there was, which also brings into context all the marvelous ways I have to justify that sort of success. A pat on the back, especially when it comes from you yourself, is almost always a good thing.
Yesterday I landed more trout, including two beautiful browns, than I've brought to hand for a very long time. I hooked them in the growing light of a hot day with swung, and deeply swung, soft hackles. I fished the shallows with Caddis dries, and BWO classic adults. It was a two-hour long carnival of delight. I couldn't do anything wrong. I made no wrong decisions concerning fly selection, or method of fishing them. For two hours, I stood at the pinnacle of success. Even my blood knots snapped true at the first attempt. That never happens. And the best part of it all was my ability to call it good, reel it up and set course for the trail knowing that there would indeed be another day, another opportunity to come and stand in my river and do it again.
Today it was also very good. It was a tad bit slower, but, I guess in the long run, it didn't matter, because way down deep I really was just 'happy to be there'.

July 19, 2010

Two worlds, apart.

But the dream is never forgotten, only put aside and never out of reach: Where once the dream connected boys with the world of men, now it reconnects men with the spirit of boys.
John Thorn

It is a very warm, lazy Sunday. For the first day in nearly nine months, flows on my river are finally stabilizing below three thousand cfs. I stop momentarily at a fork in the trail, a spectator to the seemingly endless parade of inflatables sliding downstream past my elevated position.
I will, later as I write this, wonder why I didn't substantiate that which I have just described with a picture. But as soon as that thought occurs another one replaces it; if I feel the need to prove the validity of my statement there will be ample opportunities in the near future to do so. I should have known better than to be here on this Chamber-of-Commerce Sunday after a string of similarly warm, blue-sky days. And it's not like I can blame those who are using the river for recreational purposes other than wetting a line. It does run right through Spokane. It's close, it's cool, and it's free. About all I can do is silently curse those who have the liberty to be here and yet take such little pride in what I feel they are privileged to enjoy. Flashes of sunlight reflected from floating beer cans underline my frustration. I turn to the west. From as far upstream as I can see they float into view, strung out from bank to bank. A motley flotilla of tubes, rafts, and coolers. The sheer volume of traffic amazes me, and I stand, almost hypnotized, for much longer than I should.

Plans altered, I set out again, opting for my hidden place downstream where I know I will find solitude. The trail now takes me back into the thicket, the cacophony of shouts and merriment slowly, mercifully, fading.
A mile or so downstream there is a channel that hugs the hillside, carved over time into the terrain that carries the high water of spring. This channel, which is now dry, serves to provide me a faster, easier, and unless you know of it, more secretive route to my destination. It is refreshingly cool and quiet now as I make my way briskly through the sparse brush under the towering cottonwoods. Less than a stone's throw to my east the floating, inebriated masses are continuing on their way.
I wade gingerly on slippery rocks down and across a faster, permanent channel where in spring the now dry channel emptied its overflow. Fifty yards or so downstream from the junction is an old alder, stubbornly anchored in the swift currents, and because of its disposition in the current, an accumulation point for years of floating detritus. I have, over the years, come to love this old, defiant tree. It forms a perfect current break. A deep, slow run extends downstream for almost a hundred feet. And because of its proximity to the side of the steep hill climbing to the south from its edge, it seems to go basically unnoticed, or so I like to think.
And so while my river occupies herself, patiently but purposefully pushing the inflatable party downstream, I wade slowly, quietly, in relative solitude, stalking the fish whose noses are creating beautiful, expanding rings.
There are three sets of rings regularly occurring in the dying light of the late afternoon, and I sense that these fish feel very secure here. Out of sight, out of danger. But they are in a tight group dimpling the surface no more than six, maybe seven feet below the alder, whose overhanging branches pose a serious threat to a fly cast a little too boldly. So I will not have many chances. I never do here, in this place, but that's why I love it. No room for error.
The nearly forty foot upstream cast must be made sidearm in order to pass safely under the branches, and it must come in from an angle to keep the leader from being seen. I know from past experience here that if that is accomplished, there is most certainly a reward for the effort. The fly need not be a perfect replica of what is being sought, but it must be settled on the water above the uppermost ring to have a chance.
I false cast directly upstream so as not to alarm the feeders. Once my line length is sufficient, I drop the rod until I am casting parallel to the surface and angle it in the direction of the rings. The delivery is not perfect, but the fly turns over inches beneath the branches, settles and is drag free just long enough...
... for a projectile to suddenly break the surface, somersaulting while becoming totally airborne before splashing down tail first. My leader follows the flight, and I gently lift my rod. Surprise- surprise! I have said before and I underline it again; these are pound-for-pound the strongest, wildest rainbow I have ever hooked into anywhere.
By the time that nineteen inch buck had finally tired enough to bring him to hand, I was totally humbled. His beautiful coloration and fierce desire to get free won my admiration, and as he swam out of my hand, a tear from my eye fell on the water above his back.
I just stood there in that channel for the longest time, captured again by the moment in my time I had just experienced, thankful for all the hours, for all the trials, for all the chances to be able to do just this, while not too far away, out on my river, the party went on.

July 12, 2010


There is no sanctuary of virtue like home.
Edward Everett

I had this great new plan. Well-conceived. Based in study, accumulated wisdoms, and last but certainly not least, emerging conditions.
The Plan I speak of concerned a new approach I would be utilizing in these early summer days on my river. I spoke of it briefly in my prior post. A long rod. A sinking line. Big uglies.
And then my life changed. Again.
Let's not delve into details. The details are all around us almost every day. They involve people, and relationships, and revolve around deciding, or knowing what's really important and what to do about the decisions necessary to effect the way it will, or should be. Again and again. But, these particular details are for me alone, for now; for my night times when I'm alone, sleepless, pacing endlessly way, way down deep inside my thoughts.
TDR ( my river) is flowing with much more volume much longer into the summer months this year. Our spring saw to that, with record rainfall and cooler temperatures that delayed the thaw at the higher altitudes, extending the run-off period for nearly a month and a half longer than usual.
I stop for a moment before descending to the water, surveying the shoreline down the run where I have always first come when the flows have receded. The alders and willows are still knee-high in the water, their lower branches etching gentle wakes in the currents passing underneath. I would be in water deeper than I am tall if I were to attempt to cast from where I usually stand. Every cast for quite some time will be a roll. I will not have room for a standard cast for several more weeks.
But there is a silver lining to this, which I will discover when I am done with my appraisal and finally settle on a position from which to fish.
I now stand between two bushy alders, which are some fifteen feet apart, which are still in waist deep water, both extending their branches out over and into the water. It is through this opening where I have in the past years been able to wade far enough out into the river to effectively roll cast a good forty to fifty feet almost straight across the currents as they move past me here. This year, I am limited by the flow to a window smack dab between those alders some fifteen, maybe twenty feet closer to the bank than where I normally would be. In fact, because of the brush I am surrounded by, I can manage only the most rudimentary roll cast, worrying more about hanging my soft hackle high in the overhanging branches than getting any distance on my cast.
My first delivery is in fact made slingshot style, pulling just enough line off the reel to allow me to use the rod's elasticity to propel the fly. Once launched, using my rod much as you would a bow to shoot an arrow, my softhackle lands no more than eight feet from me, while I utter a silent thanks to the Sage gods for making such a wonderfully supple ten-foot five-weight. I rip line off the reel and mend it out quickly, which allows the bead-headed soft hackle to sink in the water column as it is pulled downstream briefly before I feel the line tension and know, rather than see, that it is now carving its short arc through the currents toward the bank.
That's when I discover the silver lining in all this consternation. Turns out that the slow-to-dissipate higher flows have encouraged the fish, at least in this section of the river, to take up or remain in comfortably safe lies still somewhat closer to the bank than is the norm for this time of year. Now, as my line slowly tightens with the current, I am suddenly made aware that what was only a very short time ago thought to be an obstacle is in reality an advantage. The clarity of that sensation pulses in my brain, as I feel, then see, the rod bend from a savage take.
The type 3 sinking line is in my vest, along with the film canister of uglies I'd originally planned to employ on this, my first foray to my river this summer.
I don't use them. There's something to be said about the comfort zone, the stasis, the inner sanctum of that comfort, and what led me there. Of denying the odds. Telling no lies. There's been enough change in my life lately. Decisions have been made, and a direction established. Straight ahead I go, into a future I'm forced to admit that I'm really no more sure of than before, but at least now, now, my head, and most significantly, my heart, are clear. My focus is at last sharper now than ever. The conception is one of creativity, based firmly in the wisdom of experiences both on, and away, from my river. The ebbs and flows are similar. It is my footing that is now better.