August 23, 2010

Late Summer

Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.
Russell Baker

Caddis. All day. Every day. They fill the air around me, jostled from their midday perches as I bend back branches of alder and willow searching for my next foothold. Thousands of them, driven into the air prematurely as I fish my way downstream. In a few hours, they will take flight again, this time with a mission. Mate, lay eggs, and die, all the while targeted by trout, who lie now in the depths, waiting for that magic hour shortly after sunset when these Caddis will fill the air in earnest.
Gentleman by the name of Al Troth needs to be mentioned here. It is his simple pattern I long ago adopted from which to tie a multitude of variations upon. By far and away, this simple, but terribly effective dry pattern has hooked more fish here on my river than any other, the classic BWO coming in a distant second. My soft hackle and the Troth-style dry are the two patterns I fish most often, and for a simple reason. They hook more fish in more types of weather and water conditions than any other ten flies I have ever used. And that's not bull.
Low water is here. Lower than I'd expected it to be, especially after the promises of higher powers to keep it above a certain CFS. I wondered how they'd do that, given the inordinate scarcity of snow last winter and the usual lack of rainfall once the summer heat finally kicked in. Apparently there are some things that our powerful Army Corps and our benevolent Utility cannot change, and for that I am grateful. I'm even more grateful when I see a large swirl downstream from where I have found a solid foothold.
There are two huge rocks about 4 feet apart some forty odd feet below me. I am now, because of the low flows, able to stand directly upstream from them. Upstream, pulling duty as an incubator, is a rocky shelf. The fast flows are oxygenated here, providing a valuable piece to the periodic hatch chart. A vivid memory from early this summer comes back as I extract my lightly weighted soft hackle from the keeper. I was standing just off the bank in water waist deep, about thirty feet from where I am now, gazing downstream at these same two rocks whose water-worn tops then barely bulged the currents flowing over them. There were fish feeding below them, but about all I could do outside of a few frustrating casts was to observe and fuss. There was just no way I could reach their position. I know this to be true because I tried everything. Now these two leviathans divide and deflect the currents, and the deeper water behind them just upstream from where the currents come back together is a prime position for a territorial trout (often more than one large, territorial trout) who seeks both cover and a feeding place. The size of the swirl confirms my suspicion. He is covering the river side of the currents, feeding in or just below the surface. I strip line off the reel, watching the hydraulics in the area of the swirl. It is perfect. The currents form a conveyer belt to his lie, bringing prey right over his position.
Another lazy swirl.
I roll cast down and across, my soft hackle landing upstream and diagonally about fifteen feet from the rocks. After mending out a few more feet, I let the river take over, and it shapes a perfect belly in my line...

There is, in moments like this as my soft hackle arcs toward its appointment, a certain timelessness. All that has needed to be considered, calculated and prepared for is done. The river is the guide. The messenger.
The lower third of my bellied fly line is very close to the rock. I know that it will not make contact because of the hydraulics off the rock, but my soft hackle will swing directly into the deflection a short distance below.
And that's about as far as my observation gets when I see a flash in the swirl, and feel an abrupt jolt.
It's a bit of a hike back up the steep trail. I stop about halfway up, fixing my gaze on the water flowing around and between those two big rocks. I need to remember this day forever. I need to remember them all. They need to remain as clear and vivid in my mind as when I experienced them.
That's all we really have, you know.

August 1, 2010

The Frog

Do not be misled by what you see around you, or be influenced by what you see. You live in a world which is a playground of illusion, full of false paths, false values and false ideals. But you are not part of that world.
Sai Baba

The dark spot on the wall is not where it was several minutes ago, and upon closer inspection reveals itself to be a diminutive insect on a mission to get from wherever it came from to wherever it is going. Or maybe it is the wall that is moving...
I like to think the light at the end of my tunnel is real. I like to think that there will be significant reward should I finally determine that indeed that light is more than a one-dimensional illusion. So far I remain skeptical. A man much wiser than me has said that a frog's horizon as he lives at the bottom of a well will never be wider than the circumference of the well's opening to the sky above it.
I am the frog.
I like to think that the experiences of my life have deposited in my being a level of knowledge and possibly even some maturity commensurate with the number of years I have spent having these experiences; that this aggregate will be worth trading at some point, probably in the near future, for a modicum of enlightenment.
That's what I like to think.
Somewhere in the distance of a clear, cool morning I hear a child screaming his or her displeasure with the status quo. I have no idea as to what the specific grievance is, but it is obvious life has struck again, sticking a time-sharpened pin into another colorful balloon. The shrieks fade while the newest reality takes center stage for awhile.
Meanwhile the diminutive insect continues on.
The light I use at my tying desk provides me with full spectrum light, in order that the flies I construct will not change color when brought into the real light of day. Often, however, I am still amazed at the difference, and wish that the light I tie under could be the same light I fish with. It is somehow so much more vivid, revealing, but I know that I am not seeing that fly in the same way I saw it shortly after its creation.
I am the frog.

There is a slot of deep, fast water across the river from where I will periodically finish a day. I tend, whether by accident or by purpose I'm not sure, to end up there, swinging my soft hackles through the slow currents, pondering that slot as the declining angle of the setting sun lengthens the shadows. In my mind, as the years pass, that slot across the river grows in legend. It is well-protected by several old cottonwoods whose branches and young offspring combine to defend against any but the most determined efforts to reach that water. Never, in all the years I have come here have I fished it, but, never, in all those years, have I seen anyone else. After I've finished my day and climbed the hill, I'll turn to view that slot one more time, promising myself that tomorrow is the day. I've done that for close to twenty years now. The legend, the mystery, grows a little more.

There's a brutal little voice in my head. I've lived with it for a lifetime. It is quick to criticize, begrudgingly slow to praise. Success is a four-letter word called luck, no matter how practiced, how tested, the technique. Confidence is a short, illusory seizure followed by doubt and the driving urge to convince myself again, and again.
I try to figure it out.
The tiny dot on the wall nears the corner. The child is quiet. The light at the end of the tunnel is still there, but I'm no closer to understanding it than I was.
I am the frog.