After my spectacular failures, I could not be satisfied with an ordinary success.
It is in these last days of September wherein my memories of this year's fishing on my river will be most vivid. The weather has been perfect. Clear, sunny days of morning coolness rising to moderate afternoon temperatures, and little or no wind. Makes it easier to forget the gray, cool inclemency of August, and even most of July. And although I know all good things must eventually end, I revel, especially now, as always, in the present.
An uncommon day of fishing on the river could be taken two ways. One might possibly think I would be about to describe a day filled with frustration, angst. A day lost to misfortune and error, a day wrought with failure.
Not, happily, today.
Every now and again, a day like this comes along. I've always thought they're bound to, mingled in with the others, lined up indiscriminately into our futures as far as our minds care to comprehend; the good, not-so-good and just plain bad, invariably quite indiscernible until they each step forward and reveal themselves to us.
Today I marked the sixth straight day of fishing. As I said, with the weather being so good, I would have been crazy not to have been down there. There is an old saying about the fishing always being good but sometimes the catching is a little slow? Well, a fly fisherman not educated in the ways of my river could possibly find purchase in that old adage were it not for the fact, usually ignored, that my river is decidedly not the kind of river that most of the folks who like to wet flies in are drawn to. In fact, it can be downright stingy when it comes to giving up any knowledge as to where, or how it should be fished. I don't pretend for a second that I have any more, or any better knowledge than any other person who's spent as much time down there as I have, although, in all honesty, I have yet to meet anyone who has. But, sometimes, usually after a couple of good days, I will allow myself to think I do, until the next day arrives and I'm quickly reminded that while experience is the best teacher, clearly I have not accumulated nearly enough of that. That thought haunts me still, after how many years?
So maybe today was a carrot, a reward for my persistence. A gold watch for so many years of service. A gesture. An acknowledgement of the hours spent. A royalty, or dividend, designed to allay any of the many anxieties I may have incurred through all those years.
Or maybe, just maybe, I am actually, finally putting my experience to good use. I think for now I'll go with that, at least until I'm inevitably forced to face reality again.
It didn't really all just happen today, this realization. The past few days have been extremely satisfying, weather-wise and fishing-wise. No, not a lot of fish brought to hand; no inordinately high fish counts. No wild, reel-screaming fierce battles; well, on second thought, there were a couple of those. No, it's more in the realm of a quiet sense of accomplishment I come away with each day as I ascend the trail back to my car.
I started my day early. Up at four, showered, disdained again the task of shaving, threw the oatmeal and raisins together and readied the french press, undoubtedly the best way to enjoy good, strong, black coffee. I cannot even imagine a morning, especially a fishing morning, without my coffee. With all that under control, my thoughts center again on a plan of action for today's fishing. I like to at least think I'm going to a pre-determined area before I actually arrive. Whether or not I end up there is always up for further rumination after I rig up and start walking, but at least having a destination in mind frees me to concentrate on other stuff before I get in the car. I grab the half-dozen soft hackles I tied the night before, and debate sitting down to tie a couple of my classic, lightly weighted ones. A quick check of the box dissuades me from this activity. I call it all good and pack my gear out to the car.
The drive down to the river takes about fifteen minutes on a good day, and today had started, and still seemed, to be one of those. And, I felt it. It felt like a damned good day, but, I've had that intuitive sensation before as I've driven. Those feelings haven't always been realized; the reality often being very nearly the opposite. But today, well, I felt good. Optimistic, even. My son Aaron, the doctor, the fly fisherman, the Iron Man, the ultra-distance running machine, and I have spoken about this. He has spoken of this same sense of well-being, this aura of confidence in the hours before he competes. He goes on to say that this particular pre-race state of mind does not always translate into a successful race. There are so many peripherals involved that may or may not come into play along the way. And, in some ways, an attitude of too much confidence can cloud his mind. It will not then react quickly enough to what his body is telling him. While I don't pretend to compare how much preparation is involved with doing successfully all that he does, what he does, to a day of fishing, I do see the parallels. I do understand the logic, and I have suffered the consequences, albeit not comparable.
But, all things taken into consideration, I still felt pretty good about today.
I stuck with my pre-drive decision as far as fishing locale for this day. As I drove across the bridge the river was invisible, hidden beneath a veil of swirling fog. At this time of year, the dew point here, because of the higher humidity, is just a smidge higher than the surrounding elevations and that combined with the cool pre-sun hours precipitates the misty cloud that envelopes the river. It will burn off soon enough, but I intend to be on the river to snap a couple of pictures before it does.
Into the parking lot. Waders, boots, glasses, fly rod rigged, fly (always start with a soft hackle) attached. I lock the car, double check for keys, and set off briskly into the fog.
It's about fifteen minutes, twelve if I really stride, to my destination for today. I'm heading downstream about a mile or so to a long run that I've purposefully stayed away from for several days. My thinking is that by doing that, the fish have had that many days to recover from my last visit here. That happens to be one of my cardinal rules, too. Never go to the same spot two days in a row. Or even in the same week. Plus, I know that no one else has been here disturbing things, which is probably wishful thinking. I think it anyway. Sometimes I am surprised, but most times not.
The fog has thickened as I gingerly work my way down through the moss-covered rocks. The sunlight filtering through the foggy blanket mutes the colors, turns the river, everything, gray. I pause briefly, debating whether or not to get the camera out now and get those pictures, but the call of the river is loud, appealing, and I easily surrender, strip line from the reel and roll out my first cast.
The hydraulics here are a convoluted maelstrom. The bottom of the river is a hellish combination of rocks, of all sizes and shapes. The currents flowing over and around these rocks are twisted and re-routed, causing uplifts and funnels, downdrafts and eddies. It may be a tortured section to behold, but beneath the surface, because of the rocks, there are many favorable holding areas for what I have found to be some of the biggest trout in this river.
My first roll cast lands my fly some twenty feet out, the line is immediately turned this way and that. I mend furiously, upstream, then down, trying to keep at least a vague semblance of an arc in the line as it is washed downstream, all the while being as sensitive as possible to any difference in feeling in the fingers of my line hand. I love this. I love the mystery of the swing anyway, but add to that the dimension of the swirling currents which make keeping in direct touch with the fly nearly impossible no matter how effectively you mend, well, now this is fishing!
Just as the bends in the line begin to lengthen somewhat, I see the furthest section from me that is still visible suddenly dart upstream. I pin the line and lift the rod, and the pull is strong, spasmodic, and has weight. My ten-foot Sage bends radically, while my Waterworks screams. I feel awesome. Here we go.
Several casts and swing management efforts later, I lift my soft hackle out of the water, examining it for damage. I have not touched a fish since the first cast. Another old adage comes to mind. "Fish on the first cast? Go home, my man, because the gods have ordained that you are through for the day."
As I ponder the significance of this development, I watch a medium-sized Caddis leap off the surface of the water. It gets maybe six inches into the air when lo and behold a trout flies out of water and deftly snatches the Caddis right out of the air. Impressive!
My thoughts at that point went straight to wondering if that was a newly hatched adult, or if it might have been a female re-emerging from the water after laying eggs. We have several models of Caddis hatching here at any given time, and roughly a third of them re-enter the medium from which they emerged from to lay eggs. My guess (probably because I had a pattern I wanted to try and here was a first-class reason for digging it out) was that yes, it was female who was laying eggs, and I now had the perfect opportunity to wet the fly I'd been working on which imitated that very thing. I'd gotten serious for awhile about the idea a few years back and it'd kind of been on the back burner ever since then.
It took a few minutes of intense hunting through my boxes to find it. I had one. Just one. Buried in with my classic soft hackles. The elk hair gave it away, and I dug it out, extended my leader a bit, and rolled it out to the far edge of a set of standing waves...
Every day that I am able to fish is a good day. Some are 'gooder' than others and some are more easily forgotten. Then there are the days, quite few and far between that defy description. This was one of those days. The next hour and a half will live forever in my mind's eye. It was almost an out-of-body experience. Never mind the fact that at one point I hooked fish on three successive casts; that these fish can't possibly be stacked up like this anywhere in this river let alone right here right now, and when have I ever had such a spot-on pattern as this at just the perfect time!
Looking back, I am pretty surprised at how much punishment that fly took. And, it kept hooking fish even though it had long ago ceased to look anything like how it did originally.
I never did get those pictures taken, but it was foggy for quite some time. Guess you'll just have to take my word for it.
I was a little busy.