September 20, 2010

On a Saturday in the rain.

I was trying to daydream, but my mind kept wandering.
Steven Wright

The rain came down harder. I stood and watched for awhile, sheltering beneath a cluster of pines, while the deluge raised a white sheen on the surface of the river below me.

I think we all have madness in us, it's just that I've realized mine and found a way to let it out.
John Glover

The idea had come to me the day before as I made my way very carefully across the river through a stretch of shallow but fast-moving water to an unfished slot still quite reachable given the fact that flow levels have, for the past two weeks, been on the increase.
A sudden movement at my left foot had startled me and I froze, scanning the rocky bottom for whatever it was I thought I'd seen. Thinking I'd probably dislodged a rock as I shuffled along, I prepared to continue on my way when I saw it again. And this time, clearly defined against the pale green algae on a granite slab it hugged, I saw the sculpin.

A sculpin is a bottom fish. It inhabits rivers, lakes, and is also found in salt water. They are throwbacks to a time when we were first emerging from the water. Very primitive in appearance, with spiny scales and fins. Ugly, too. At least that's my impression, although there are trout here, mostly larger ones, who will prey upon them. For those so inclined, they are a delicacy.

Over the years I've fished TDR, there has been enough interest on my part in finding a viable lure to spur a certain amount of time spent at the vise trying to conceptualize and then somewhat faithfully construct an artificial sculpin that would consistently get results. I italicize the word because there have been patterns fished that have provided some success, but most of them remind me of something a friend of mine said after I related to him an experience I'd had with a newly concocted pattern.
"So, you hooked the dumb one...", which, in my mind, although I remained stoic, seemed to be painfully close to the truth. Each new composition would usually
be found attractive by one, sometimes even two, but seldom three fish, at which point said compositions were, after a few more frustrating attempts removed from the box and remanded to the obscurity of the ever-filling OHW(one-hit wonder) glass sitting in an unobtrusive corner on my tying desk. And usually at this point, any further experimentation with or on concepts dealing with the sculpin were also summarily dismissed, at least up until this very recent day when I fairly stumbled on the real thing. That got the juices flowing again. My memory is blessedly short when it comes to failures of this nature, and since it seemed like a reasonable amount of time since my last frustrating foray into experiments along this line, well, maybe it was time again. I had this vivid image in my head of that sculpin and coupling that with the beginning of fall where fish will start looking for more to eat, well, how could I not give it another shot?

So, what you see at the top of the page is what was double-terled to my shortened leader at the end of my type 3 sinking line as I stood there beneath the pines watching the rain pelt the river's surface last Saturday. It's a simple pattern. I took a very elemental approach, not wanting to get caught up in too much detail. I tend, at times, to focus more on that than I need to. So maybe I'm learning? Time, as always, will tell...

I was not at the location where I discovered the sculpin, but that's a no-brainer, at least on this river, because wherever there's really good-looking water (especially right now), there will more often than not be no fish. They're all, save for the occasional territorial loner, pretty stacked up in the safety of deeper, slower water that is less affected by the up until recently scant flows.
And that's where, for the most part, they will remain until late fall's hatches of caddis and blue-winged olives draw them back into the shallower runs and riffles.

The section where I have decided to fish my new concept is deep, close to eighty feet across with a fair a current, and only a short distance downstream from a briskly flowing riffle. It's also attractive because I have room for a backcast, almost a necessity when fishing a sinking line. I say almost because it is possible, with some patient practice, to roll cast this line somewhat proficiently for distance. But today I want to cover as much water as possible, so that's another reason to be here.

In my mind, as I now wade through the rain to a pre-selected grouping of rocks, there are large, fierce, hungry rainbow trout lying in stealth in the depths, waiting for a sculpin to make a mistake and show itself. I will present mine and hope it passes muster.

The rain continues to fall, soaking me, as I strip line from the reel and pull my sculpin through the water. Examining it as it goes, I can't help but be impressed at it's similarity to the coloration and profile of the real thing, but it matters little how I see it.

I start short, working the area closest to me. Just like the books tell you to do. I continually remind myself that there's a reason for this, as I tend to let impatience rule the length of even my first casts. Within me lives this beast who wishes to, whenever possible, push the limits of distance into the next county. I love casting. I dearly love casting a sinking line. It's weight makes it easy to feel the rod flexing, leveraging, and when power of the haul is properly applied, it is a never ending glory to watch as the narrow loop extends out seemingly forever. But, as I stated, I am, at least for now, denying myself this 'evil' pleasure in return for a more mature, practical approach.

There is also the question of retrieval. How do I want to bring it back to me? Do I want to begin stripping at landing? Shortly after landing? During the swing? After?
It occurs to me that there will probably be time to try all of these. So for now, I content myself with moderate casts of what I take to be about fifty feet, and beginning my retrieve after a couple of seconds.

I settle easily into a rhythm as I change the angle of each cast, the rod telling me when to pull, the river telling me when to retrieve, lifting my rod to roll out the line as I begin again, and again. I lose myself for a time in the sheer joy of the mechanics, although I am not aware of them as being such. It is in the repetition, of movement, of feeling, of sensation, from where I gain the deepest satisfaction, and it is here where I will always go to find the most resonant solace which is really the ultimate drug. It is not the first time, nor will it ever, I pray, be the last time I lose myself in the sheer joy of the cast and the retrieve.
And then, in the middle of my retrieve, the line in my hand is pulled back. Hard. Joltingly hard. Then again. And again. The line laying in the water at my feet races out the guides through the eye and into the river, arcing after my sculpin, which is now racing away and downstream from me. I raise the rod tip to the chorus of my reel screaming at my backing knot as it races toward the water.

Directly across the river in the shallows a foraging duck suddenly leaps, squawking, wings flapping, into the air as the water in front of him explodes, spitting a dark-olive rainbow up into the afternoon rain. I watch the fish cartwheel back to the water before realizing that fish is attached to my sculpin which is attached to my fly line which is attached to my reel which is still screaming as backing peels off, only in a different direction! And then, slowly, as if in some sort of delayed realization, the fly line begins to conform to what I am feeling. The fierce, jerking pull is coming from clear across the river now as I watch the line begin bend back upstream to follow the path of the fish as it once again shoots skyward in a spectacular display of power. Still he takes line. I pin the line to the rod, testing its ability to stop him, and my rod tip instantly goes to the water. He refuses to yield. There is, in this fish, an unimaginable amount of power, an urgent need to escape, to survive. Every ounce of its strength, every fiber in its being is directed to this end. I hang on, in awe.

The rain has stopped. The sculpin is back in the keeper, and I just stand there, for awhile, and smile. One strike. One beautiful rainbow, brought to hand. The biggest rainbow I've yet been blessed enough to do battle with. Anywhere. And of all the trout I've ever had the chance to fish for, to tempt, to puzzle over, or to bring to hand, this one will forever bring that single, defining moment of joy. There is no finer way to be humbled than to experience the jolt of that take.

He won. He got me. He stole a piece of my heart. Took it with him as he swam away, back into the depths of the river on that rainy Saturday afternoon.

Maybe some day, after I'm gone, all the pieces of my heart, which are in different places in this river will find their ways back together. Maybe they already have. This is where my heart is. I can think of no better place for it.


  1. No kidding. What a powerful culmination and meaning.