November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving Last Cast.

   To give thanks in solitude is enough. Thanksgiving has wings and goes where it must go. Your prayer knows much more about it than you do.
                   Victor Hugo                     

         For a few moments after arriving, I just sit, feeling the wind gently buffeting the car. It animates the grassy clumps between me and the edge of the hill in the receding darkness of this late November morning. In the distance, across the channel where runs the creek, a lone red-tailed hawk slides slowly, easily through the back-eddy of turbulence under the cliff's edge. 

     I was up early this morning, earlier than usual. Partly because I couldn't sleep, partly because I couldn't wait to get going, but mostly for what I'm experiencing right now. There were no vehicles at any of the parking areas as I drove in. True enough that it is still early. I am not so naive as to think I might spend the entire day here without company. There may be a few who manage to break away for a short time from the ritual of their Thanksgiving Day, although in years past I have fished the whole day alone. That is what I wish for today. 

   It is true enough according to a lot of people, those being relatives and even close friends (of which I have blessedly few), that probably I shouldn't be here at all on this day, although for some of those in this group I would offer that their sentiment is a product of a certain amount of envy. It's often easier to use the energy of jealousy to infuse more vigor into the argument for adherence to customary behaviors rather than to simply admit that they too would rather be somewhere else doing something else. As for most of the rest, I'm relatively sure that for them there is no other way to observe this day, this whole 'holiday' season other than to stay the course no matter how rugged and exhausting that course may be. If that's that's the way it's always been done, well then that's the way it will always be done, damnit, no matter what!  That sounds awfully narrow-minded, I know, and it definitely omits all of those who genuinely appreciate the timeless traditions of family, food, gifting and togetherness, but, that's how I have come to perceive it. I for one can think of several better ways with which to test my patience. So, for me, there is no finer way to give thanks for all of those wonderful people in my life than to be somewhere else, somewhere alone, with only my rods accompanying me, on this day. And secretly, knowing full well that this particular eccentricity of mine will surely continue to develop as I grow older, I pray others will recognize that and finally just 'let it be', although at this juncture I admit to having my doubts about that.

    By the time I don several layers of clothing, my waders, boots, rig up two rods and set off, it is well past six. The chill, steady breeze in my face dictates a walk across the bridge to the other side. I don't hurry, reveling quietly in my solitude. The surface of the creek is here and there ruffled by the short tantrums of occasional gusts as well as the itinerant ring. A group of resident Mallards leisurely feeding in the shallows are indignant at my approach and noisily take flight as I turn into the cattails to my first destination, gingerly testing the ground as I go. The painful memory of a bottomless muskrat hole in the vicinity is the reason for my caution. 

Some thirty feet behind my current position stands a Chinese elm, the only tree on the banks of nearly the entire length of the upper creek. How it came to be here, how it came about that it is the only Chinese elm and the only tree for miles, I do not know. In the fork of the elm there is an old, but regularly inhabited raven's nest, abandoned now, but along about the middle of March a pair of the biggest, blackest birds I have ever seen will take up occupancy again to raise sometimes two, but more often just one youngster. They'll hang around this area until late fall, but where they go once their job ends I have no idea. Even though I know they're gone now until spring, I miss them. The hours I've spent in the past here, one eye on my fishing and the other observing them, have been some of the best times I've spent anywhere. I enjoy ravens and crows. I come away from my many hours of coexisting with them here with a profound sense of respect. Even with my limited level of knowledge of these creatures, their intelligence, and more to the point their individual personalities make them desirable, if mostly very distant companions, although I like to think that there exists between me and these two ravens a more than intrinsic affinity. But that's for me think, to enjoy. Who knows what they really think, but I have seen them take flight and stay away from their nest when other fishermen approach and fish where I am standing, while my presence seems to be at least tolerated.  I miss their presence today.

    My experiences have taught me that spring creeks are the 'best game in town' during the winter. My home water, the Spokane River, is still fishable, the flows remain low, but consistent success in the face of the falling water temperatures dictate major changes in method. Namely, a healthy ability to be patient with and attract fish who aren't about to go but a very short distance out of their way for much of anything no matter how delectable my offering(s) may have been a month ago. Winter on the Spokane forces me to deal with a system I for aesthetic reasons abhor, thus haven't really mastered and therefore am not as comfortable employing. It invariably entails some sort of nymph imitation or two, or sometimes even three, usually very small, rigged under a bobber; uh-oh, I mean indicator. I have, on occasion in the past, brought fish to hand with streamers, but only often enough to give me a short-term reason not to face the reality of re-rigging, made all the more difficult by numb fingers. I have nymphed a little during the winter, but, and there's no getting around it, I really should be more adept with it. I say that to myself all the time, but usually escape having to deal with actually going there because either an Olive hatch comes off and I can go to my little dries or I'll try out a new sculpin imitation, or the river will rise sharply and go off-color to boot.
   Then, I can opt out completely and drive west to my spring creek winter fishing playground, Rocky Ford. 

    My long rod, a five-weight, is rigged with scuds, two of them, about a foot apart. I set up my other rod, a six-weight, with a short, heavier leader ending with a black articulated marabou leech. I have had days here at this time of year, dark, gray, windy ones, where I cast nothing else but the leech, because quite simply, it worked all day. I certainly don't have any preconceived notions about the possibility of that happening today, but what the hell, I always start with it anyway. My first cast lands the leech across the creek right above a rocky outcropping that bends the current. I let the unweighted pattern sink for a time as it travels slowly down along the rocks before beginning my retrieve. And then, not more than three slow hand twists into it, I'm in business, reminded again of  the best fix for cold hands; the adrenalin pump of a bent rod from a solid take. 

 And so it goes as the day unwinds. I alternate between scud and leech. It doesn't really seem to matter. The resident trout population are by and large obviously appreciative of my investigative research and subsequent offerings, and even though my prayer about spending the day without other fishermen has been answered, I catch myself more than once thinking, "gee, it's a shame no one's here to see this", only to a split second later regret having had that thought at all. 

I get to end Thanksgiving day my way, with the fish of the day on the last cast. 

Last casts are an ambiguity. First of all, it's a bit like the tree falling in the forest. If no one hears it, does it really make a noise? So, if no one sees the cast, was it really the last? And, how many 'last casts' are allowable?  I stay an hour or so longer than is my usual, making that 'last cast' over and over again successfully, disdaining the walk back in lieu of the possibility of yet another hook-up and my theme then turns into 'I'll just fish my way back down to the bridge' which in turn morphs into 'one cast here before I start back up the hill...'

And I do. My 'last cast' is from a position right at the bottom of the hill where the trail back to the parking lot starts. I never fish from this spot. Fishing from here, on, say an average weekend day reminds me of sitting near the door of a coffee shop. Your attention is constantly diverted from the conversation or your laptop or your book because of the endless traffic in and out the door but then again why do people who are 'trying' to talk or read or do anything other than watch the parade decide to sit there other than seeing every other seat occupied. Indeed, that is exactly what I've observed in the folks I see fishing at this location. By the time I get here my mind is already on the drive back and I'm usually head down eyeballing which rocks to step over on the way back up the hill all the while aware of and avoiding any errant backcasts from those who attempt to cast. Ending the day with a fly in your ear is a real possibility. 
But today, it's just me, and my last cast nicely drops the two scuds upstream about three feet from the bank. I let them sit, allowing the current to belly my line which drags the scuds slowly along through the detritus but as I see a bulge in the surface over there my line is slowly working back upstream. I lift my rod, feel the weight, and then all hell breaks loose...

November 15, 2011


You must stick to your conviction, but be ready to abandon your assumptions.
                 Denis Waitley

I wouldn't describe myself as lacking in confidence, but I would just say that the ghosts you chase you never catch.
               John Malkovich

    "It absolutely terrifies me that someday my decline will begin and I will no longer be able to improve." 

     That's a sentiment conveyed in my son's latest post (From what do you flee) from his blog (130 Miles). 
           It more than caught my attention.  

      I don't for even a second pretend to know the minds of others, how they think, what causes them to formulate thoughts and experiences into their specific system, their platforms of belief and actions, any of that. But as I read his post, I was struck by a couple of things; being made aware (again) of the symmetry of our thought processes, and secondly, the connectivity he'd found with that particular statement and some of the other arenas of his life; a very full, almost hectic (as it seems to me) at times, life, although he would take issue with that. I guess it's like everything else in that it's all relative. One man's mayhem is another man's cozy fit (I suggest also that in saying that I exhibit amnesia-like symptoms as far as my former life is concerned, but that's another story for another day).

      On occasion, something I read or hear will cause me almost reflexively to stop, literally in my tracks. It is a brightest beam piercing darkness, exposing detail that was always a part of the whole but still a mystery. It is the phrase that bridges the gap between idea and realization, the missing variable in a perplexing equation. 

     My life, the focus of my life, has gotten very narrow. I readily admit that, though not in the form of a confession. It's more of a concession. I grant myself the reality that I have given up much of what I had previously known or done in or with my life. That goes not only for activities but also, and probably more importantly, my need for interactivity with others. I did that willingly, almost eagerly, now that I bother to really examine it. I guess the way I've come to live really has to do with a couple of things; the fact that I'm getting older, and the idea of real quality.
 I have no control over the former, even though I hear every day that 'you're only as old as you feel' (Okay Pollyanna, you can let yourself out), but I do have direct control over the quality of my life, and for one part, superficial relationships with people that I can't be around for more than a few minutes certainly doesn't qualify as quality. In their defense, they are not to blame. I am. I admit that, having willingly cultivated a definite aversion to social niceties and interactions. I have gotten to the point where I can count my quality relationships on one hand and not use five fingers. I treasure my relationships with these people. As the years continue to grind past, they have ingrained themselves into the essence of my life, and I know they will always be there. 
    How I got here is for yet another story. Let's just say for now that the absence of alcohol in my life has really sharpened my vision, and therefore my outlook, and that made it extremely easy in subsequent years to simply vaporize.

  It's all about what's really important to each of us. There's no way that I can substantiate the reasons each of us have for doing whatever it is we do. I can only take a stab at why I am the way I am, and my son unwittingly helped me immeasurably by writing what he wrote. I'm pretty damned comfortable with who and what I've turned out to be, but he sure helped me clarify the reasons why.

 Like I said, it's all about what's really important to each of us. A line from a song written by Paul Simon comes back to me...

      "... when I think of all the crap I learned in high school..."

   ... and so I began to wonder how much of that which I spent years learning really applies to life. To my life. What's it worth in terms of holding onto? How much of it is so insinuated into our lives that we aren't even conscious of it? Yes, it can be said that everything we 'learn' is somehow incorporated into our ever-evolving personality, but when it was time for me to actually sort things out and in the process identify myself, I had some searching to do, and found a lot of crap I had to throw out. Maybe we all reach a point where we do what I did, I don't know, but what I saw when my head finally cleared enough for me to see who I was, well that was really sobering. Don't get me wrong; there were those times and people I will always hold close, and I wouldn't trade them for anything. But for much of it, well, let's just chalk it up to a general lack of confidence accompanied by an overwhelming need for constant approval, and say good riddance.

 Thankfully, at about the same time I discovered how lost I was, I re-discovered fishing. Fishing with flies.

       Funny, that a single ever-expanding set of concentric rings could point the way to the rest my life. Could define the rest of my life. Captured? No. Released? Most definitely yes. 

When I look back, I realize I was given a second chance. A fresh start. It was, I think, a gift I was finally ready to appreciate. One that, as is said, would keep on giving, for a lifetime. One of quality. And all of my energy, my focus, my needs, wants and desires have been directed into developing the craft surrounding my fishing ever since.

Aaron, in his post, says;

"I suppose the point of this rambling is that no matter what the event or subject matter or activity, some of us are born to question ourselves."

 Another pearl. He is wise beyond his years. Some years ago, a woman, a massage therapist who was also very wise, said of Aaron that he "has an old soul", which reflected her respect for him. I'll never forget that, either.
 He's right on the mark with his observation, and I could not help but apply it to just about every facet of my past. From activities to personal relationships, always wondering, no, worrying, if it was good enough to the point that I was literally paralyzed whereupon I did, and therefore accomplished, nothing. I was so paralyzed. I had no dream, no big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, to follow. I was day-to-day, minute-by-minute, searching for nothing more than another way to postpone the inevitability of growing up. Look those up in the dictionary and there's a picture of a young Steve smiling his empty, lost smile for all to see. Years later, I ask myself; where was the quality in an existence like that which of course is a rhetorical one because there was none.

      Now, finally, I know what quality is. True enough that it is up to each of us to discover and nurture that sense of appreciation for whatever we do with each parcel of time in our lives, and it is a gift beyond measure to be confident in one's approach to and participation in those things. That, to me, is quality. It pays dividends, too, for if we enjoy what we do, we do it well. We gain confidence. And if we do it well, we do it often. And if we do it often, we continue to improve, and it's all a concentric, ever-expanding set of rings, feeding itself, and you, for as long as you wish. 

          Thank you, Aaron, for helping me see more clearly. 

November 2, 2011

Regatta (ya gotta) Get Small

Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.
   Mark Twain

     Hundreds of thousands of them. Sizes twenty and twenty-two, and every fish, no, let me say every fish, is up and dining at their leisure. 

From my vantage point about a third of the way through this particular section to downstream past where the current has begun to slow, a distance of approximately two hundred feet, the surface teems with activity. It is about here where I stand, at a little past one on a cloudy, chilly afternoon that the olives begin appearing, their transformation from nymph to imago kicked into gear. As my eye travels further down the run, the numbers of newly hatched mayflies multiplies geometrically. It's no wonder that I see so many rings, so many noses. The number of blue-winged olives and the rings that itinerant individuals disappear into is simply amazing. For the next two and a half hours the trout will feed heavily. 

   It has long been my belief that a certain, almost palpable energy level evidences itself when trout are setting into the feed. Now, watching the tiny members of the flotilla aligning themselves in perfect randomness across the width of this run, I can feel the electricity. The urgent need to get my imitation into the mix is underlined by the fact that I know I have only a small window, for time is the enemy, because soon familiarity will breed contempt for any and all imitations I might utilize that do not fit the bill to a 'T'. In other words, the longer the hatch, the more perfect the match needs to be. And after a couple of days, or, on a daily level a couple of hours, these trout know exactly what they're looking for. Both in appearance and behavior. Add to that the fact that the surface is dotted with such numbers of imagos that the fish, always eager for the easy meal, will not often, if ever, move more than a foot out of their feeding lanes to eat. They don't have to. So I have to keep that in mind, too. Not only will they refuse my imitation on the grounds of insufficient debauchery, location, location, location, to overwork a phrase a little more, is also paramount.

My dexterity is slipping. I've been at it for a little more than two hours, and even with my wader pockets stuffed with heat packs the cold has sapped more and more of my ability to perform the necessary operations quickly, deftly. It becomes a conscious, arduous effort to complete the simplest tasks, making it imperative to get it right, be it the choice of flies or the knot, the first time. While I labor, a blue heron stands on a rock a hundred yards downstream from me staring into the river at his feet, quite oblivious to my struggle. I am envious of his comfort level, not to mention his approach. My rod goes back under my arm as I again bury my hands in among the packets, cursing my DNA as time just keeps ticking away...

I'm rather proud of my parachute upwing. It's not an easy tie. I figured out that I could use 4x mono as a post for the wings and the hackle, which adds rigidity to the structure of the feather components while preserving the overall look of the fly specifically as far as what the fish sees. And it lands right side up. Every time. It's now at the end of a nice 'S' cast and settling slowly toward the water. When it lands, I am pleased to see that I can't tell the difference between it and the hundreds of real ones close by. And apparently it looks good enough to the fat rainbow who barely disturbs the surface as he rises to eat it. I hesitate for a split second after feeling the jolt, then raise my rod, and involuntarily gasp as he flies skyward, one, two, three times before streaking away across and downstream. I know it's not the case, but I go ahead and wonder if half of the energy a fish uses in his attempt to flee is a result of the chagrin at being fooled. I realize that by saying that I've given all of you a view of the way I would react. I'm not a real good subject for practical jokes.

I back the hook out of the fish's upper jaw and release the trout, thanking him for his infinite appreciation. After pulling my fly through the water to clean the slime off, I cut it off, park it in my foam patch, dig out the box, and pluck another one from it's perch. Experience is a good teacher. I know better than to think I can fool another fish with that one. It's in good shape, but it'll be a while before it's put to use again. Probably not today. C'mon hands...