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...

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