April 23, 2012

The X factor

                     I know that I like an art where disparate elements form an entity.
                                                    James Schuyler

                                  Hope is such a bait, it covers any hook.                                                  
                                                 Oliver Goldsmith

                             There's no such thing as a sure thing.

          There were no premonitions or nightmares, no clairvoyance or sudden attack of insight. I approached the coming day's fishing with my usual mindset, which now quietly included an ever growing level of confidence, the product of several discoveries made in the past few weeks regarding implementation of certain flies at strategic times as I moved through the day. All was, as far as I knew up to that point, quite well.

        I'd gotten on the road an hour earlier than usual. I suppose there's nothing remarkable about that since the sun's up earlier too, and if I planned to successfully utilize my new articulated bunny leech, then I'd best be on the water for awhile before sunrise. A big-ass leech on the streak during full sun will entice only the really dumb fish (sometimes), but I'm not going to hang around all day waiting for the evening unless I plan on a hundred and fifty-mile drive home in the dark, which isn't so bad if I'm thirty years younger and haven't been up since two-thirty in the morning, although the thought has (and still does) run through my mind.
      I have what is often perceptively referred to as a relatively clear schedule. As far as my eyes can see. The only mounds out ahead on the topography of my life are those I set aside for fishing. Just imagine your life as filtered by software you run in your head that deletes any and/or all activities/people you deem quite unnecessary but somehow continue to make time for. Or, since that particular technology isn't available yet (to most of us), try this.
         Develop a passion for something! A real, honest-to-goodness passion! Or, more realistically, take what you think is the easy way out and continue to find excuses for living your life as you have always lived it (never knowing what it is I am referring to here).
       [Tunnel vision is wonderful. I highly recommend it to everyone. Life is so much more simple/gratifying this way. And while I understand that next to no one who reads this will agree (which means next to nothing to me), I will continue to wave this banner, knowing full well that while I know what I state is a truth, for most everyone else this is veritably impossible, and therefore a ridiculous statement. Seriously, though, I know that most normal people have really full lives; really full, and it's just not possible to focus so sharply on any one facet of life because there're way too many so they just try to do the best with whatever time they have and end up for the most part just happy to be here, or there, or everywhere (if they can) for a little while but not for too long because oops they missed something along the way and which way is it back to sanity but they don't know because that sure seems like a long time ago or maybe it was never and where is it they're supposed to be next?]

       Cold morning. I walk along the creek far up the frozen trail past my usual destination through frosted clumps of grasses, listening to the ravens' morning discussion which centers around who's going to sit with the kids for awhile. The decision goes against the grain for Mr. Raven as the Mrs. circles and offers a few pointers before she wheels and heads upstream ahead of me, leaving a grumbling dad to his babysitting chores. Here and there rings expand silently on the glassy surface. Several ducks sound the alarm as they noisily take flight while I make my way through the cattail reeds to the water's edge. Laying down my chironomid rod, being extra careful to place it way out of harm's way (because I stupidly stepped on and broke it right above the handle five weeks ago) I release the articulated bunny leech from the keeper and strip line off the reel. Sunrise is still a good forty-five minutes behind me as my leech plops into the water.  
       I let it settle for a few seconds. What a great drive out here this morning. Out the door before three-thirty. Zero traffic. I mean none. Not even the usual armada of semis. I passed a couple coming up the hill out of town and that was it. Just me, billions of stars, the road, the darkness, and Deep Purple. Ha. Priceless. It's the little things like that. Not worth mentioning to anyone else as in who's going to even care, but so precious to me.  From seventy thousand feet up I'm an infinitesimal beam of light running from the sun searching its way across an anonymous landscape from one small constellation to an even smaller one and then finally into the oblivion more popularly known as Rocky Ford spring creek.
        After the fourth cast, I began to sense a crease in the plan. Nothing alarming, it's just that by the fourth cast on the last several forays using the leech, I'd been connected to my second or third, or even fourth fish, and it had been lighter out than it was now. The fifth cast settled for awhile as I gave it all some thought and scraped some ice out of the guides. Cold enough today to do that, too. It was then that I realized what was happening.

             Turnover. I looked more closely on the surface, and saw several small gobs of last year's bottom growth, dislodged from their anchors by this year's new crop, floating past me. Going immediately to my sets of recollections on this point, I remembered that the first few days of turnover (a religious holiday?) here are tough on the fish, and thus also on fishermen. The trout, for the most part, hunker down and become extremely selective, turning their noses up at what's been staple food, and therefore viable fly patterns for them all winter. Right in the middle of this small epiphany, as I began my retrieve, I get my first strike and it's a dandy. At least one of them is still looking for a big meal. Line screams off the reel as the fish streaks downstream for Moses Lake. I pat myself on the back, proud all over again of my new leech pattern, not knowing then that it's the only fish I will take on it this day.

        It's time to think about a fly change and I finally, after working the leech rather unceremoniously through every inch of territory I can reach for the next half hour or so, pay attention to the voice in my head. It's been chiding me for awhile now. I'm taken back to a cartoon I liked as a kid, where Daffy Duck has an alter ego perched on each shoulder, one good, the other evil (don't know about everyone else that saw those, but I always rooted for the evil one, which won out most of the time anyway). In my case one is presently status quo, the other is change. Their roles may mutate dependent upon situations. They're with me every time I fish, perched there, filling my head with their diametric, sometimes perceptive, sometimes totally illogical opinions. Sometimes I listen to one, sometimes the other, or I just fish, listening carefully to all the arguments, and then make up my own mind, which, when I think about it, is a scary statement in and of itself, but also means I'm to blame for a bad fly choice really only about a third of the time.

        So I snipped off the leech, dug out 'the box' to search through the scud section, then remembered I had two stuck in the foam pad on my vest. Perfect, because last week these two flies... well, I'll save the boasting for later. Sun's on the water, and The Logic (borne of recent experiences) makes this move a classic no-brainer. That's my first mistake, or second, really, because I shouldn't have fished the leech for so long. But, as I explained earlier, that wasn't my fault.

          Two scuds, about eight inches apart. The top one is a number ten, or twelve, the bottom one a fourteen or sixteen. The shanks are wrapped with lead. I'd say lead 'substitute' here, but that sounds too horribly politically correct, which it isn't (I'd be lying. Lead is king). Often, if I'm unsure about the 'color of the day', I'll use two different colors, usually with the lighter-colored scud as the point fly, or not, of course, but recent successes have (sometimes) dictated dark on the top, lighter on the point. The idea is to cover as many bases as possible within the spectrum of the colors and sizes of the 'naturals' here. In a perfect world I'd fish one, and still sometimes do, but that's only when I'm stark raving dialed in sure of the color and size, and that only happens when the fish are wildly appreciative. Otherwise it's a numbers game. By that I mean if you show them two instead of one, they think it's a hatch and start feeding on them. That's what I like to think. I also fish my chironomids two at a time. I'd use three if could cast them without creating a complex macrame project for myself too often. I'm good enough at that with two and an indicator.

       As far as I know, from what I've observed, anyway, there seems to be at least a couple of popular methods with which to fish scuds. A lot of fishermen prefer to fish them underneath an indicator. That challenges me. I know scuds can 'swim', which is really just a series of rather spasmodic movements designed to propel themselves only short distances. I have seen fish hooked using this method, but I have also, on occasion, noticed that the 'scud' being fished was decidedly orange in color. Now, I understand that a dying scud will have an orangish tinge, and the fish may very well be eating them for that reason, butI've seen some pretty damned bright orange 'scuds' being fished, leading me to think that it's being mistaken for an egg. I don't fish egg patterns. I personally think that's way out of bounds. When I fish the scud, I prefer to use what I think is a more rational, common sensical approach, which is to let them settle for a bit and then very slowly, with a hand twist retrieve, drag them along the bottom, adding a bit of a twitch every now and then. This method works fishing blind, and is especially effective when I'm able to cast to fish I can see. It's exciting when the scud gets the fish's attention causing it to either move in slowly for a more thorough examination or, when the scud is moved, sometimes quite casually swimming over to eat it, although I've also had them suddenly dart toward and inhale the prey thinking it might escape. The number of fish I've hooked fishing scuds this way has convinced me that despite it being tedious and time consuming, it's a more 'natural' approach. Notice how I got around using the word patience. 

       But none of this happened. Not one fish was enticed to give any of my offerings any more than a passing glance. I switched colors, and sizes. I fished them blind. I spotted fish and cast to them. I suffered through refusals, shuns, and downright indifference, some fish even turning and swimming away as soon as they saw my scuds. I put it right in front of them. I dragged them across in front of likely candidates. I tried every possible previously successful approach, to no avail. I think it was at about this time that the light began to flicker on. I stopped for awhile, and studied a couple of big bruisers that were hunkered down a short distance below my position. Occasionally one or the other would move a little right or left, the mouth would open and close, and then it was back to their original position. I began to notice other fish swimming around in a leisurely fashion involved in similar activity. I could see that something was being consumed, but it seemed strange to me that none of them were rooting through, or even perusing the bottom for food. The light flickered, then suddenly shone...
                                 SHORT DIGRESSION 
       I like to think that my years of fishing experiences have served to instruct me. I've finally grown comfortable with being fairly confident in my ability to identify and solve problems, proud of my drive to find solutions or alternatives. And yet, while feeling all of this, I stood there frustrating the hell out of myself, suddenly not sure of anything (again), and it took one of those little voices telling me to think about what I was seeing, or more to the point was not seeing that turned it all around. 

          What I wasn't seeing was the key, and I couldn't see it because I was blinded by past success. The routine had become pre-determined out of the satiating quench of earlier successes. I'd become the guy that 'knows it all'. Worse than that, I'd become the guy who thinks he knows it all. I'd become my own worst enemy. I'd forgotten the 'most important rule';
                         NEVER let success go to your head!

       There is a balance point that needs to be found, and maintained. The sweet spot. That spot lies at the exact center of your compass between confidence and humility, success and failure. Right there. In the middle of that tiny red dot. Anywhere else is just a journey in the process. It doesn't guarantee success, but it sure as hell means you're heading in the right direction. Amazing what I can figure out when I go fishing...

        Back to the action.
      Lesson completed, the scuds removed, chironomids now in their assigned positions under an indicator. My first cast settled and traveled maybe ten feet before my indicator suddenly disappeared. I reacted slowly, the adrenalin pump lifted my rod with too much gusto, more than a bit taken aback at the immediate response, and another trout made off with some tiny shiny jewelry. Several minutes later, re-fitted with two more chironomids, I was able to react more adroitly to the next take, and the one after that. And so on it went until I looked at my watch and saw that it was time to hit the road for home.
                  After one more cast.

                After all, success, no matter how fleeting, should always be thoroughly enjoyed.

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