October 10, 2012

Strange Days (Sunset)

To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness. 
Flannary  O'Connor

Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change.
                Thomas Hardy

          I squint, following the path of my bellying fly line as it is pulled through the reflecting golden shimmer of an early October sunset on the lazy flow of my early fall river, but I don't really see it; amazing how pursuit of the object of my obsession can blind me to the passage of time. Early October. Already. I let that replay over and over, letting my fly to waft back and forth in the soft current.
      Time. Passed, as I stand nearly on the other side of it here in my river, incrementally in seconds, minutes, hours, and finally, days. Some remarkable days. Here on the end line I would've thought that it'd be hard not to notice them moving past so steadily. Hard not to mark certain days as eventful, others as, well, days that offered little more than a late night at the vise trying to solve another riddle. And then quite suddenly I'm standing here watching a fiery sunset at an hour of a fall afternoon where I quite recently took comfort in the fact that I still had several more hours left with which to capture that which I think I'm really pursuing. Standing in my river, reminded yet again that nothing is certain beyond the fact that I'm still head down busy caching more memories. I can see both ends of this playing out clearly now, and I'm drawn toward a summary thought; how many can I store before they overflow and begin to spill out into the cosmos to be lost forever. And then I wonder if I can somehow, when it's time, gather them up and take them all with me. And then I smile, because I know full well that I can't, and, that in the scheme of things it really doesn't matter. None of it. None of it matters except now, spending this time, this precious, incrementally designated way of marking passage doing what has provided me with the truest sense of satisfaction I have ever known. And if I do that? Well, if I do that, then it's just not that important how fast these increments pass, how many I have left, how much I forget or how many I lose because I will have spent these precious incremental jewels exactly as they were meant to be spent. There will be no need to remember at all, because it will have been my life. And as I begin my retrieve, I find that thought so strangely comforting that it brings tears to my eyes.
        I strip a few few more feet of line, lift the rod and roll out another cast. My latest hybrid concept ends its ride on the far side of the fast riffle, turning over at full extension, disappearing and immediately pulling at the end of its tether as it begins its arc back across the brisk chute some seventy feet out. I manage the hydraulics, mending up or downstream when necessary, and easily lose myself in the mindlessness of the process. Halfway through the completion of its arc my eye catches the silvery flash a short distance below where I'm guessing my fly line ends and simultaneously there's a sharp pull on my rod. I leave the rod tip down and pull with my line hand to tighten on him. No time to raise the rod. I've learned to strike back with the line rather than risk a more tenuous hookup by taking the time to lift my rod. There is a brief thrashing on the surface followed by a quick run and then the sight of a leaping rainbow executing a series of perfect nose-first exits and re-entries as he now tries to free himself from whatever won't let him go about his business. I don't know why, after all these years that I am still so excited by the take, but I always am. Delighted. Exonerated, almost, but that feeling lasts only long enough to know that I won't stay delighted or exonerated if I don't react correctly and this fish frees himself. I'd rather he escapes from my hand. Still, after all these years there is that certain indescribable something in each and every take that never grows old, never ceases to be the strongest magnet, never fails to keep me on the water longer. No two takes are ever the same, and yet each and every one produces a similar elevated state comparable to nothing else I have experienced in my life.

       On the river there are, within the undrawn parameters of the geography of my favorite, most frequented fishing locales, several Osprey nests. The nests, constructed high in the oldest, tallest pines or on telephone poles overlooking the river's valley are silent now, empty, having been home base for another generation of youngsters who now navigate the skies and dive for prey as proficiently as their elders. All except for one. A lone Osprey perches on the branch next to her nest. It could be mom, lingering a bit to see if one of her brood might return, or maybe it's a youngster, hesitant to strike out into the world, hanging close to home just a little longer. Then it leaps into flight and I see it is indeed a young male. I know I've been spotted when I hear the call of danger his parents taught him when he and his sister were just learning to fly. He wheels and flies downstream. I will miss them. They were, and remain, my most constant, even though terribly more efficient, fishing companions. Ospreys are masters of the art of perseverance, stealth, and patience. In my eyes they have no equal. 

       It's been a strange year on my river. Starting with the higher than normal flows that lingered well into July. Then it was the heat coupled with cloudless skies that seemed to run on uninterrupted for weeks at a time. The eventual combination of low flows and high air temperatures then produced, among other things, a record vinyl hatch that annoyingly persisted until just a few weeks ago. 
      But something else was taking place on the river this year, and in numbers that I have never seen before. I think it definitely had an effect on the fishing. Fishermen. Many fishermen. In boats and wading. I saw drift boats from every fly shop in town. Constantly. It was not uncommon for me to wave at the guides of several boats each time I was down fishing, and for all the years I have fished here, that has never been an issue. Save for a few, I know all of the these gentlemen well. 
      Early in July, when the Fly Fishing Federation's conclave was taking place here in Spokane, I was complimented by a shop owner for my contribution to an article written by Rich Landers, our local outdoor writer for our local daily The Spokesman-Review to coincide with that event. In it, several local shop owners (and I) were queried on different subjects having to do with the many fly fishing opportunities available in the area. I was honored to be included in this somewhat luminary group of local experts, it being common knowledge among them, I guess, that because of my years of experience on the Spokane I would be a good fit in this group. 
     To cut to the chase, at one point in the article I stated that what with the lingering higher flows (and remember this interview was conducted back in late June), a fly caster working from a boat would be at a definite advantage over a wader until the flows came down. Many productive areas would simply be out of the average wader/caster's range until then. As this particular shop owner pointed out to me, the article was widely read, including by many of the attendees to the conclave, and, when they had the time to fish, well, since the river runs right through town making it the closest venue around and 'the expert' had it that the best way was from a boat, well, that's exactly what they did, with, I'm sure, some extra sugar-coating from the various shops. I think next time, if there is one, I'll keep that particular observation to myself. There just aren't enough trout in this river to go around.
       It's also pretty widely known among the few of us who wade the Spokane that it's a solid number one on the 'top one hundred' list of toughest rivers to wade. And that's not even talking about general access to the water, which in itself can be an adventure. I will save that topic and elaborate more on it in a future post. But despite the obvious challenges presented to anyone who decides to wade here, I was more than surprised, when the flow eventually dropped enough to level the playing field, to see more wading fishermen this year than I've ever seen before. It was not an uncommon occurrence to arrive at one of my favorite runs only to discover a fisherman already working his way down through. And, on more than a few occasions, even when I thought I had a run all to myself, after making just a few casts I had the unmistakably distinct feeling that this run had been fished just prior to my arrival.  I ended up doing a lot of extra hiking this year, giving myself a 'pep' talk as I did. I know it's everybody's river. I know that there are others who have discovered that this river is a favorable alternative for a day instead of jumping in the car and driving for a few hours to another venue. The present state of the local economy dictates that. But the truth is that from my years of solitary fishing I must confess to having become rather territorial. I also know, from my guiding experiences when I worked at the shop years ago, that even though there are more rods on the river, more specifically on 'my' water, that doesn't necessarily always equate to more fish being hooked. What does happen, though, is that the fish in any given area that is  fished will simply 'go away', often for several days, and I think that's partly a condition of too few fish per rod, or per mile, or however you wish to delineate it. As much as I tout the attributes of the fish on this river, there are simply not enough of them to support an increase in fishermen. Fishing from a drift boat puts the fisherman in a position of one or maybe two shots at a fish before he's downstream and on to the next target whether that target may be a locale, a rise, or simply a nymph under an indicator drifted through one of the many deeper slots. But the wader has time on his side and is only moving after satisfying him/her self that every possible method has been tried. He/she may cover a section of water with a variety of flies utilizing a lot of different techniques before stepping down to repeat the process all over again. For the fisherman who knows what he's doing, that can provide success where the drifter merely shook his head as he moved downstream in search of the next opportunity.
     This year, because of that increased fishing traffic, I've fished a lot of water that in years passed I would normally have walked right by. The decision to do that proved, in many instances rewarding. Evidently some of the trout have also taken up at least temporary residence in these areas seeking sanctuary from the increased activity in their usual lies. I was treated to some interesting hours of fishing and a few surprises during my time spent searching through and fishing these sections. It also aided in increasing the number of go-to flies in my box.
    But two-legged fishermen are not the only reason that I have seen fewer fish. There are other, more 'serious' fish hunters to be aware of. In the feathered realm, I speak of the growing populations of Osprey, Great Blue herons, and in the early fall as they make their way to the Kokanee harvest on Coeur d'Alene lake, Bald eagles. On the furrier side, there are minks and a surprising number of otters. I was a bit taken back one early morning in August when it occurred to me that one of my favorite runs, a deep, fast trough with a classic tailout, had been adopted by a family of otters. Their den was at the top end of the fast slot. In previous years, I'd enjoyed the challenge of wading down this section as I swung heavy soft hackles through the various pockets of hydraulics, and it was a real surprise that particular morning to all of a sudden come face to face with a large otter with a face full of rainbow trout. I'm sure he was laughing at me. None of these fishers, furred or feathered, prescribe to the catch and release policy as far as I know.
     Neither do the poachers and those intransigents who choose to fish without licenses. They fill buckets and stringers without conscience. Our beleaguered Fish and Game department, already strapped for resources (by selfish, thoughtless budget-cutting) with which to combat this plague does what it can, but they are woefully understaffed and the law-breakers know it. Every fly fisherman I know who has spent time on the Spokane has at one time or another witnessed this illegal activity. Many of us (including me) risk soaking our cell phones in order that we might report such activity if/when we see it, but it continues, pretty much unabated, and the propagation and proliferation of the native population of Redband Trout is now very definitely at risk. I get so frustrated! So angry!
     And being on the subject of illegal fishing and keeping of fish is a perfect segue into another point of frustration. Our city 'fathers' have recently embarked on a campaign, or better yet, 'purge' if you will. They have decided that there is too much cheap alcohol for sale in certain parts of the city that have been determined to be 'high crime' areas. It is a concerted effort to drive the 'unhealthy' element out of what has been determined to be these 'high crime' parts of town. Their thinking is that by limiting sales of cheap, high alcohol content beverages, they will effectively reduce crime in these areas. Well, they were partially successful. They did decrease crime in a few isolated neighborhoods, but that's because the perpetrators simply picked up and went elsewhere. The crime rate in other areas then went way up. That's what happens when you move a resource. It causes the consumer, who, by the way has little to carry, to simply pick up and move. And that's exactly what they did. Great strategy. Many of them moved closer to the river, which already has a good reputation among this element for being a viable refuge from the law. Out of sight, then out of mind. That's a great way to solve a problem, city 'fathers'. Send them to the river. Nobody will see 'em down there. 
             I now step down off of my soap box.

      As of the first week in September, right on schedule, the drawdown of Couer d'Alene Lake began. The river's rising now, and that will continue, little by little, until the Lake has reached it's winter level near the end of November which is at the same time good and getting bad. At this point it's still not enough to cause any major headaches as far as the wading is concerned; I'm hoping that I've got a few more weeks before I have to dust off the long (switch) rod again. On the plus side, with the shorter days and lower temperatures comes cooler water. Many of the fish have re-established shallower lies to take advantage of the early fall appearance of pseudos and blue-winged olives, not to mention the sporadic caddis, October caddis and the ever-present chironomids. For the past two days I have been on the water at the right time, and, for about an hour and a half right during the warmest part of the day have enjoyed casting my #18 BWO upwing parachute to favorably impressed rising fish. From experience I know that this 'window' will begin to close soon, so it is paramount to exploit as much fishable water as I can over the next few days. However, I have, along the way, rediscovered the value of my #16 classic TDR soft hackle. In the hour or so prior to the appearance of the BWOs, and thus the rising fish, I have had consistent success swinging my little soft hackle through the slow water sections where the olives will soon appear. It's all in the timing. Chalk up another one for serendipity.
     And so it flows past. The river. Time. Summer into autumn. Warm into cool. My fly line bellies from the continual push, the ever present surge of things to get where they are going. 
     Me? I don't know if I'll ever get there. And yet, maybe I've already arrived. It doesn't matter. 

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