April 19, 2013

Tangible ups... and zen.

  A rare experience of a moment at daybreak, when something in nature seems to reveal all consciousness...
                                                           Charles Ives

     In the time it took me to lock up the truck, descend the small hill, cross the bridge and head upstream, the sky had lightened considerably. The stars had been painted over in the pastels of approaching dawn while  mists still rose from the slowly moving water upstream.

    Another perfect morning. Can any morning that finds me poised in or near trout water with rod in hand not be? 
   As the years roll back on behind, when I take the time to stop and think about it, I am increasingly aware of the creeping notion that indeed, just as the saying goes, 'the fishing's always good' to the point that I find the act of fishing beginning to supercede the need for catching. Not that I don't live for 'the take' or the bent rod or the bow wakes, but more and more often I 'catch' myself just kind of enjoying the moment. Like right now, leisurely strolling head up, taking in the brightening sky and the feel of this new day. There are rings appearing here and there, slowly expanding away from their origins, and I still come to point, but it's a divided focus. There will be plenty of time to address those rings, and the fish for the next few hours, but right now I feel more inclined to kind of just space it out and be part of the quietude. And it feels pretty good to do just that.
    I've found that there's a tangible upside to this emerging attitude, too. A relaxed state of mind; one that's more content to take it as it comes, to not press, makes me a better fisherman. More to the point, and this is easy to quantify, is that in being kind of 'just happy to be here', I don't press. I don't force it. I tend to let it flow. And I know when I'm stepping outside of myself in that regard because if I've learned anything about fishing with flies, it's this; the fish know when you're in that zone. They really know. It must be something, some vibration, some kind of empathetical resonance maybe? I don't know what to call it, but its existence has been proven to me time and time again. I can't begin to count the number of occasions over the years whereby I turned to glance upstream, lost my self in a quick study of the antics of a shorebird or some furry resident, and turned back to my fly or indicator to discover the immediate significance of its absence. Not so hard to explain if it occurs only infrequently, baffling when it does with regularity. When it occurs frequently enough to add looking away to my repertoire, then I've got to wonder. And, being a good fisherman, that is, one with an almost innate ability to reason things like that out and come to some sort of what seems to me to be a viable solution, well, the best I can do is to give the fish credit. They must know when I look away. They know when my energy is  temporarily diffused, when my power of concentration has been derailed. That has to be it, doesn't it? The secret for real success then must lie in either my or the fishes' ability to connect with what is undoubtedly one of the more ethereal dimensions of fishing. Sounds pretty zen-ish. Or nuts. Take your pick.
     So here we are, a little more than halfway through April. The Spokane had begun its annual rage, approaching 20,000 cfs. But then, after those few days of warming temperatures and what turned out to be blossoming false hope, that recent phenomenon of colder than normal temps set back in and the river subsided. In fact, because of the snow at higher altitude, snowpacks have increased in the past week. Today's low was 26 degrees. Not very conducive to a gradual meltdown and runoff if the script repeats itself. So, today the river runs a bit under 13,000 which means it's about a thousand cfs under what would 'normally' be average run-off for this time of year.
Graph of  Discharge, cubic feet per second

 Upside? Hm... I'm still working on that. Downside(s)? Plenty of 'em. Worst case scenarios whirl in my head. Another year of washed out hatches comes readily to mind; another year of being unable to effectively wade until mid-July... but, I'll take the higher ground here, and say that it's still 'early', that there's still time for Ma Nature to right the ship and get back to whatever normalcy is left in her scheme. I say that through clenched teeth, a little voice in the back of my head asking, "just what, my fine fellow, is this 'normal' that you hope for?"


   There's just no way to know what the weather is going to do; if the temperatures will stay low, moderate, or if they'll suddenly spike and set the torrents of melt loose all at once. That's been the scenario for the past three years, and each time it does it reeks absolute havoc with the hatches, notably the early season caddis and BWOs. I could drive myself crazy with this useless supposition so I'll plant a foot and change direction.


    Tomorrow being Thursday, I'll be making the weekly drive back out to 'The Ford'. Rocky Ford, home to the often over-sized but incredibly well fed, alternately gullible mostly finicky but nearly always entertaining rainbow trout. I call the big ones 'roundtail' trout, so named because of the damage sustained by living for a portion of their year in cement causeways until they've contributed to the propagation process at the hatchery which lies at the top of this spring creek. It's fishbowl fishing at best; there's nothing quite like sneaking up on a run full of trout that are spending their lives being scrutinized, or better yet traumatized by so many fly fishermen of all ability levels. That's why I go on Thursday, and I get there oh-dark-thirty early so I might enjoy maybe three, sometimes up to four hours of semi-solitude. If it's a warm day and the wind holds off there'll be thirty guys there by noon, most of them stomping up and down both sides of the creek, their presence always preceded by bow wakes streaming toward whatever deeper water the bow wake makers can find. The banks are a loamy mud honeycombed with holes and tunnels, a by-product of any area populated by muskrats, otters, weasels, and snakes, so any and or all vibrations echo underwater, alerting the fish (and the varmints) to the presence of human activity. And when this echo exceeds maximum tolerance levels, the fish simply hunker down and refuse to act like fish. I would too. It's insanity.

     That being said, there is an upside, albeit a bit twisted, to fishing 'The Ford' when there seems to be a body at every opening in the cattails which is another reason I get there as early as possible short of spending the night in my rig. I like to stake my claim early on. Occupy a piece of water, usually one I've come to understand as well as is possible, so that when the traffic increases I will 'own' a stretch that I feel is to my advantage. I think anybody who's experienced this sort of fishing would agree that there is an added dimension that comes into play when three or four fly lines are in the air at the same time all plying for the same piece of water.

     Most fly fishermen openly abhor the idea of fishing competition. The idea of hooking trout in an atmosphere that totally belies the inherent nature of the 'sport' would, to most, seem outside the realm of what fishing with flies is all about. And, for the most part, I would heartily subscribe to that philosophy. However, and I've seen it happen over and over again, when there are several fishermen parrying over the same stretch of water, anyone who thinks that it's anything but an all out battle for that first take, and then the most hookups is purely and simply not understanding what's going on. It's all disguised, of course, in a friendly, convivial gloss; relaxed queries and casual responses dealing with vague references about fish already caught, the flies, maybe a benign comment about the weather, but the intensity is palpable. Soon enough the pleasantries fade as the combatants get down to it, eyes and ears alert to anything that may assist in the divining of a clue. Looking for the sign that will provide an edge. Running those just concluded innocent conversations through their heads over and over looking for tidbits of vital information that may have been inadvertently passed.
    Not all who partake in this 'leisurely' battle of wits are equipped with the cunning necessary. Indeed most are ill-prepared for the mental demands of this seemingly impromptu contest. Being the first fisherman to occupy a space others may find attractive gives me an edge. That, and the fact that I'd been playing this game for years before I realized what was actually taking place.
Most fly fishers don't understand that if and when you are in situations where fishable water is at a premium due to an overabundance of fishermen, then all sorts of subterfuge are possible. False information, dubious claims, outright lies, promises of 'lots' of fish just downstream a ways. I've heard it all. And fell for it many times. Friendly attempts at conversation all too often designed to put you at ease. Don't fall for friendly smiles and seemingly innocent banter if it seems too slick; too choreographed. It's all by design. Keep your secrets close. Betray nothing. Master the art of doublespeak. Be courteous and friendly while keeping your distance. Learn the art of ambiguity and apply it  to questions concerning anything you consider an encroachment. And most importantly, take every tidbit of information too easily dispensed with a few grains of salt. It's a lot like life, in that regard.

     So now it's Friday. I'm glad I didn't get this posted because I had the occasion yesterday to (finally) get acquainted with a couple of gentlemen I've been seeing out at 'The Ford' for years. They're a couple of characters. 


Rich and Bob are 80. They've been fishing buddies for years, and through the years as I've watched them out of the corner of my eye I've come to the conclusion that they're pretty damned good fishermen. Every Thursday about 7:15 in the morning they roll in and shortly after that they'll make their way up the trail past me and holler a good morning as they head upstream to their favorite sections. They don't stay all day, but they do pretty well for the few hours that they're on the water. It got be about 10, and the fishing was good but the catching slow, so I headed back to my rig for a roast beef sandwich. Turns out that Rich and Bob had the same idea. They were sitting in their Subaru alternately munching and napping, which on a warm late morning would not be hard to do. I introduced myself, finally, after all these years, and found them to be as engaging and colorful as I thought they'd be. Then, as I headed back to the water, I had an idea. I'd get a picture of them. They were thrilled when I asked if either one of them had  an e-mail address because I'd send the pic to them. And there you have it; my two Rocky Ford fishing buddies.

          Slow day catching fish. No big deal. I landed several, finally, after deciding that I'd have to do some hunting and pecking. Get out the boxes and tippet spools. Do some leg work. It's not always off the menu. I knew that when I hooked the fish of the day with my trusty Spokane River soft hackle. The fishing's always good, and it's great just 'to be here', but a sudden jolting hookup ain't too bad either.

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