Wednesday, January 30, 2008

First Temptations

Winters frigid cold and snow reluctantly took the day off. From the south evidence of its next assault drapes lazily from the mountain tops like a dark veil. For the moment sunshine lends a sense of false comfort to the afternoon. Even with snowshoes travel along the river was relatively cumbersome. A short distance from the parking lot the last struggles of a determined angler are soon behind us. The deep depressions left in the snow gave good reason for their going no further.

Traveling among the shadows of the corridors bare cottonwoods any comfort from the sun quickly dissipates. Other than those early remnants of struggling anglers, the rivers cold clear currents are void of two legged’s; a rarity over this past decade even this time of year. Encountering the occasional sign of deer and possibly moose, it’s evident they too struggle. Their bellies drag through the powdered surface where snow is deepest. Winters harsh qualities show no regard for such creatures labored efforts, which for many unceremoniously end in death.

The river winds through the valleys bottom black in contrast to the enveloping blanket of snow. Ancient cottonwoods stand as bare sentries over its meandering course. In the distance a lone eagle sits perched enjoying winter’s temporary reprieve before nightfall’s cold and approaching storm assaults all things living left exposed. It’s a tranquil and somewhat foreign scene compared to recent winters past.

Pausing at the head of a run, several minute rings form as some of the rivers lesser occupants dine leisurely on those few drifting dipterids left vulnerable. Judging the current and drift, all defined by waters hidden structure, mental stock is taken as if to fish. Being without rod or reel the process is imaginary, yet natural for most that pursue this game when presented with water regardless of the opportunity.

Scanning the run before departing, a dissimilar rise catches the periphery of my eye. The tell tale sign of a larger fish still remains, yet rhythmically disperses as I stare. Several minutes pass before the brown takes another hapless midge confirming the illusionary will of false hope. Its broad shoulders break the dark meniscus briefly lending a porthole to its size. For a time all senses are magically consumed.
The brown never rose again, yet its image remained transfixed. Prior to leaving mental notes marked the run and trout’s location in preparation for a next visit. Unlike this leisurely day there will be more purpose upon my return. Given this temptation, that won’t be long.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Winter Reprieve

At three in the morning the screen to my bedroom window began to whistle as winters first storm rolled into the valley. Several freshly torn branches from the century old poplar that sags dangerously close to my home rattled across the roof. That was late December. Given winter’s tardy arrival, those who fish, greeted this storm with a sigh.

Winter’s critical snows arrive as if to wipe a season’s slate clean. Its dismal showing over the past decade have left many with significant trepidations. No more so than at the end of this past trout season. Recent western storms and ensuing artic temperatures have shaped a level of optimism that’s been absent through much of these past years.
Towards year end, winters onslaught has lent a mixed silence from a pastime that consumes us during the fly-fishing season. For many enthusiasts it’s a comforting reprieve knowing the sustenance that winter yeilds. Others perceive this frigid intrusion as an annoying distraction. For those finned creatures we stalk, it’s the first semblance of calm they’ll enjoy after a season of daily intrusions. Given this century’s persistent drought, they could use the time off.

One would think that given my profession and passion for fly fishing that winter’s intrusion would be annoyingly received. Instead, like the trout I pursue, I welcome the respite from summer’s heat. If it wasn’t for fishing and the opportunity to be submerged in cool waters, summers persistent heat literally saps the life from me. This year it came close. At one point waters therapeutic currents did little to relieve one of the miseries of summer’s lingering inferno. At such times there’s a longing for cooler climates and the need to don a layer or two to stay warm. As the season came to an end my thoughts traveled from home waters to the steelhead rivers of the great northwest.

I remember the previous year’s first outing. It was the last day of fishing I enjoyed with my good friend Rich Seamons. It was early February and winters artic temperatures broke to a balmy forty degrees. We sat that beautiful afternoon bathed in sunshine, alternately taking a handful of nice Browns that were delicately sipping on the smallest of midge. We never rose to take a fish, choosing instead to cast from the comfortable berth of several smooth rocks. Across the river a lone eagle perched in a solitary Ponderosa watched our antics. Towards the days end a solitary angler passed us. We exchanged pleasantries before he went on his way. Such are the pleasures of winter.

This morning’s reading from my porch thermometer dipped to zero. At elevation where our trout live, I’m sure it’s a few notches colder. Given the weather forecast and temperatures it’s probably going to be another week before I’m motivated to dust my rod off, put a fresh leader on and possibly tie a fly or two in preparation for my first day. For now that’s fine. I just as soon see the snow and cold keep me at bay for as long as Mother Nature has in mind. My fishing requirements, at this juncture, fall behind those acts of nature that are critical to our water resources health. For now I'm content to watch it snow, but before long that will change.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Disappearing Art of Flyfishing

Those who know me, acknowledge that I have a preference to fishing with dry flies. That was not always the case. Similar to most that have progressed through the sport I’ve managed a cycle of fishing with a fly. Initially I tried to just catch a fish. Then I worked on catching my fair share. During those early days I didn’t put much thought into the methods I employed, yet options by today’s comparison were few. Like everyone who initially enters this sport, there’s a natural yet personal progression; one of the beautiful aspects of fly fishing.

I was blessed having been mentored by some of our sports more ethical predators; Emmett Heath, Reid Bonson, Reme Harrop, Mike Lawson at a time far removed from the sport taking center stage. To this day these talented fly fishers and others continue to mold how I approach my days on the water.

Today my fly boxes contain a cornucopia of dries, emergers and soft hackles. Now and then lost among those patterns you’ll find a nymph or two, but not always. These random stragglers for the most part are left over from the numerous classes I teach.

I did hook a rather large rainbow on a nymph this year, which in some regards is a milestone; one that there was one in my box and two that I tied it on. It was the largest trout I was tethered to all year. I recall reading at one time on the disparity of nymphs compared to dries. The former being the most preferred. Those authors may have been from the early writings of Skues or possibly the more recent publishing of Charlie Brooks. For some reason pragmatic premise never stuck with me. To a fault I’ve never done things the easy way.

On those occasions when I fish the sunk fly my approach resembles that of dries and emergers; visually without the aid of strike indicator or dropper fly. When you’re close enough to see the fly being taken there’s no need for such visual distractions; the stalk being another challenging game in and of itself. Conditions on that fateful day when I took the rainbow permitted me to fish this way. After several searing runs and a spectacular jump the hook pulled free. Ascending the basalt ledges from where I first spotted this fish I again found it resting. As much as I would have liked putting this beautiful rainbow to hand, in the end I was accepting of the outcome feeling in some regards that I’d been disrespectful of this beautiful trout.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with those who fish the sunk fly. In fact “Snake”, my fishing companion, has a penchant for fishing nymphs. He’s a tight liner and I marvel in his skill at fishing the sunk fly. Although our techniques may vary on a given river we both have issues with the apparatuses used today to fish subsurface flies and the gluttonous results that incur from the use of such gadgets. Just because one uses a fly on the end of their line doesn’t mean their methods equate to fly fishing.

Like much in life I’m slow to the take. I use to believe that everyone should fish dries, just like I once believed that every trout stream should be catch and release. Both of these ill conceived wisdoms have since fallen from my grace. If the masses fished dries than much of the water and those trout that occupy such nooks and crannies would be frequently occupied. With anglers preferences towards techniques and methods that employ the sunken fly there’s a rather significant amount of open water available to explore.

It may seem like I’m being intolerant of those who fish nymphs, which is not the case. One of the great aspects of fly fishing compared to other sports is the option to pursue it in a myriad of directions. Such freedom permits one to enjoy the sport for ones own personal gratification. My disgruntlements are not with the participants or the way they have chosen to fish, but with many of those who make their livelihood from the sport and what we’ve allowed the sport to become. What once was promoted and taught as a beautifully challenging game now has become lost in an obscure practice that at times rarely resemble fishing with a fly.

I look back at my early mentors with great appreciation. They were teachers, philosophizers, hunters, conservationist and students of the sport. Today, these exemplary qualities are a rarity in many of the sports professionals and would be experts. In many regards I feel we’ve cheated the masses in an effort to get new entrants into the sport and in doing so have blurred the edges of what our sport is.