Monday, December 20, 2010

To Fish Great Water Well

A light drizzle dimples the blackened tarmacs gathering puddles as we depart the twin engine turbo at “Steelhead International”.  First impressions, perfect weather for encountering the provinces chrome jewels.  Prior to landing pressed faces peer through aged windows catching glimpses of a glacially tainted river meandering through a valley corridor lined in golden poplar, birch, and fir.  To a steelheader far from home an anxious yet welcome view. After an evening of suds, a short restless night is spent preparing for what lay ahead. 

From town the Queens Highway travels south crossing the river where another glimpse affords a less desirable image of the waters below.  It appears swollen by comparison, a brownish tinge permeating its depths.   Perhaps the previous evenings failing light lent a more palatable quality to the rivers appearance.  As we continue to the lodge I ponder the reality of that deception knowing past experiences.

A damp afternoon leaves us exiting a river on the rise.  The following morning we huddle in darkness on the rivers bank its audible pitch alerting us to her unsettled violence, yet we prepare for the day with enthusiasm.  Dawn greets us with a broken sky, a crimson glow highlighting the distant snow covered peaks; the first we’ve seen of them since arriving.  For good reason we were the only group to launch that morning, although others gathered to stare, cups of streaming coffee held in their hands skeptically watching as we departed.  

Ancient downed cottonwoods, limbs mixed with smaller debris drift by as we hopelessly swung our flies, posting guides on vigil against an unfortunate encounter.  We believed there was hope, after all we’re steelheaders.  The suns warming rays accentuate the waters impenetrable color while highlighting the corridors ribbon of luminous golden foliage.  With rains subsiding, hope rekindled, undeterred we continued on.

Midway through the week the caramel colored waters dilute to a consistency that resembles weak coffee.  Outside the lodge, the once raucous flow is audibly tempered; subtle changes that impel a steelheader on.  Like vultures, others now descend, where once we fished alone.  Competition now stalks this waterway sensing opportunity.  They are greeted by those who believed and persevered as intruders knowing the solitude that was once enjoyed would now be interrupted. 
Just rewards accompany optimism and faith.  For those who pursue these fish, such truisms often are all one has.  Those who fail to accept this, move on to an aspect of fly-fishing that is more predictable, and forgiving.  On waters where vagabond jewels only temporarily reside, faithless casts frequently go unanswered. John Hazel one noted with experienced reflection on the nature of steelhead fishing with a fly; “good steelheading is simply fishing great water well”.   As our time on this unimpeded river unfolded, this was never more true, nor fulfilling.  

With three days remaining, optimism and hope blossomed in the form of a plump rose colored buck.  For the first time since arriving, belief, hope and faith firmly rests in a pair of outstretched hands.    Given the nature of this sport, a solitary fish is worth jubilant celebration; even more so given the hand we’d been dealt and the conditions we endured. 

In the final days, conditions improved, so did the fishing.  Given our expectation, moments of trepidation eventually yielded to success and celebration.  In many respects we were fortunate knowing in reality there are no givens here, after all you are a guest in Mother Nature’s court, subject to her whims, playing a game that remains relatively pure, honest, and raw.  Unlike other growing aspects of fly-fishing here a sense of fair play and simple appreciation still exists.  

Last days always arrive too soon. Before departing reflective contemplations are calculated from the glass confines of “Steelhead Internationals” solitary gate with a certain sense of despair.  At the edge of the runway the river flows out of sight, dotted with solitary figures methodically probing for an elusive quarry.  You yearn to still be among them.  The corridors once vibrant poplar and cottonwoods now sway rhythmically naked and exposed.  Silently inventory is taken of the experience, opportunities lost, and the years of wandering this country and its waters.  A good friend once said upon first arriving in this country, that I would never be the same.  I scoffed at that notion.  Over two decades have since passed since then, he was right.  

As an infected soul, I quietly board the plane lost in my thoughts, already yearning for that which will be left behind.  From the window, as I have for decades, I’ll grasp one last glimpse of a river that tugs as it does its steelhead hoping to again return to fish great water well. 

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Doc Spratley

One by one I’ve begun rebuilding a steelhead box that was recently stolen. Although other items were taken that box of faith and hope represented a quarter of a century of steelhead fishing; a collection of flies tied, bartered and gifted over the years.  Of all that was taken, it was the most significant loss.   

Several weeks passed before I sat down at my bench to begin the arduous tying process that would fill some of the voids left by the absconded box knowing that I would be unable to simply replace, or recreate that which was lost overnight. In doing so, I’ve found a renewed sense of excitement in tying those patterns that have proven their worth over the years and a renewed interest in tying a few new ones.

Greg Pearson stopped by the other day and naturally we spent a fair amount of time discussing our steelhead season; waters we had fished, successes, failures, flies and other related matters. He’d found great success in a pattern I’d heard of, but never fished or tied, the Doc Sprately.  What caught my attention was the fact that it had a green butt.   Those that know the patterns I prefer when steelhead fishing, know that a number of my flies quite consistently have a green butt.

Shortly after Greg left I was perusing the internet looking for samples of this fly and stumbled upon one that was of interest, the Doc Spratley Spey.   It is a beautifully dressed low water fly, and one deserving of a steelhead.   After a slight modification to the wing, there now lies a nice little gathering of these in my new box adjacent to those freshly tied patterns that are the foundation of my offerings.  Come next season, I’ll be looking for a reason to fish this fly.  It won’t take much knowing that any respectable steelhead would find it hard to resist.