Saturday, December 17, 2011

To Fish Good Water

It seemed like a pointless exercise each cast and subsequent swing of the fly futilely drifting through the lifeless current.  Those familiar with fly-fishing for steelhead know conditions can exude such pessimism. Under different situations there may have been a sense of optimism for this particular piece of water, yet there was none even though through the years it has produced fish with a level of consistency. 

For much of the day and the previous it was a challenge to find water that fished or held some sense of appeal.  At times the willows and young sprouts impeded any ability to make a cast the water so high ones backside was often buried in their outstretched limbs.  Most runs were simply too fast, the river at its current elevated level resembling a ditch running unimpeded.  Although limited, good water could be found, yet these mirrored turbid waters of polished glass held none of those qualities, at least for the way I fish.    

Over the past several days my feet grope for a bottom that I can not see, often stumbling over submerged vegetation or structure hidden from view.   Where they tread normally is dry and some distance from the gradual flow where the run begins except in spring when torrents purge all free flowing rivers here.  With the realities of climates change the very notion of normal is being questioned and for the second year we are confronted with waters in a record state of flux, laden with debris, and opaque driven only by fishing good water and in that persistence a glimmer of hope.  Some days regardless of conditions that is all a steelheader has, but if one has pursued this fish long enough one knows its an integral part of the game.

For several days we arrive at the rivers edge to launch our craft alone as if we are pioneers off to discover uncharted waters.  Having roughed through a similar experience the previous year we have come to appreciate the solitude and a river corridor void of others.  Should the waters improve, having to share becomes an annoyance into what has temporarily become a private sanctuary, our selfish sense of earned entitlement eroded. 

In steelhead, as in life there are no guarantees.  At times the pursuit is not kind. Those new to steelheading rarely comprehend the revered persistence of chasing these deceptive nomads, the worth in the reward. Most move on to other pursuits, imitators defy ethical practices shunning respect for an artificial prowess.  It’s the very act of illusiveness that makes this endeavor so appealing; after all we pursue a fish that travels vast oceans before returning to home waters and to the very gravel of their birth with wisps of fur and feather. 

On our last day, after going fishless for several, conditions had not changed, rain persisted, waters remained excessively high. To the west a damp darkness draped the landscape, a perfect canvas for the rainbow that greeted us as we launched.  A ribbon of golden cottonwoods and poplars; perhaps an omen, illuminated the way.  Over the past week the waters we would fish this day failed to yielded a single steelhead; not a yank, or pull or hint of chrome, yet we proceeded undeterred to fish good water thankful that we have enjoyed some success knowing we could have as easily had none. 

Last days take on there own significance, sense of time, and level of heightened anxiety.  This day was no exception. Time slip through the hour glass unconstrained.  As early afternoon’s sun bathed the valleys fall foliage we fished in cold shadows, an unwelcoming wind grabbing our floating lines and sparse flies, denied the warmth and comfort that mocked us just a short distance across the river. 

As we neared the end of yet another empty piece of good water that which may have distracted us was abruptly discarded.  Down river a line moved towards mid river. A deep bow in my partners two hander, and the sound of his Hardy confirmed any doubt.  By the time I reached him the bright fish was ready to land, yet there was no urgency knowing under these conditions this may be the only fish of the day.  Eventually the buck slid atop the murky water to his outstretched hand, the barbless hook easily falling from the corner of its jaw.

We took our time to gaze into the fishes bewildered eyes, noticing the randomness of the fine spots that ran the length of its broad gray back to the tip of his elongated snout.  Images could be seen through the fishes translucent fins and tail.  We ran our fingers down the net scars that marred his body recognizing this fishes fortunate fate.  For a brief moment it rested, gills undulating, its body adjusting to rivers swirling currents.  Eventually he swam onward undeterred, disappearing among the turbid waters a phantom driven by a wayward journey.  

In celebration we passed a bottle, pouring a gratuitous round of whiskey into the rivers diffused currents after each taking a pull.  Had our day ended with this singe fish we would have been content.  It was all either of us had hoped for given the outcome of the past few days, yet there would be more.  By the time we landed our last steelhead, dark clouds were again threatening from the northwest, the sun buried behind the growing wall.  We’d experienced a day like few others in steelheading even under ideal conditions.  To enjoy such success on this last day made it even more noteworthy.

A last round of whiskey came towards the days end.  It wasn’t prompted by the landing of another landed steelhead, but to a day of fishing good water, with people you want to share time with and to the simple acknowledgment at day’s end of how fortunate we were.

As long shadows draped the narrow canyon walls we floated out to the sound of the river.  Several eagles gazed down upon us as we floated by, perched in vigilance undisturbed, settling in for a cold night. In growing silence we took solace in all that we experienced in this day, this week, with the realization it was coming to an end, yet thankful for having good water to fish and to be rewarded in doing so knowing full well it doesn’t always work out that way.   

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Dean

The sound of trembling poplars stirs distant  memories of a river corridor that has few equals in the eyes of those who pursue steelhead. That particular afternoon the river was void of anglers, everyone choosing to enjoy a lavish lunch and nap before heading back out for the evenings fish.  I packed a peanut butter sandwich and some water instead,  wandering alone through dense forests, over molded stone and cobbles where the rivers bear and wolf also travel.  It wasn't so much to optimize steelhead opportunities as it was to immerse myself in this river and grasp completely why those who have come before me have such reverence for these waters.  

Quietly seated in natures amphitheater with a melody of rustling leaves and the rivers descending cadence lent a perspective to a watershed I'd not felt.  It's legendary steelhead I'd experienced, yet this resources shear majestic qualities, scope and grand theater these threatened fish run through came to fruition on those solitary afternoon strolls.  It as then I grew to understand the magnitude of this impressionable place.  

The last time I cast a fly under the Dean Rivers towering canyon walls, heard the shimmer of its century old cottonwoods, felt its glacially fed currents or the chaotic nature of its powerful piscatorial travelers was over a decade ago.  I still endure a vivid almost surreal recollection of those days.  My departing view from the small Cesna  that took me away from such grandeur was painful knowing I may never again have the opportunity to return. As time passed, those notions seem to be playing out. 

During a casual conversation pertaining to the state of the industries affairs an invitation to again return to the Dean River was recently extended to me. It wold be in middle of August, a time when often river conditions support the success of a well presented dry and definitely conducive to a greased line fly.  Rivers currents will be more tempered at this late juncture in the season, yet it's steelhead will be fresh and bright. I still remember.  Should this opportunity have not ever come along, I'll always remember the Dean.  It does that to you.  

I have always felt incredibly grateful for those early opportunities to fish the Dean.  However, this visit will be even more meaningful given the years that have transpired since my last trip regardless of the fishing.  Being a steelheader, to have the opportunity to fish such great waters is all one should ask. That in and of itself is enough. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Third Times a Charm

Unexpectedly my recent travels in Argentina began on the 8th floor of an obscure building tucked above Florida Street in Buenos Aires lone fly shop. For those who have wandered this congested yet colorful pedestrian thoroughfare, it’s probably not what you are thinking.  While waiting to check into my hotel KC Walsh, head honcho at Simms, just happened to wander into the lobby.  Being on a tight schedule, which KC always seems to be, he collared me and ran me across the street to meet Marcelo; purveyor of the cities only fly shop. Like most Argentine flyfishers, his enthusiasm for his country and its diverse fly-fishing opportunities flowed from his exuberant personality.  Our visit was brief, yet well worth the diversion on many levels.  

Ah yes, you've got to love small world moments! For starters, finding a fly-shop in Buenos Aires given the myriad of exotic options this city offers wasn't exactly on the days radar.  Drinking a few street side brews, checking out the local scenery, enjoying a nice lunch, and asado for dinner later on were more what we had in mind.  Being commandeered by KC wasn’t part of the picture when we arrived, yet no visit to this busting city has ever been orchestrated with a plan of consistency.  Unfortunately for KC, his stay was coming to an end.  For us, our adventure was just getting underway.

Those fortunate to have fished with a fly in South America revel in their trout, the myriad of diverse waters, expansive and often vertical vistas, its peoples gracious hospitality, fine wines, and hearty cuisine. These are some of the extraordinary aspects of a fly-fishing journey in Patagonia. Somewhere in the discussion along with the eloquent accolades that accompany a visit to Argentina you’ll encounter various descriptive adjectives elaborating on the countries notorious wind.  Well deserved I might add.  Looking back as proof that first year I remember my last brown trout of the trip literally being drug up into the shallows and beached as the wind drove the full length of my fly line well up onto bank of small cobbles and stones. It was one of the most productive days of our visit, yet it had it’s frustrations for angler and guide alike.  That’s what cold beers, good cigars and a good streamside nap are for! Those pondering this trip, be fore warned; in this part of the world Mother Nature’s not often kid.  On the brighter side, the trout don’t seem to mind.

It is not my goal to catch all the world fishes, or to venture to a new fly-fishing destination just to say I have.  That would be similar to counting fish as the sole reflection of the experience. Such sallow manifestations neglect any relationship or respect for the waters, the creatures they are linked to, or the impact as an angler you have.  Instead days fly-fishing are narrowly affixed to a simple number.

I have always sensed that fishing with a fly offers much more than that. I feel the same about the destination I frequent and come to know.  It’s why I enjoy traveling and sharing my experience and the places I’ve come to frequent with others.  You can’t always control the fishing, that’s a simple fact, but it’s also what makes what we pursue rewarding.  If you are pondering a trip to Argentina, BC or anywhere in the world for that matter and you gauge the success of the adventure on the number or the size of fish that come to hand, you’re probably going to spend a lot of money being disappointed.   If you consider all the amazing attributes that you get to enjoy as a result of fishing with a fly-rod, whether it be in your backyard or abroad, you are more often than not in for many incredible fly-fishing experiences.  This being just one!

Having found something special in Argentina, again I returned knowing I’ve only pawed at the surface of this vast countries waters; its fly-fishing opportunities, people, wines the endless trays of succulent meats and fine pastas.  Yearning to enhance our familiarity of Argentina’s offering,  we changed our trip from February to April this year; not that early February visits weren’t living up to expectations.  The fact that this is my third visit to Argentina should vouch sufficiently for those first two experiences.  The lure of more stable weather, consistent hatches and fewer bodies proved a strong attraction to the switch. Not that the rivers of Argentina are crowded, but given the other two considerations, throwing the third into the mix only provoked our curiosity.

Our host’s boastings held true; Mother Nature behaved her self, however she did rear her ugly head on occasions.  The rivers prolific hatches generated some of the best dry fly-fishing we have yet to enjoy.  The weather overall couldn’t have been more ideal or timed; little wind, spectacular sunsets, and clouds and rain when the mattered the most.  And yes, and there were few if any on the water to share in our experience.

This third time was a charm.  Looking to 2012 in April of 2012, I figure the forth time should be like fine wine that just keeps gets better with each passing year.  Did I mention that Argentina has some pretty outstanding wine!