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.