Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Revenge of the River Gods

There were no omens. There were no portents. The sky did not darken, and the earth did not move. There was absolutely no indication that things would go as poorly as they did. Had I any inkling the day would play out in such a fashion, I would have chosen a better way to spend my time; perhaps asking my neighbor to kick me in the testicles and steal my wallet. Instead, this is what happened.

At 5:30 a.m. Ben and I started out on a two and a half hour pilgrimage to the downstate tailwater that all the outdoor writers suggest is home to the best trout fishing on the east coast. The truck was loaded with five or six rods and their respective reels, waders, boots, nets, vests and a Thermos full of coffee. Notice the absence of beer. Had we the good sense to bring a few bottles I might today be writing a much different post, but I digress. With a smile on my face I walked out the door, blissfully unaware that I was on my way to piscatorial purgatory.

An hour and a half later we had contacted the folks at an area fly shop about renting a drift boat for the day, and stopped off for food and drinks to bring along on the float. I suppose this is when karma abandoned me, but I wouldn't recognize the moment for what it was until I later reflected on the day. Entering the convenient store we were greeted by stony glares from a half dozen patrons, each seeming to scream, "You're not from here!" The awkward silence made palpable the tension between me and the cashier. Her snaggle-toothed sneer left little room to doubt that she wanted me out as quickly as possible. I was happy to oblige as scenes from Deliverance ran in a loop across my mental cinematoscope. "I bet you can squeal like a pig. Weeeeeeee! I bet you can squeal like a pig. Weeeeeeee! I bet you can squeal like a pig. Weeeeeeee!" Ben wasn't quite so quick to perceive the mood in the room.

There are some things you need to understand about Ben. First, he's accepting of all sorts of people and a genuinely compassionate person. There's no better friend or fishing partner. Second, he's an artist whose preferred mediums are molten bronze, discarded steel, and tanned and stretched animal hide. He has worked in a foundry for years, and recently started his own business producing bronzework. Third, he has absolutely no tolerance for intolerance or incompetance.

Care to guess what happens when an artist with a shaved head, two pierced ears, a smithy's forearms and a short fuse asks a toothy, backwoods, convenience-store clerk to make him a vegetarian sandwich? Give up? The clerk foolishly rolls her eyes, flips her hair over her shoulder, and without a word dismisses said artist to tend to her regular customers. The artist stomps and curses his way out of the building. It's especially funny to watch if you're not one of those liberal, hippyesque, starving artist types (starving because you don't get your sandwich ... not because you're unemployed).

Ben's mood soured just a bit, he swore he would return and set fire to the building (his reaction demonstrates the difference between he and the average hippy ... Ben would happily set fire to people who annoy him). I suppose it was that moment, which ultimately set the stage for the remainder of the day.

By 9:00 we were 300 yards into our float, diligently working streamers to the banks. We had forgotten about Bucktooth Sally, and were sharing a laugh when we spotted a steadily rising fish. Here I should mention that the tailwater's trout are notoriously tough nuts to crack. They meet countless fishermen in any given week, and witness a corresponding number of flubbed casts, inadequate presentations and poorly tied flies. Add to this the great variety of insect life, which might be present on the water at any time, and you've set the stage for a frustrating outing. Yesterday, however, the fish were surprisingly agreeable. Ben made the process of catching them seem simple as taking one's next breath.

Three casts after tying on a dimunitive BWO pattern, Ben hooked and landed his first tailwater trout. The cast turned over nicely, the fly drifted perfectly, and the brown took without any hesitation. It was really a pleasure to watch; I remember commenting that I wished we had a video camera. Just downstream another fish dimpled the surface. Ben's turn on the oars. My turn on the bow.

And it continued to be my turn for the next 30 minutes or so. That's how long I worked over that fish. I started with an olive dun. Nothing. Moved to an emerger. Nada. How about a trico dun? Not today. Sulphur dun. Are you kidding me? Caddis. Hehehe. One thousand, eight hundred seconds passed and my adversary had me so flustered I was stepping on my line, dropping my backcast, over-powering my forward stroke, and throwing a tailing loop wide enough to lasso a bull. As often happens on those rivers inhabited by trout that just don't play, I was forced to submit to a superior intellect and move on down the road. I tucked my tail and my pride between my legs, sliding forlornly back to the oars.

The reaction of those first few rising fish characterized the remainder of the day. Ben was totally relaxed, almost Buddah-like in his approach. He ignored the tailwater's dogma, and cast whatever flies spoke to him from his box. He caught fish, while I abided by doctrine. I tried to fish technically, matching specific bugs, and fishing a particular way. I should have forgotten everything I think know about the tailwater, and simply focused on having a good time. I'm sure the change in attitude would have paid dividends. Instead, I was stubborn and couldn't buy a pull.

A short while after I had begun to lose my composure, my cell rang with the sound of The Police, "Message in a Bottle." I had a text message (I know ... kind of cheesey, right? ... but it's cheesey in a really cool 80's music kind of way).

At this point, please don't make me explain why I keep my cell powered on while I fish. Suffice to say that I am a husband and a father before I'm a fisherman, and the phone is there for for emergencies. Sure, Ben will text or call from time to time, but he was sitting just behind me. Had the message been his, he would have been swimming to the take-out point. The message was from my wife, and it read "Mikey got hurt." Mikey is my son, and my son was hurt.

If you're a parent then you know what I experienced in the next few moments. If you're not a parent then allow me a few sentences to demonstrate a parent's panic-stricken stream of consciousness.

"Mikey got hurt."

"What do you mean he's hurt? Is he alright? Did he fall ... in the bathroom ... in the driveway ... from the swingset ... down the stairs? Did he scrape his elbow or break his leg? Did he manage to get past the fence, and into the road? My God, was he hit by a car? Was he even outside? Maybe he got into the kitchen knife drawer? Dear God, Dear God! Why didn't I better childproof the kitchen? I'm a lousey father, a terrible non-childproofing father. Mikey got hurt. Mikey got hurt!"

All that and more in the time it took me to speed dial my home.


"What happened? Is he alright? Is Mikey alright?"

"Who? Oh, Mikey. Sure, he's fine. He just fell and scraped his knee a little bit. Why are you calling? Shouldn't you be on the river by now?"

That, ladies and gentlemen, demonstrates one of the fundamental differences between men and women. My wife, brilliant as she is, cannot achieve clarity in only three words. She cannot briefly and succinctly communicate that my son's injuries are minor, there is no need to worry, and have a great day. Instead, she leaves it all up to her husband's juvenile imagination; an imagination fueled by Freudian tendencies toward sex and violence, which in its turn draws on every gory detail of those vintage 80s slasher films in which it indulged. My mood, and my experience on the river, did not improve.

It wasn't long before I lost all control, and did something I haven't done in nearly twenty years. No, I did not let go of my bowels and soil myself. I last did that as recently as six years ago. Instead, I did something that for a fly flinger is both more embarrassing and much more painful. Distracted and concerned for my son, frustrated by my seeming ineptitude with the long rod, I lost track of my cast at the pivotal moment and struck myself with a hook ... in the ear ... up to the shank ... well past the barb. Did it hurt? Yep. It was nestled deep into the cartilage. Was I surprised? Yep. I couldn’t have been more surprised if I woke up hogtied with a rawhide dog biscuit in my mouth. Did Ben laugh? Let's just say he said he wished we had a video camera.

At this point I think it may be best if I spare you the remaining details. Instead, I'll summarize by saying that the river gods continued to embellish their twisted psyches at my expense. Ben finished the day having made the acquaintance of somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred fish, and I can't be sure I even had a legitimate strike. My waders leaked, and I made the mistake of literally pissing into the wind.

Know what the really funny part is? Now that I've had the time to digest and file away the day, I sincerely cannot wait to do it all again.


Shaq said...

Oh crap...it's got it's hooks into you now too...literally!

BKill said...

She's had her hooks into me for a long time now, but boy did she ever beat the hell out of me on this partuicular trip.