Thursday, March 29, 2012

Working for Them

We were on the water by 3:30 a.m. because had we not been there at 3:30 a.m., we might not have been there at all. Easy fishing means a hard wake-up, and there are few spots on the river quite as easy - or as popular - as this particular run. We wade only a few feet from shore, make a simple switch cast to the right, follow a short drift to the left, and keep our rod tips high. The process is about as idiot-proof as the ubiquitous, "lather, rinse, repeat." We can usually count on every ninth or tenth cast being punctuated by a giddy "fish on," and the frenetic dance of a winter steelhead. It's embarrassingly easy fishing.

From time to time, we bug chuckers need to know we're doing things right, because so often we cannot make the magic happen. Really, it's not our fault that things do not go well. There are so many variables for which we must account that every time we step into the water the odds are almost certainly stacked against us. We bug chuckers are sensitive creatures. We need constant reassurance, and every so often we need easy fishing.

Our shared curse is that easy fishing very easily becomes tedious. Was it Sparse Grey Hackle who gave us the story of the angler who dies and goes to heaven?

A bug chucker passes away, and in short order arrives at the pearly gates to find a glittering trout stream with respectable trout rising in every run. The fish take on every cast; our celestial feather flinger can do no wrong. Every drift - every single drift - results in a fifteen or sixteen inch fish brought to hand.

And it never stops. Never. The fish are never any bigger. The cast is never particularly difficult. The fly is never wrong. Before long our deceased brother realizes he isn't in heaven, not at all.

The message is a poignant one. Fly fishing isn't supposed to be easy - at least, not all the time. We need difficult days on the water - days that test our resolve and question our ingenuity - if for no other reason than to help us appreciate the easy days. It's the difficult days and the most stubborn fish that keep us coming back.

I'm reminded of one such fish on an otherwise nondescript little stream, the name of which shall remain a mystery.  The brownie - all 14 or 15 inches of him - was showing himself at the height of the day's hendrickson emergence. He rose regularly enough; every ten minutes or so his nose would break the surface as he sucked down another struggling dun, and therein lay the rub.

The trout felt free to rise because he was very safely tucked in tight to the bank, underneath no less than three feet of overhanging brush whose lowest branches nearly painted the water. A small eddy at the head of the lie precluded an upstream cast. Taking the fish meant a perfectly placed cast, precisely the right fly, and more than a little help from the river gods. 

Whether or not I caught the fish is of little consequence. The point is the memory of the pursuit. I remember every movement of that diminutive brown: the way the water would rise in an arc before his snout broke the surface, the red and black spots that formed a diamond just before its eye, each take of a fluttering dun as my poorly dressed imitation floated mere inches away.

Not my fly ... this is Shawn Brillon's bug ... mine aren't quite so pretty.

No, the fish wasn't very big. On most afternoons I would likely have abandoned him in search of easier and larger quarry, but at least ten years have passed since I struggled with that brown, and here I am recounting its memory.

That little fish made me work.

I think it's the working for them that makes them remarkable. 


Salar said...

The angler who died and went to "heaven" was Mr. Theodore Castwell in the story of the same name by G. E. M. Skues

BKill said...

Thank you Salar ...

BKill said...

A link for anyone who might like to read the story ...

BKill said...

Had forgotten just how good a read it is ...

"Well, I'm damned," said Mr. Castwell. "Do you see that?" "Yes, sir," said the keeper.