Every November, the boys and I make the annual fishing trip to New York's, Salmon River. My wife asks why I describe this as the trip rather than a trip, given that I'll make at least two suicide runs (read: one day road trips with a minimum five hours drive time) per month throughout the fall and winter seasons. My bride asks a perfectly reasonable question, and I suppose if I stop to think about it, this trip is special for several reasons.
First, the November trip is a mini-vacation of sorts. The boys and I each take several days off from work, kiss our respective wives and children goodbye, and dive (metaphorically, of course) into the frigid autumn waters of several nearby Lake Ontario tributaries. Second, the duration of the trip allows us to behave more like boys than grown men. We generally don't do anything illegal, but given that we haven't any particular responsibilities for a short while, we do allow ourselves to relax in a way that might be frowned upon if we did it in the polite company of our families (a little "thank you" goes out to the Ommegang and Lagunitas breweries). Third, early to mid November is generally the only time of year when all of us can get together at the same time. That this assembly is a once-per-year event may be a good thing for our families, the towns of Altmar and Pulaski, and the local members of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
Of course, there are certain draw-backs to wetting a line in the tribs that time of year. Anyone who fishes the Great Lakes with any sort of regularity - especially in that span of weeks between early September and late November - has almost certainly had a run-in with a #%@&tard. #%@&tards are the living, beathing, walking, talking personification of rudeness, and they're the sad reality of fishing western New York for potamodromous steelhead.
Whatever sense of etiquette a #%@&tard may have at home ... well ... he or she (yes, women are #%@&tards too) abandons that behavior once in the vicinity of the big lakes. #%@&tards have an uncanny propensity for ruining an intrepid steelheader's day. As such, I think it incumbent upon me to help my too-few readers identify a #%@tard should they ever find themselves wandering the shores of the Great Lakes. How do we know a #%@&tard when we see one? It's not so easy as the uninitiated bug chucker might think.
What makes spotting a #%@&tard so difficult is that they might carry heavy action spinning gear or center-pin rigs, but they could just as easily be bug chuckers swinging spey rods or single-hand nymph rigs. They might tie their own married wing Jock Scotts, but they could also be spotted carrying jars of neon or glow-in-the-dark Power Bait worms. A #%@&tard might wade the river's currents in high end breathable waders complete with battery powered leg warmers, but they're as likely to be found in Gander Mountain neoprenes or Red Ball hippers. Ultimately, one can never tell a #%@&tard by his or her appearance, and certainly never by the gear he or she carries. One discerns a #%@&tard based entirely on the #%@&tard's behavior, and that behavior is easily recognized.
#%@&tards are the folks who insist on crossing a river through the very run you're fishing. Once on the far bank, #%@&tards will set up shop directly across from you, and toss their line over yours on every fourth or fifth cast. #%@&tards will step into your spot if you so much as dare to stop fishing for the sake of netting your buddy's fish, let alone to smoke a cigar, eat a sandwich, or pee in the woods. #%@&tards would crawl right up your backside if they thought there might be a steelhead inside.
And all of this brings us back to the November, 2011 steelhead trip.
For three days, the boys and I had been successfully fishing the same run. We caught fish; in all modesty, we caught quite a lot of fish. Most came on nymphs, several took eggs, and a few crushed swung flies. Either the river gods had enough of our antics or word spread that we were into fish because on the final day of the trip we were inundated with #%@&tards. We were simultaneously low-holed and high-holed. A wagon train of nomadic other-siders (bug chuckers who believe the fishing will always be better from the other side of the river) waded through the cherry part of the run. One #%@&tard decided he needed to fish exactly where I was fishing, so he set up directly across from me and began rigging his rod. I couldn't hold back.
"Really buddy? Really? Three hundred yards of river free below us, and you're going to set up shop right on top of me?"
"What'd you mean?"
"What do I mean? I mean there's a quarter mile of river free, and you're about to throw your line right on top of mine."
"I can fish here."
That single sentence encapsulates everything I hate about #%@&tards. Yes, you can fish here. You could also strip off all your clothes, and run down the river bank singing, "Doo-lay, doo-lay ... look at me. I'm an elf." If you were so inclined, you could jump off the roof of a very tall building, play Russian Roulette with a Colt Model 1911 (that's a clip loading pistol for the handgun impaired), or drive down the left side of any one of America's busy and beautiful byways. #%@&tards are very much aware of what they can do, but they often lack the sense to ask if something should be done. So while you can wet a line here, you shouldn't because to do so would be rude. Walking into the run that someone is fishing and setting up right on top of that other angler demonstrates a general lack of etiquette.
"Who taught you to fish?"
"What? My grandfather. Why you asking @$$hole?"
"Well, I find myself wondering if grandpa skipped the chapter on etiquette, or if you're just a naturally obtuse #%@&tard."
From this point, the conversation was infused with testosterone and became increasingly belligerent. Our discussion culminated with the #%@&tard removing his gear and gesturing as if he were going to come back over to the near bank and challenge me for the heavyweight crown (these days it may actually be super-heavyweight).
"Maybe I should just come over there, and kick your ass?"
"You're welcome to try Spartacus. Whenever you're ready, I'll be right here ... fishing the run I was first on at 4:30 this morning, and yesterday morning, and the day before that."
This kind of aggression seems antithetical to fly fishing, and bug chuckers would be right to find it distasteful. Unfortunately, returning a #%@&tard's attitude is often the most effective way to deal with the situation. I once chose to leave steelheading because of the preponderance of #%@&tardation on so many Great Lakes tributaries. I won't let that happen again. From now on, I'll take the fight to the
#%@&tards. Perhaps some tough love is just what is needed to teach folks that etiquette and common courtesy are portable, and as apropos on the Salmon River as they are along the banks of the Delaware, Battenkill, Neversink, or Yellow Breeches.