Sunday, January 24, 2016

On Salmon River F@#kdoggles and Moses Descending the Mountain

There is something about the experience of fishing New York's, Salmon River that lends itself to the expansion of the bug chucking vernacular. Maybe it's the easy wading. Maybe it's the unspoiled landscape. Maybe it's the native women: exotic, mysterious, toothy. Whatever the reason, nearly every time we're wading the river's currents we're faced with some new rub - something unlike anything we have ever before experienced. Sometimes this strangeness is born of mother nature, but more often it's the river's anglers who leave us scratching our heads like space monkeys staring down some strange, foreign fruit. Consider one of our latest additions to the lexicon: f@#kdoggle. F@#kdoggle was spawned on a day and in a moment when we couldn't quite make sense of the world - a moment in which some of our fellow bug chuckers forgot the lessons learned from their fathers, grandfathers, or in that short section of The Curtis Creek Manifesto devoted to etiquette and the fishing of a popular spot.

F@#kdoggle's genesis saw a late November morning break crisp and clear as five of us settled into one of our favorite runs. We arrived at the river around 4 a.m., made a pot of coffee that smelled like sex and tasted of malted turpentine, and as the sun peeked out over the trees we started our rotation: one man at the head, three working through the bucket, one man in the tailout. Cast, step, cast, step. From top to bottom, the whole process took us some 45 leisurely minutes to complete, and with five anglers swinging five different flies on five different tips, we were likely hitting every fishable inch of the water column. Our rotation allowed each of us a shot at the best sections of the run; two of us hooked steelhead on our first pass, and with our second hookup so began the F@#kdoggle.

One of the peculiarities of fishing the Salmon River is that regardless of where we might wet our line we're likely to have an audience. There are only 16 river miles from dam to lake, and some of that water is private and posted. Consequently, a great many anglers are packed into a relatively small space. Compounding the effect of limited space is an epidemic of steelhead fever, which is a potent affliction with the power to make men do things - despicable things - they would never do on an ordinary trout stream.

As that second fish took off on its first run, the alarm of line peeling from the reel had the effect of alerting a trio of passing anglers to the presence of fish in the water. Standing on the ridge overlooking the riffle, they huddled, they whispered, and they pointed. Plans were made. While three of our party contended with the chaos of landing, photographing, and releasing our second steelhead of the day, the three musketeers slipped into the empty spaces between us and began nymphing the seam. In typical Salmon River fashion, not one of the interlopers ever said "hello" or made introduction. No one asked to join our group or to share the water, and before we could finish that first pot of Death Wish Coffee, our rotation had ended.

There is no way of knowing if those three anglers were the advanced guard for a larger group or if some member of our party owed a karmic debt, but no sooner did our nymphing cousins set up in the middle of the run than four more anglers tiptoed into the tailout, waded clumsily across the river through the very water our bottom most man was fishing, and then set up on the far bank directly across from us. To be clear, in the space of ten or fifteen minutes, five anglers had ballooned to twelve. Twelve anglers were fishing a piece of water that could comfortably hold four, accommodated five so long as they were all were in synch, but became something of a circus if stretched beyond that limit. The result?

The early stages of a F@#kdoggle.

But numbers alone do not a F@#kdoggle make. F@#kdoggle requires a certain something - something even the most talented writer might find difficult to articulate. A carnival barker would say it's a spectacle, extravaganza, or a feast for the senses. Southern gentry might suggest it's a heckuva hullaballoo. A soldier returning from war would speak more plainly and call it a clusterf@#k.

And a clusterf@#k it was. Shortly after crossing and scattering any fish that may have been lying in the tailout, one of those bug chuckers on the opposite bank hooked - or rather snagged - a late season king salmon. The angler was fishing at the top of the run, immediately across the river from our coffee pot and top most man, when his tippet likely tickled the mudshark's dorsal (or the whitish stub that remained of its dorsal). Suffering the onset stages of steelhead fever (or perhaps having an epileptic fit), the fisherman immediately set the hook Bassmaster Classic style, and for fifteen minutes we were treated to Jo-Jo the Idiot Circus Boy running up and down the far bank as he chased a fish that had likely spawned a week prior and was just moments earlier looking for a quiet place to die. Eventually, one of our party spoke up.

"For f@#k's sake," he yelled. "You have a king, and it's snagged in what used to be a dorsal fin. That little chartreuse spot on its putrefying back ... yeah, that's your fly. Just break it off so the rest of us can get back to crossing lines with each other. F@#king halfstack."

Jo-Jo's response summed up the whole scene: "I want my fly back."

He wanted his fly back. Of course he did. For the sake of that 75 cent Estaz egg, he was willing to inconvenience everyone else in the run, and for the sake of a fish, he was willing to disregard anything his mama ever taught him about courtesy. He was willing to set up directly across from eight other anglers in what may be one of the narrowest runs on the river. He was willing to cross the river through water in which another bug chucker was swinging a fly. He was willing to forgo any semblance of grace, courtesy, or decorum. He was willing to do things he would never consider doing on other, more refined rivers. Why? Because this was the Salmon River, and for reasons known only to the river gods, there are no rules governing civility on the Salmon River.

We propose to end that tradition. Like Moses descending the mountain, we carry with us the law - rules to live by for the Salmon River's fisherman: bug chuckers, pinners, and gear heads alike. Consider them. Please, consider them. It's not about you; it's not about us. It's not about one group of fishermen or another. It's about the health of a river that has been hurting and the hope our children might enjoy it as we have.

Ten Commandments of the Salmon River

  1. I am the river, Salmon River; thou shalt consider me before all things. 
  2. Thou shalt leave neither refuse, nor excrement, nor entrails, nor mono, nor any sign of man strewn on my shores.
  3. Thou shalt not floss, nor line, nor snag; for snaggers are as thieves, and they shall be made to crawl on their bellies. 
  4. Honor the steelhead and her brood; she is of water and there must remain so to bring joy to the joyless. 
  5. Thou shalt not kill any steelhead but to soothe thine family's hunger. 
  6. Thou shalt not Boga for Boga is of the serpent of the abyss - the destroyer of piscine souls.
  7. Thou shalt show courtesy in all that you do as grace begets beauty, and beauty begets peace.
  8. Thou shalt rotate thine water with both friend and strangers on the path; for rotation is of the spirit, and spirit is of the river.
  9. Thou shalt not covet your neighbor's riffle, but will instead offer him your own. 
  10. Thou shalt carry these words with you, and sew them as seed; for in the planting thou shalt be blessed. 

1 comment:

Flogging The Waters said...

I am, as one should be in the presence of Moses, in awe. Or as the kids sayeth: Awesome! These wise words will be disseminated upon my blog with a link.