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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Alone in Steelhead Camp

Composed on a scrap of paper after a few Doublehauls and half a pint of Maker's Mark.   
 11pm, Nov. 13, 2012, Bobcat Gulch Campground, near North Fork, ID.

The fire is growing faint, because you didn''t want to use too much of your precious wood. It had to last, but it's close to bedtime, so screw it.

What is it about steelhead fishing that gets stuck deep down in your soul? It must be karmic, habit from lifetimes and lifetimes of swinging flies without so much as a tug, or countless eons spent swimming back to your natal waters as a silvery torpedo.

You are afraid. You know that now.  Afraid to fish this alone.  Sometimes, it's hard to get someone to come along with you on these "missions". This mission was all about steelhead on the swing. You always hope to cajole one of your buddies into coming along, but it's late fall, the snow is flying, and feet turn to numb stumps within a few minutes, even in leak-free waders. When there's ice in your guides after five casts, camping is not for the faint of heart.  And so you are alone.  And thus, you are afraid.

Sitting around the fire, hour two, you're trying to stop talking to yourself. You've gone over the day's fishing at least 100 times.  Was that a bite, there on the dangle?  You thought you saw a swirl, or was that just your imagination, a mirage caused by your fly breaking free from some underwater obstruction.  After hours without a bite, it's hard to tell.  Were your flies getting into the strike zone?  The water temp is under 40°F, so they probably aren't real active, but maybe if you lengthen your cast, mend a little earlier, get the flies dangling sooner, slow it down. Maybe if you would have...aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhh!

It's easy to scream out loud when there's nobody around for miles.

You tried to get into your favorite run early today.  The boat ramp was empty and silent as you slipped downstream at dawn.  No public access other than by boat.  It's on the far side, too.  There's no other way in there.  Unless you know the property owner and have a pontoon boat, just like the guy who was swinging his way through, when you came around the corner.  He wasn't hooking any either, though, so that was comforting.  It's so frustrating knowing you could be doing everything absolutely right, and still not catch shit.

You want to stop this idle chatter, the inner monologue, but you can't.  You decide to write it down, so you don't go totally crazy.  Maybe you'll hook a fish tomorrow or maybe you'll get blanked again.  Maybe you'll be swept away in the current bound for the Pacific, trying to cross to hit that river left run that you know is holding fish.  Maybe you'll make it and hook into one of those sacred salmonids, now over 800 miles from the ocean.

No matter what happens, you'll be alone, and anything could happen.  That's steelheading, for you.

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