everyday beat

read | write | play outside | fish | web design | music

The First Chapter

The season is over. Interesting thing, I've found, a trout season. The final week holds greater weight than the week leading up to New Year's Eve. Celebrating the coming and going of the years is ultimately inconsequential because on both sides of midnight we are living. One second we are living in the old year, the next in the new, but life is constant. The seasons of fishing are different though because each year's season is separated from the one before and the one to come after by some months. Our lives are noticeably different every season. The river is different every year, the fish are different in behavior and in appearance in the spring than they were the fall before, as are the insects and the foliage and the weather and everything else that defines trout environment.

Memories are easily assigned to a season, thus far. Maybe this will change, I've only fished during three seasons and only this one from beginning to end. Progression in my skills and elsewhere in my life defines spring, summer and fall. This year it was my first fish: a monster four-incher coaxed from a quiet stream in a beautiful valley not far from the Mississippi. A Friday night early in the year when we walked easily along the banks. I went on to catch four fish that night, each one a little bigger.

Then my first solo fishing in the prime of the early season, arriving at the river to find at least 10 cars parked at the access. Alas, I said to myself, I'll just have to outhike them all. So I hiked past one, two, three four five six other friendly fellows plying their own stretch until I got to the Blue Hole and then below it to a series of riffles and with hardly a clue I fished nymphs and dries with ignorant abandon all afternoon, pulling six good fish from the river somehow. Walking out, seeing all those same anglers… An old man who seemed to spend the afternoon walking up and down the banks, visiting with the other guys, slowly fording the river when necessary… A young guy who was crouched in the same position by the same flat pool when I walked in and when I walked out… Two cowboys who had waded all the way up from El Paso and had big shit-eating grins and reports of a great morning when I saw them… The first guy I encountered as I walked out from what had seemed like my remote hole, him only around the first bend, me grinning and again, ignorant of what they'd been biting on but it was really quite all right because everyone was smiling because it seemed like they'd been biting on pretty much everything.

There was the afternoon that I remember as the last time I wore my waders all summer. Tried first the Lower Kinni but was chased off by the careening fleets of inexperienced canoeists. So back to the river and hardly any fish but finally getting to one tailout from a riffle where I somehow knew a fish was hiding on the other side of a small rock in two feet of water. I rigged up an amateur nymphing rig, got no response to the first and second flies. Each knot still a painstaking process. Hot sun and standing in shallow water in rubber pants. Refusing to quit. One more fly. First cast, the indicator jerks underwater right where I knew he was and he's mine. I go home fulfilled.

My one fly fishing road trip blown out. Racing against a storm to get to the Driftless region, setting up the tent in the downpour. The next morning, plying the backroads, all gravel, never on one more than five miles, in out and of valleys, up coulees and down. Gabe navigating with his finger tracing our route through the pages of the gazetteer. Every river the color of coffee with cream.

Fishless days of August when I spent the day trying to get one to even nibble at my fly in vain but still going home without feeling a shred of disappointment.

A day I outfished Gabe but only because he helped me rig up and was apparently dead-on that scuds were on the menu because of all the rain we'd had that washed them from the moss and weeds into the current. I hooked up and as usual, he took that as the sign to rig up and disappear upstream. I slowly followed, fishing the corners, catching three fish. Finally ran into him an hour later and he'd had no luck, decided it must have been because my scud has clear glass beads and his are opaque. His long logic is lost on me. Then it starts to rain and we fish in the rain until we can't see our legs underwater anymore and head out.

And of course, there was that fish, experiencing for the first time the power and seeing the incredible beauty of a big trout, but that's all I'll say because I've already written that story… Twice. Okay, three times.

Perhaps the season ended on the perfect note. I don't see how it couldn't. Meeting Gabe and Ryan at a quintessential fishing spot on the river late on a September Sunday afternoon. Gabe, my mentor, alienated by a 1,000 miles from Montana where he should be fishing, where he fished too long and has been ruined for the 12-inchers back here. Never could understand how he'd disappointedly unhook a nice fish and let him go without comment until I was stricken by that fish. He talks about when he was 12 years old and you didn't leave this river without at least one twenty-incher. This day Ryan has joined us, he not even fishing but spending the day trying to convince his Collie/Lab mix Juno that today he can't play in the water. Not something a dog understands well. Ryan's along with camera and dog and wanting to explore the beautiful river country. I get there before they do and land a 12-incher on my second cast. He attacked the cricket and just like how in golf the worst thing to happen to your game is supposedly to hit a good drive off the first tee I'm doomed for the rest of the day. But when Gabe and Ryan get there we chat a bit and then part ways. Ryan disappears into the bluffs with Juno and I work my way downstream, chasing risers. Gabe stays near the car working the deep trough of an improved section where the lunkers reside.

An hour or two later I snag a tree on the bank and when I look back catch Gabe walking down the trail past me. I call out and as I climb the bank see that Ryan happens to be walking toward him from the other direction. So we just happen to reconvene in that spot where the river slips into the woods at the base of the bluff. Gabe is aglow. "I just pulled the largest fish out of this river that I have in a decade." He is euphoric. A 24-incher. A half-hour battle. Him yelling because he thought Ryan was nearby with the camera and another fishermen comes running, thinking someone's in trouble and luckily he has both a net and a camera and helps Gabe land the fish and takes pictures and Gabe gives him flies, as many flies as he'll take, to get him to mail him those pictures.

I'm piqued and I start herding them back toward that spot but we stroll along, Gabe telling the story frontwards and backwards and us asking questions and punching him in the shoulder. Three of the best buddies to walk the world in perfect harmony now, walking along the just-wide-enough path, the dog running out front, our fly rods leading us, talking and laughing with the autumn evening sun on our necks.

The season, bookended by winter and spring, compact and precise, has taught me much. Taught me that I can do this for my whole life. That every year I might catch one more big fish than the year before and that will not be luck. I will begin to tie flies now that I've caught a rising trout on a small dry fly because I at least tried to match the hatch. I will always study and improve my cast because I've caught one big trout on a perfect presentation and spooked another trout in the same situation with the fly skidding onto the surface of the water and the line splashing in behind it, right over where the fish was. I'll quit trying to talk to non-anglers about fly fishing so much. I've reached ecstasy fly fishing and built up how it would be telling the story to somebody else and then realized it just doesn't translate or then people want to go fly fishing with me or any other reaction except the one that I expect but that is impossible: for them to achieve the same ephemeral ecstasy I experienced from my telling it.

Nonetheless, I can count on my fingers and my toes the solid pieces of information and skill that I've retained from this year. Everything else comes and goes at best. I'm sure I could fill a library with books that talk about aspects of fly fishing for trout that I don't even know that I don't know. Year after year after year, I'll read and I'll talk and I'll fish and little by little I hope I'll be worthy of catching a trout.


contact me