Saturday, July 1, 2017

Loud and Clear

"You're fishing for only one fish with that kind of fly," my brother said as he dug in at the oars, ferrying us across the current. I could hear the grin on his face. I pulled my gaze from the too-large yellow articulated undulation I was leading along the bow on a fluorocarbon leash to look back at him and nod, and smile.


This morning the river was high and off color, 1400 cfs and holding when it is said to fish well at 400, and this was our first time angling it. We'd heard of big brown trout and within an hour of shoving off we met what we sought. Mark placed his streamer tight to an undercut root ball and a big fish breached but missed. As we ripped past in the current he cast upstream to replace the fly, twitched it once and the fish came back. Twenty-two inches to start the day and a memorable eat to start our week together on the water.

I was up to fish and decided to try a streamer cooked up during a winter evening of altered consciousness. After an hour or three its form emerged from the hazy crucible, fixed in the vice atop a heap of hair, fur, feathers and flash. My fingers were bloody from hidden hook points. When I returned to it in the morning with clearer eyes I knew the fly would hunt. It called to me whenever I would consult the meat locker but it hadn't aligned with a river and the water until now.

That the trappings from the bodies of terrestrial and aerial organisms can be arranged to create something that acts like it evolved in the water is one of the reasons I love fly fishing.

Mark is better at the oars. In the lee of a small island he began to inch us quietly upstream into a narrow side channel. We entered an eddy across from a large boulder sheltered under the branches of a leaning hemlock, deep in shade. He told me where to cast. At the splash, unseen, a big, beautiful fish peeled off from her lair in the slackwater as I swam the fly lazily back to the boat.

Holding starboard in the current the yellow streamer fluttered like a descending angel until a quick, white hole opened beneath it, a singularity, folding the fly into itself, vanishing. The fish turned and I clamped down. It thrashed on the surface and the black water frothed. I was in shock and the fish sounded. When I brought her back my brother was there with the net. He knew it was the best trout of my life.

That the fish was severely gill hooked threw a wet blanket on our enthusiasm pretty quickly. Clouds of red billowed from the net and dispersed downstream with its fading heartbeat. We cursed as it died in my hands.

I'd forgotten that fly fishing is also a bloodsport. We consume a resource whether or not we catch and release, and what we take from the experience, flesh or memories, should be able to justify our continued participation.  I took the oars for a few hours and led us down this healthy river, watching my brother practice his art from the bow, and suddenly aware of the imbalance between what these waters have given to me, and what I've, thus far, given to them.

That evening, with a few miles left on our float, my brother asked if I was ready to fish. I pinched my barbs and stood in the bow, looking for likely holding water.