Monday, September 28, 2009

Friday Fishing Report: Nooner

It occurred to me Friday that "hopper time" may be a time of day as well as a time of the season. I've scoffed at that notion in the past, but my experience on this day seemed to support it.
I was on the clock Friday with mid-afternoon and evening responsibilities, so I went to the lake during midday. I realized it has been some time since I fished it at that time of day. I trolled unsuccessfully with a wooly bugger to the other side of the lake, then tied on a hopper.
Bingo. The rest of the time was all hopper all the time. I caught the first fish on 4x but then saw several clear refusals, so switched to 5X. That did the trick. I lost a few fish in the weeds--the water is at its lowest level--but the 5X held.
It was a wonderful nooner.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday Fishing Report: Time and Fortune

I am a fortunate man to live where I do and have the opportunity to fish as much as I do. Part of it is that I have arranged my life to make that possible. Part of it is that around here fishing and hunting are not "hobbies," they are part of the lifestyle. I think some people would think something was fishy if I didn't fish.
But while having good fishing close at hand means you can get to the water quickly and easily, it can also mean, since you can get to the water so quickly and easily, that you end up squeezing it in when you can instead of planning for extended, dedicated fishing time.
Don't get me wrong; I definitely don't want to go back to living in the city where my only chance to fish came when I could grab a day or two, or a week, and travel some distance to a fishing destination. Those were great trips, but there were precious few of them because I couldn't always afford the cost, in time and money.
I used to drive 1500 miles in 28 hours to Idaho to have the chance to fish in the kind of setting that I now have in my own backyard. I would do that for a week once a year. Other times I would drive to Michigan, usually for one or two days, and that was maybe five or six times in a season if I was lucky.
No, I like it right where I am. Even with local trips that I squeeze into my schedule, I've easily surpassed in the first month of the season what used to be my total fishing hours for the year. And now when I go to a "fishing destination," such as the Grande Ronde, it's pure bonus. (My brother will fly 2500 miles to be there; I'll drive six hours.)
But there can be more to this than what can be measured in time or distance. That, paradoxically, is what one can find by "planning for extended, dedicated fishing time." I don't mean days or weeks; I mean just a day, but a day when the only thing you do is enter the world of the lake or river. Not go to it; enter it.
There is something special about being on the lake or river for a full day. If you allow it--risk it--time is released from the bonds of minutes and hours--and so are you. In a real sense, when you're lucky, you're released from time itself, exisiting for a space in eternity. Instead of time there is only change, a natural progression, subtle, minute, nuanced. It is seen and heard and felt in the changing light and the flights and leaps, calls and songs, resting and striving of every living thing, from morning to evening to night to morning, endless and timeless.
Such an experience is more than a pleasant part of your schedule. It can transform you.
So I had sort of planned to get to the lake early today and make a day of it. But I learned last night that Lidia had an appointment at the eye doctor this morning, and since Kim started teaching yesterday I would be the one to take her. Lidia also made plans to go home with a friend after school, so with Isaiah staying after school for football practice, Jeremiah would be the only one coming home on the bus. So I stayed around to be here when he got home.
That's the other side of it; I'm also a fortunate man to have a family and kids who need me.
But when Jeremiah took off to play with some neighborhood kids at their house I still had time to squeeze in a trip to the river.
I squeezed it in, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was aware of the press of time, but I had a glimpse--in the blue rushing water; in the flash of a smallmouth; in the tiny skein of Sandhills way off in the distance over the red sunset bluffs; in the old and worn, tried and true equipment that are my fishing companions; and in the slip of a moon--of that place beyond time already there, if I would only take the time to enter it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Fishing Report: One Foot in the River

I continue to keep one foot in the river, waiting for conditions to change. So far it's still low, and I've seen no sign of salmon or steelhead in my section.
This evening I waded upstream seeking deeper water.
I stopped to fish this run. I like it, for some reason. There's a nice deep seam right along the bank and that blowdown. I've not caught anything out of it, but someday, when the conditions are right....
I found a deep stretch. I already knew where it was; I had waded across it earlier in the season, but I hadn't really fished it. This time I explored its length and breadth. It's a good long run with deep holes. Promising.
I waded in spots over my waist. Wish I'd known the front pocket of my waders, where my billfold was, isn't waterproof.
I found fish, too, but they were smallies.
This is the tail of the run. As it got darker there was a heavy caddis hatch here and fish were rising to them. I switched to a beadhead nymph and hooked a nice fish. It wasn't a steelhead, and it came off before I got a good look at it, but it was a heavy fish for a trout or a smallmouth. I ended up staying on this stretch until almost dark, then waded my way back to the bridge, fishing as I went.
I hooked another good fish. The first time I got it up to me it looked like the best trout I'd caught yet on the river, but it splashed away. The second time I got it close I was able to get it in hand and take a better look. It was too dark to see clearly, but it was clearly not a trout. My guess is whitefish. That would be a first for me on this river.
Maybe that's what I lost earlier.
I managed to climb the steep bank in the dark, and only hung up my line once and fell twice. I misjudged that first step, and then there's a big hole at the top that I never noticed in the daylight.
Tomorrow I hope to get back to the lake, where my other foot is. But I'll be back to the river soon.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Fishing Report: Respite

It has been a busy week. The lake provided a welcome respite.
It was a quiet evening, and I was alone at the south end. The wind blew for awhile, so I trolled, paddling away my tension and stress. I caught four fish. Two were decent, though one of those came off before I had him in the net. Two were small, one of which I netted for a photo, the other of which I released in the water.
Then the wind dropped off and all became calm. I found myself lulled into drowsiness by tawny light and the songs of the crickets. So I tied on a dry, a mayfly, inspired by one I saw hatch, and went hunting in the jungle of weeds.
But the fish were taking a respite, too. A few small fish were rising, but the Rise never happened. I did catch a bat. He received the long distance release and flew away nicked and perhaps wiser.
It was still dusk when I decided not to troll into the darkness. I was content and rested. So I packed up and headed for home. I got home at 8:30. Oh my. These rapidly shortening days are a constant reminder of the long respite just ahead.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday Fishing Report: HOPPER TIME!!!

OK, not really. Except for this little guy. On my third cast, ten feet from the put-in, he hit my newly-tied hopper the instant it slapped down, and came three feet out of the water doing it. Gotta love it.
After that I got nothing with the hopper. So I went to another newly-tied pattern. I had looked through one of my fly books this morning and got an inspiration, so I tied a couple of tail-less humpies, #14's, kind of a caddis thing. I was thinking of those cruising fish who come out in the evening and who just might go for something completely different.
I got a take on it from another little guy (HUMPY TIME!!!) but lost him in the weeds. And that was it.
But I'm loyal to my flies, so I stuck with it all evening, thinking that there was one good fish out there somewhere who had gotten out of bed this morning thinking, "Man, I'd like to have a tail-less humpy for supper tonight!"
I know he's out there, but I didn't find him.
But it was a beautiful evening. The landscape is subtly changing, taking on the colors and the aspect of fall.
The birds are changing, too. The warblers are gone; so are the Loons. Ducks are flocking up. Now there are White-throated sparrows whistling their plaintive song from the underbrush, and Stellar's Jays patrolling the shoreline with raspy cries. I love those jays; they look like steelhead flies with their black heads and deep blue plumage. Finally, I saw a male Marsh Hawk this evening, a striking, low-flying hawk, pale gray and white. This past spring I thought of him as the ghost of winter past; now....
As darkness neared I tied on a Bugger (no "wooly": a tinsel rib instead of hackle) and trolled. I caught two very decent fish, the last one just as my feet felt bottom at the take out.
I loaded the truck by starlight and fired it up for the drive home. Since getting back from the mechanic last week the truck is in its second childhood--or maybe third, or fourth--and I drive it with a childlike trust and peace of mind.
On the way home my cell phone rang. It was Jeremiah wanting me to know that he had gotten his jersey at practice this evening. He's number 23--LT plus two. (Ladainian Tomlinson of the Chargers is his favorite NFL player, and LT is number 21.) He's excited about that and the game coming up on Saturday.
So things are feeling good even though it still isn't really HOPPER TIME!!!

Monday Fishing Report: The River Flows On

It hasn't been the easiest day. The death of a family pet isn't earth-stopping news--unless you're eleven years old, it's your cat, and he was your best friend.
So Jeremiah especially is having a rough time of it. He and I buried Saber by the pasture fence in the back. He chose an appropriate spot: it's right in the middle of everything. His epitaph for Saber was heartfelt and fitting: "He was a good cat."
How do you answer a kid when he asks you why his cat had to die? I don't have the answer; never have, never will. But I, who have been here too many times before, take comfort in something that Jeremiah doesn't understand yet: the river flows on.
Life goes on. It can seem like a slap in the face when one is immersed in grief, as though life itself is unfeeling, uncaring, oblivious of your pain. But the reality is that, even though you want everything to stop, life will lift you up and carry you on. Life is stronger than death; it will flow unchecked. There are still good gifts in the future; the painful present will become the past; perspective will be restored.
So I heard Sandhill Cranes this afternoon as I waited for Jeremiah's schoolbus to arrive. I looked up to see a swirl of them high overhead, almost out of sight.
And I decided to go to the river this evening, and the first thing that flooded my conciousness, even before I waded in, was the sound: the many voices of the river joining in their neverending chorus.
There were no steelhead tonight. But there was life and beauty and order and signs all around--like the Sandhills had been--of the great dance of the seasons that moves in time to the chorus sung by rivers.
I listened to that chorus until dusk, and maybe when I got home and Jeremiah was still grieving and still wanting to talk about his cat I was able to pass on some of what I had heard: the river flows on; it will be alright.