Sunday, February 5, 2012

Shades of Gray

You're on the way to the river.  Late, and still feeling the after effects of an unmentionable amount of microbews and bourbon from the night before.  It's comfortably cool - a still, overcast, mid-40 degree day.  If the sun pokes out through the clouds then the stoneflies and midges you seek will make their afternoon appearance.  Your headache subsides at the thought.

After a quick stop at the fly shop for some 6x (that you know you have a half dozen spools of somewhere, but naturally you can't find them today), you're on the final approach to the river.  In the shop when you stated your intentions, eyebrows went a little higher than normal.  Asking the question that the boys wanted to ask themselves, but were too polite too: "you're headed out today?"  Perhaps out of pity the guys at the shop have thrown you a subtle tip, they mentioned that they have been fishing a different section of stream, farther downstream than you've ever been.  As you get back into your truck, you chart a new course to this unknown destination.  You drive over the stream - but the quick glance down is a tease.  You were hoping for some unexplainable surge of hope, a shot of adrenaline.  It looks nondescript, sterile, and desolate, leaving you wanting.  As you pull into the dirt lot, you notice that the temperature has dropped, and you remember that the boys in the fly shop had mentioned snow.  As you sit down on your tailgate to slide your waders on you notice dark specks on the dirt, apparently appearing out of nowhere.  Thickening overcast and cold drizzle - kiss the hatches you'd hoped for goodbye.

As you walk the path, the woods are barren.  Nothing moves, not the rocks, the trees, or even a squirrel or a bird.  Earth tones of grey, brown, tan show no signs of life.  The drizzle is steadier now, not yet a rain, but each drop stings as hits your bare hands.  You realize that your chances of success are slim, and as the drizzle continues and the temperature falls, they only get slimmer.  As you step in the water, a glance upstream and downstream yields you no new information.  The water looks good, but lifeless.

You've fished for a couple hours now with nothing to show, but for one half-hearted, reluctant follow by an ultimately non-committal fish.  The drizzle has mixed with snow now, and all of your exposed skin is screaming with each wind gust reminding you that no one should be outside on a day like today.  The dampness has seeped through layers of goretex and fleece and is now gnawing at your body.  Conditons haven't gotten any better, and you begin to lose faith, mentally preparing yourself for the blow to your confidence that will ultimately come with a good, old fashioned skunking.  You grit your teeth and do your best anyway - to simultaneously be relentless, yet patient.  The river isn't going to give anything away today; success, if there is to be any, must be earned.

You've made it down to a good looking run, telling yourself that there has to be a hungry fish in there.  You ignore the fact that this is the eighth or ninth time you've comforted yourself with that thought.  You tie on a different midge with as much confidence that you can muster at this point.  You've made a handful of drifts, but this one is different.  Your indicator twitches, then slows inconclusively.  You sweep your rod downstream, but your sluggishness betrays your belief that this is probably just a boulder.  Your line is tight now - a wiggle, there is life on the other end.

You're fishing with renewed energy now, even though wind and cold are making their presence known.  Casting better, mending more precisely, and striking on any "bobber anomalies" with more crispness and fervor.  Where lush grass stood months ago, now snow accumulates on top of the mud.  

Another drift along the deep inside of this good looking run.  Your bobber drops, your rod strikes, and a flash reveals the trout that ate your fly.

 Another fish on the same midge pattern.  You're can't help but feel like you're on to something - that the vault that has been sealed shut all day has finally opened a crack.  You watch the trout swim away, but this time you reach for a different tool lying on the bank.  

It's late afternoon now, the temperature has plummeted.  The sky is filled with big flakes, but one travels horizontally.  You cast towards the far bank, landing your gaudy fly next to every boulder, limb, or pit in the stream bed.  The action is fast and furious, trout after trout streaks out of it's lie to give chase.  Each fish is a puzzle, and triggering a strike requires the pieces to be arranged correctly.  Some eat, others don't.

The darkness from the cloudy sky and snow is replaced by failing light.  You make one last, long cast and start to reel your line in but a shape follows it.  You strip faster and the shape keeps pace.  It's close now, and you see that its a big brown.  You've run out of line to strip, so you jig the rod tip, fluttering your streamer in the current.  The trout is still there, but you know the window of opportunity to get him to eat is down to seconds.  In a last ditch effort, you give the fly slack.  As it dives down behind him, he is filled with rage, and strikes with reckless abandon.  You strike back, and after a brief but furious fight, he's yours.

It's dark now, and your day is over.  You're out of your waders, and the cold stinging of your face and hands is replaced by the tingling of feeling returning.  With the heat on high, you're on the way home after experiencing unlikely success.  The snow comes down harder.

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