Saturday, November 17, 2012

Making it back...

I couldn't even begin to contain my excitement when the tires hit the runway with a dull thud.  As soon as I stepped off of the plane and took a deep breath of the cool, dry air my head started dashing through a thousand memories from the West beginning when I was just a couple months old.  After months of waiting, I was finally back.

For the previous five summers, big sky country had been home.  But instead of having months to settle in, replenish the bank account, get into the daily guiding routine, and try to get a few days of my own fishing in - this time I had a week to satisfy a year's worth of longing.  This time I had no obligations - just a few rough plans, and a flight scheduled to depart a week later.  After a brief stop at my grandparents place, who I owe more than almost anyone for this fly fishing disease and love for the mountain west, their F-150 was loaded up, and I was ready to disappear.

In no time I'd left the desolate Bighorn basin and followed winding roads along a familiar stream to  the trail head where I first cast a fly rod, and caught on to a sport that I've grown to appreciate has a better grip on me, that I ever will on it.  After a long, brisk hike, and a much too close encounter with one of the local grizzlies, I got my line wet in the cowboy state after a year of waiting.  Despite over two decades of trips to this particular stream, all at different times of the year, I'd never seen the water so low and clear.  True to form though, the trout couldn't be bothered.  After all, it was fall in Wyoming, and time was short.

This seemed to be the theme throughout my stay.  As a fly fisherman you rarely see nature, or the fish you're chasing, in much of a hurry.  But the nights were growing colder, snow was in the forecast, and the shadows were growing long by mid-afternoon.  Still, the sun held on for a couple more days - and although the darkness brought bitter nights and cold sleep in the bed of the truck - the light brought comfort and warmth, and thankfully a few fish, too. 

The middle of this trip brought a few of the best days of fly fishing I've ever had.  With no witnesses or company, I made my way to two favorite streams that are tucked away deep inside breathtaking canyons.  One is so hidden that only those who have been there even know of it existence, and the other in plain sight, but woefully overlooked by many fly fisherman, and known for a wink and a smile by those who know of what lies beneath the surface of that particular river.  

Since I'd landed out West, I hadn't had a shower, shaved, looked in the mirror, or even paid attention to the time.  My days were based off of how much daylight I had, and all of my hikes back to the truck at the end of the day ended up being later, colder, and darker than was probably wise.

That night, though, I had a time and a place to be.  After four summers of missing, or showing up late to so many of these commitments (as you can imagine, the temptation to wet a line after a long day of guiding on some of the most pristine rivers on this planet is strong), but on this night, I was determined to be on time.  On my drive over the pass, I made on brief stop - at a lake around 11,000 feet - for a quick dip to wash away days of dust, sweat, and grime of unknown origin.  One dunk was all I could manage, and as I shivered uncontrollably and ran back up the rock to the truck, a light snow began to fall.

As the road descended down the other side of the mountain, I considered turning around.  Leaving wonderful fishing on the other side behind, I was heading towards forest fires and low water, but also a part of the world that over time had become a home away from home and a meeting that I knew better than to miss. 

After stopping in a few local shops, and a favorite watering hole in town, for a few handshakes, and typical Wyoming, bear-style hugs I made my way to the parking lot of an empty restaurant.  With a few minutes to spare, I popped the tailgate, and cracked a beer.   About halfway through, well, an old fishing partner, pulled up - late as usual.

Despite fishing one of my favorite pieces of water in the world, with a person who I know better than almost anyone else.  The next couple days were a blur.  

Sitting here, watching the end of the another gut-wrenching Buckeye Big-10 football game, it's almost Thanksgiving, and I've been back for a month.  Although fall is my favorite time of year along the south shore of Lake Erie, I can't help but keep daydreaming about sun baked days, chilly and clear nights, wild trout, and the good company that I've always been lucky to have out west.

In the year that I'd been gone some things changed, some hadn't, and some remain unclear.  What I do know, is when it comes to fishing, Wyoming still, and likely forever will, be an extremely special place for me where there's still trout, and still solitude.  I'm not sure which I value more. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Time of The Season

The perpetual 5:30 AM wake-up calls threaten to jeopardize my fledgling marriage. My basement looks like an abandoned chicken coop run amuck by an alcoholic farmer. Feathers and flahsabou flutter about the room as I make my way from the stairs to the laundry room, stepping over empty red and white cans as I go, to retrieve my underwader garments from their third wash of the week. I don't even know why I bother. I suppose it's like the whole showering before fishing thing... as if the steelhead give a flying fuck whether my Capilene smells like wader farts and BO, or Irish Spring and Right Guard. I should know by now that if they're likely to show a preference for either, it's the former.

I do my damndest to wet a line at every possible opportunity, knowing the questions that await, day in and day out.

"How's River X fishin'?"

Ehh, it's alright. Better off goin' to river Y.

"What are the steelhead bitin' on these days?"

Egg patterns, mostly.

"OH MAN, we killed 'em up at Oak Orchard last weekend."

[OK, not a question, but exponentially more irritating.]

"Hey buddy, if you were fishin' on Saturday, where would you go?"

Ehh, probably Elk. It's gonna be on fire. Crowds shouldn't be too bad either. It's deer season ya' know!

"Hey, shouldn't you be out fishin'?"

The last one always strikes a certain nerve. He's 100% right. The rivers are green. I should be fishing, and it's a fucking crime that I'm not.

For the record, no one should ever complain about working in a fly shop. So I'm not. OK?

My waders are mired in a constant state of musty wetness. That is, when I remember to take them out of the truck and hang them in the garage. When I forget, they freeze in the bed of my truck. Which chafes me to no end. Figuratively speaking, for the non-indoctrinated.

"Jimmy. JIMMY! Did you hear me?!"

I'm sorry baby. What did you say? I was doo-daddy day dreamin'.

I tie new flies but fish the same old ones. Tough to get away from what works when you're fishing on borrowed time. The most a steelheader can ever hope for is proof of concept, and when you find it you damn well better hang on to it. That concept is liable to un-prove itself tomorrow.

Catching fish is actually counter productive. It only makes the fever run higher.

The chocolate lab is stricken with the same affliction. He knows the drill, smells the 5:30 wake-up coming long before the iPhone blows up, is waiting at the door with his God-given G4's on, ready to hit the water.

Dragging others into the fray is part of coping. Even my bride cannot claim immunity to the steelhead epidemic. Bad news for steelhead.

'Tis the time of the season indeed, when chaos reigns supreme. Normalcy won't be restored until the rivers freeze over. And given recent climate trends, don't hold your breath. For better or worse, chaos figures to reign for a long, long time.