Monday, May 3, 2010

Gone Goodbye

Another day passes as though time is standing still. I am standing on my balcony overlooking White Rock Falls enjoying the aroma of this fine fall afternoon. The crispness in the air is a reminder of the imminent return of Old Man Winter, but for now all I have to worry about is the fish in the river. Or lack thereof. What has happened to the once great runs of king salmon that filled the White Rock River to the point of spilling over every fall. Gone are the rotting carcasses and the bears gorging on the flesh of live salmon. Nothing has grown in there stead and this is worrisome for so many reasons. What was once a time for harvesting the mighty salmon has turned into idle hands finding mischief in the passing wind. Ultimately I will have to make the decision but for now I carry on biding my time until the snows fall. The decision that has been hanging over my head like a leaden blanket smothering all forms of rational thought. Why should I leave this picturesque river valley prematurely when all I know is here flowing beside me in the river of life? Can’t I hang on until the fish return? Will they? This I cannot answer but will make my mind available to the thought that what is gone is gone forever. Never to return. Such is the history of human occupation on this lonely rock. Use it all up. Gone goodbye.

The first cold night of autumn wraps itself around the river valley. Tendrils of smoke rise lazily from the rock chimney and ascend into the star filled night sky. I place another log on the fire and return to my desk. Attached to the edge of the desk a vise is secured with a screw clamp to the old weathered wooden top. Pinched tightly in the jaws of the vice is a small fishing hook. Dangling from the shaft of the hook is a spool of 6/0 black thread. Various feathers litter the back of the desktop as do fly tying tools. I grab a few strands of a magpie tail feather and lay it alongside the shank of the hook. With a few wraps of thread the feathers are secured and I tie in a length of copper wire. Wrapping the feathers forward toward the eye of the hook I am mindful to make a tapered body that closely resembles that of a mayfly nymph. The copper wire is spiraled forward and secured.

I look up from my work and notice that the snow has begun to fall outside my cabin. Like down feathers from a torn pillow the snow will be piling up in a short amount of time. Returning to the fly that is starting to take shape in the vise I dub a bit of peacock Ice Dubbing to the thread and wind it forward to just behind the gold bead at the front of the hook. Securing the dubbing with three wraps of thread I gently pull the remaining magpie feather over the dubbing and tightly pull thread around three times and trim off the excess feather. A drop of super glue and the fly is finished. This pattern has caught many fine trout and I expect it will produce results in the morning.

Although the salmon have not returned, there are plenty of resident trout to be had. The morning can’t come soon enough and I’m sure sleep will be tough to come by tonight. Embers glow as I place yet another piece of lodgepole pine on the fire. Sparks rise up into the chimney as the fire roars back to life. Stepping outside I shake off the chill and brush the light snow from the railing of the deck. Each flake slowly spirals down to its final resting place among the thousand of other flakes. I tamp my cherry wood pipe and light it with my trusty Zippo lighter. I inhale the fragrant smoke deeply into my lungs allowing the pungent aroma to fill my senses. Exhaling the blue-gray smoke into the falling snow it is soon consumed wholly. I take another long pull on the pipe while my mind thinks back on the first fish taken on my trusted Magpie nymph.

It was a warm late summer morning and I had been meticulously working my way down a boulder-strewn stretch of pocket water. I was high sticking the nymph through every conceivable piece of holding water when I noticed my leader straighten slightly. Lifting the rod tip I felt the weight of a fish on the tensioned line. The silver rocket exploded out of the depths and somersaulted through the air like a whirling dervish. Running towards the white water below I had to apply the brakes to this fish and convince him to stay in the pocket water in front of us. A short run followed but his will to survive was slipping out of him like a slow leak in a tire. Finally I was able to slide the 20” trout into shallow water and gently remove the fly from his mouth. After a few moments reviving the fish he gave a strong sweep of his tail and returned to the depths from where he came. And so the legend of the Magpie nymph was born.

Back on the porch in the falling snow, I empty my pipe and place it back in the velvet pouch and store it in a jacket pocket. I return to the comfort of the inside of the cabin and lay down on the old feather bed. I drift off in a fitful sleep dreaming of the return of the salmon. Watching their chrome bodies’ fly out of the water only to drop back again as their attempts to get over the falls often come up short. The bright orange-red meat cooking on a cedar plank over an open fire sends wild aromas into the night air. I wake with a jolt and a sudden hunger for fresh salmon. Closing my eyes again I drift back into the dream world where the salmon are thick in the rivers and life is good.

In the early pre-dawn of morning I get up from my cozy bed and stir the remnants of last nights fire. Throwing a couple of small pieces of wood on the fire I am reminded of the coming winter, as there is frost on the windows. The snow from last night’s storm is about half a foot deep and won’t be much of a hindrance this morning on my way to the river. Donning my waders, I sip from a strong cup of French press coffee sweetened with a touch of hot coco. I can feel the immediate affects of the caffeine and become more awake with every sip.

I wrap myself in my Simms jacket and step into the early morning chill. I grab my favorite rod, a 9.5 ft 6 weight Scott A2 already strung up with a Magpie nymph. Walking down to the rivers edge the snow crunches beneath my boots in a symphony of crushed snowflakes. The edges of the river has a new sheen of ice that shines like a thousand diamonds spread across a blue blanket in the first rays of sunshine filtering through the forest above. The water is cold and swift, but the fish are hungrily looking for protein before the long winter settles in earnest.

Stripping a few feet of fly line from the reel I lob the fly upstream into the current. Lifting the line off of the water I began leading the fly through the pocket of water in front of me. No fish takes the first cast so I repeat the process. Lob. Lift. Lead. Again and again until satisfied that I have covered this water thoroughly then I wade downstream a few feet and repeat the process all over again. This next bucket holds a reward to my efforts as a fat 14” rainbow trout inhales the bug and battles ferociously to save its life. I work the fish into shallow water and gently unhook it. The colorful fish swims away in a hurry and heads back from the depths from which it came. I recast to the same bucket and once again a fish likes my offering. This time the fish is well over 20” and is a native coastal cutthroat. Heavily spotted and colorful this fish is not as easy to land. Running downstream the cutthroat leaves this run and wraps my fly line around a boulder. The line goes limp and I know the inevitable has happened. The leader has broken on the boulder below and the fish has gotten away.

I reel in the slack and tie another leader together. Four feet of 12# monofilament friendship looped to five feet of 6# mono. Ten inches of 6# is knotted on and a Magpie nymph is tied on the end with a clinch knot. A small splitshot is attached above the fisherman’s knot and I am back in business.

The new snow has all but melted in the warmth of the autumn sun and I am starting to overheat. Working my way downstream, I catch a brace of trout keeping two small rainbows for my supper. I fish about a mile below the cabin through the canyon that constricts the flows of the river. My legs are starting to get worn out from the boulder hopping and cold of the river. I stop for lunch on a flat table like piece of granite and quietly enjoy my dried salami and sharp cheddar cheese. I wash it all down with a smokey bourbon from that metallic flask that is always in my fishing jacket. The whiskey warms me from the inside and relaxes my psyche. Ah, this is the life! If only the salmon would return to this slice of heaven.

Many days I have spent submerged to my waist in the cold waters of this river. Each and every time I am amazed by the complexities of this place. How the bears are tied to the salmon and the otters tied to the bears so forth and so on. Nothing is wasted in nature and the circle of life continues on into infinity. We are all one and interconnected to each other. When the salmon are gone, we too are not far behind.

I work my way slowly back upstream towards home taking in all of the natural beauty. The air is filled with the aroma of pine and once in a while the scent of fishiness. The last of the aspen leaves cling desperately to their branches as if a child holding onto a mothers embrace. Falling so close to home they too will become a part of the circle. The tall grass of summer has long since turned golden brown and waits for the heaviness of the winter snow to lay them down for the long slumber.

In the pines a few remaining chickadees compete for seeds with the wily gray squirrel. He squawks at the birds in an endless tirade as they flit and flutter about stealing seeds when Mr. Squirrel is looking the other way. Down by the edge of the river an otter makes his way upstream looking for fresh water clams and the occasional tout that is too slow to escape. All around me Mother Nature has her children preparing for the coming winter which is only days away.

Back at the cabin I change out of my waders and jacket and start to sharpen the knife that I will use to clean the fish I brought home for dinner. Taking the fish out of my wicker creel, I slice the fishes belly open from the anal fin to the gill plates. A quick slash near the tongue and I am able to pull the innards out in one long slow pull. With my thumb I remove the remaining blood sack along the spine and rinse the meat with cold water from the river. I repeat the same process with the second fish and place the cleaned fish on a plate. Taking the guts down to the rivers edge I toss them into the tumbling water continuing the ongoing circle of life.

Seasoning the fish with salt and pepper I place a thinly sliced lemon onto the pink meat of the trout put the fish onto a cedar plank. Lowering the grill over the mesquite coals I place the cedar plank close to the front edge and sit back to enjoy the aroma of cedar and trout.

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