Friday, December 17, 2010

The view from the log

The angler peered into the flybox. Should he go with a bright fly or a dark fly, large profile or low water? He lifted his gaze from the box and glanced back at the river. It was summer, but this coastal stream was still carrying a load of glacial silt from high atop Mount Olympus back towards the Pacific Ocean. He could just barely make out his wading boots in thigh deep water. He thought about what a fish could see in the milky water, and black jumped into his mind.

Back to the fly box and his eyes zeroed in on a green-butt prawn fly he had tied up the night before. The flow of the fly just looked good. The black tail, chartreuse dubbing, black body and wing with a throat of teal. He grabbed the fly out and tied it to the end of the line. He had just switched to a sink tip after spending the day working the upstream riffles and pools with a floating line. He had one last shot before the long drive home, and he felt that getting a little deeper would give him the best shot at a fish. Tying the fly to his leader he wet the knot with saliva and cinched the knot tight and started to cast. He started fishing higher than he expected a fish just out of habit. Never wanting to miss a fish tucked in faster water, it had rarely resulted in a fish but once in a blue moon these fish will surprise you. Each cast was lengthened three feet at a time until he reached a comfortable distance for this run, about sixty feet. He started shuffling down the run after each cast and swing. He had passed through the fast water he started in and then slowly through the main gut of the run. The fly was swinging perfectly in this water. No mending was needed after the cast, the fly came under tension and seemed to fish itself with little help needed from the fisherman. He was disappointed that there were no fish in the run, but he was not quite ready to reel up and start walking back to his truck. The sky was getting dark so he decided to start reeling up after this final swing through the tailout. That's when he felt the jolt of a fish. The chrome steelhead was out of the water before he could even react. He lifted the rod and heard his reel start screaming. The fish was heading downstream into the next pool. He started wading towards shore to follow when he hears another splash. The fish had jumped again in the pool below. The angler moved to the shore and began chasing the fish downstream trying to both fight the fish and walk on the basketball sized rocks that made up the gravel bar. The fish made one more sizzling run and then the line stopped. The fish had wrapped the sink tip around something deep within the murky water. To the angler it only felt like dead weight and then the line came free as the fish made one more headshake with the sink tip wrapped around a snag. All that came back to the angler was the fly line and sink tip. The fly and 4 feet of leader remained in the steelhead's jaw. The angler was disappointed not to have landed this fish, but was happy to have felt the grab and sizzling runs. He quickly reeled up replayed the image of the fish jumping over and over as he walked back to his truck with a wide grin plastered across his face.

The steelhead stayed in the downstream pool resting. Occasionally the fish would shake its head attempting to dislodge the fly stuck in the corner of it's jaw. The water darkened as night fell. By morning the steelhead had moved upstream but the fly had come loose and rested in the stones at the bottom of the pool.

Over the next month the river's current gently moved the fly along the bottom of the pool as the river dropped to its low autumn levels. Then the first rains hit the coast. The river flow started growing, picking up water from hundreds of tributaries. The fly now was free of the bottom, being pulled towards the ocean fifteen miles away. The leader was still attached but eventually became wrapped on an underwater branch. The fly swung into the log the branch was attached to and came to a halt, with the hook point buried into the wet wood.

Over the next month the river moved up and down as the storms hit the coast and then subsided. Then the big storm came. The snow level shot up higher than Mount Olympus and the tributaries poured water mud, silt, and gravel into the river as ten inches of warm rain pummeled the coast over two days. The river filled the large floodplain as the water kept rising. As the river raged, it began to reshape itself. It changed channels as it began dropping. The pool that fished so well in the summer was gone, replaced with long riffle filled with small gravel.

The log with the fly attached to it was ripped from underneath the water and started floating downstream as the river crested. It floated ten miles downstream before beaching itself on a gravel bar newly exposed as the flows dropped. The fly was still attached to the log.

The fly now rested on the top of the log and was able to witness the birth of a beautiful piece of fly water. As the water receded, the river created one of those places steelhead anglers dream of. Fast water fed into a long slow glide. The bottom was a mix of softball to basketball size rocks. Over the next month, the fly overlooking this run saw an number of anglers stop and fish this gorgeous piece of water.

I started walking towards the log about a month ago. I had fished the run for about an hour with one solid grab. My feet were getting a little numb from the cold winter flows but the reason I was racing towards the log was my bladder. I tend to postpone bathroom breaks when focused on fishing. By the time I get a chance to pee, I really have to go. I'm usually dancing around trying to unbuckle the suspenders on my waders praying I can hold it for ten more seconds.

I'm clipping my wading belt back on when I happen to glance at the log in front of me. I see a battered fly, with hackle unraveled and a rusty hook. I wonder how it got here as I pull it from its perch. I look at the fly and even after being exposed to the elements it looks fishy to me. I decide that it is too pretty to be thrown away and slowly stick it back on the log. I clip the leader still attached to it off to throw away and start walking back to the river. As I started fishing again, I wondered what kind of idiot who lost his fly on a back cast so close to the river would break it off and not go grab it off the log.

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