OBSESSION


                                                                                 THE OBSESSION

 

                My mother was the fisherman in the family. Pop wasn’t into it, so fishing trips were few and far between; however, when we did go, mom got excited, and started her preparations the day before the trip by making dough balls. I don’t remember the exact concoction she used, I wish I did, but the dough balls weren’t for the fish, the dough balls were for the crawdads that she used for bait. She would clean the crawdads down to the tail-meat, and using a cane-pole, bobber, and hook she caught a lot of fish.

                The old man sat on the bank and read a book while mom baited and tended the poles. He never got his hands dirty cleaning crawdads, or landing fish. Mom would have three or four poles going at a time, moving up and down the river bank, catching and cleaning crawdads, baiting hooks, and landing catfish; it was her thing. When we were at the river, she was focused, and it was best to stay out of her way, and not do anything that would scare the fish. It must have been her that showed me how to thread a worm onto a hook, because I had that messy operation firmly planted in my head the first time I saw a guy fly-fishing on TV. I asked my dad what they used for bait and he told me they used flies, “How do they get them on the hook?” I wondered. “They tie them on.” He told me. I got this vision of tying a house fly down on a fishhook, which seemed to me like a tedious operation, so I gave fly-fishing no more thought until one foggy Sunday morning fifteen years later.

                I was heading home through the north Georgia Mountains after spending the weekend helping a friend with a historical preservation project. The sun hadn’t been up long enough to burn off the fog and visibility was poor. I was slowly making my way along when I spotted a guy fly-fishing a pond not far off the road. I pulled over to watch. It was a pretty scene. The fog obscured the man from the waist down; the tip of his rod vanished into the fog above him; the fly-line disappearing and reappearing with the rhythm of his cast. After watching him land a couple of fat Bluegills, I decided to walk over and get a better look at what he was doing. He was standing at the end of a dock that projected into the middle of the pond and when I walked out to where he was standing he was adding another nice fish to his stringer. “Those are some nice fish.” I said.

                “Yeah, I think that’s enough for Breakfast.” He replied. We talked about fishing and he showed me the fly he was using—a yellow and black Bee looking thing—and he gave me a quick casting lesson. I was hooked; I was just as hooked as the fish he was taking home for Breakfast. I stopped at a sporting-goods store on the way home and bought a fly-rod, reel, line, and some flies. From that point, if I wasn’t fly-fishing, I was thinking about fly-fishing.

                I bought books on fly-fishing where I learned that I needed more stuff. I needed more and better fly-rods. I needed a fishing vest—one with lots of pockets—and all the stuff to put in it. I needed a tying vise and tying materials. I needed hip-waders and chest-waders. I needed marriage counseling and a good lawyer. I was possessed by obsession, driven by neurosis, and gripped by fixation. I went to all the fly-fishing meccas and began hanging out at fly-shops, where I learned that I needed more stuff. I read everything I could get my hands on about fly-fishing and studied the life cycle of aquatic insects.

                When I tried to get my wife to relocate to better fly-fishing country, she said that she didn’t want to leave her friends. When I found out that it was just the one friend that she didn’t want to leave, I got the paperwork done and relocated. When I found myself a member of a sub-sub-subculture, collecting Bamboo fly-rods and exclusively dry-fly fishing, I realized that I had a problem; I needed to make more money. I took a job that was seasonal, working six months out of the year so my summers could be devoted to fly-fishing. My winters were taken up with repairing rods, tying flies, and pouring over BLM maps looking for ways into places that I had yet to fish.

                I was incapable of holding a conversation for more than five minutes unless I was talking about fishing. I would watch my dinner date’s eyes glaze over when I mentioned my new reel or a new fly I had come up with. I didn’t want to talk about feelings. I wanted to talk about how a Phillipson taper was better in the wind than a Garrison taper. When I would mention that I had just dropped three grand on a fly-rod, they would get a look in their eyes that I have only seen from scared cats. Relationships lasted until I heard, “Do you have to wear that funny looking hat everywhere we go?” I was incompatible. . . . I bought a dog.

                One day, coming down the canyon after one of the best days of fishing I had ever had, with my Chesapeake Bay retriever sitting on the seat beside me, it hit me. I was living the life that I had read about in all those fly-fishing books. It had only cost me one marriage, four relationships, and a lucrative career. I had arrived.

BOOM BOX SAINT


Word count: 832

                                                                                   BOOM BOX SAINT

   It was my secret place, a place that was like an old friend, a friend you share things with, not just a beer or a pinch of Copenhagen, but inside things. For years I had the place to myself, so when I started running into other fisherman and campers I was defensive and angry. These people needed to get out of my face and go find their own spot. At first it was just one or two here and there and that wasn’t so bad. They seemed like good people, kindred spirits, looking for the same thing that I was looking for, a place to go when you needed to heal your soul, a place to take a friend who had a broken heart.

   It was here that I would perform the yearly ritual of keeping a few Trout for dinner. This of course put me out there on the fringe with some of my friends who would have considered me a murderer, no better than some North Georgia corn-soaker who followed the hatchery truck around until it dumped his dinner into the creek; but, I gave little thought to those friends as I rolled my fish in cornmeal, fried them in Bacon grease, and wash them down with cool creek water liberally laced with Irish whiskey.

   I shared one such meal with a doctor who was traveling across country to New York promoting a children’s book he had illustrated; he gave me a signed copy, which I still have, and it’s one of my prized possessions.

   Then somehow the word got out. Car loads of yuppies began to show up with their brand new gear and ball caps sporting logos for high-dollar fishing gear. They looked down their Ivey League noses at me in my ratty, fish and jelly stained vest and my patched waders. They hadn’t been in the sport long enough to appreciate my antique bamboo rod and probably thought I was just some eccentric old fart, or a bait fisherman in disguise. They had pretty women with them who wouldn’t look you in the eye, as if they were ashamed of the company they were keeping, and their dogs—always retrievers—seemed starved for attention. One scratch behind the ear usually had them hanging out at my camp for the rest of the weekend—the dogs that is. Then the real bait fisherman showed up.

   One afternoon a car with what appeared to be two whole families and some change pulled down the hill and into my camp. They jumped out and scattered like a flock of turkeys. The older children headed upstream throwing rocks in the water; the men headed down stream with their fish poles and bait cans; the women, toddlers, and babies headed for the middle of the stream where they began changing babies, throwing the diapers into the bushes, and shampooing their hair in the creek.

   I decided to head down the creek to get away from them and do some fishing. When I passed the men, I noticed that they were fishing with worms in a section of the creek that was reserved for artificial flies and lures. Thinking that they may not be familiar with the regulations, I stopped and explained to them that they were in the wrong section and told them how to get to the bait fishing section. They nodded and I went on my way. Later, on my way back to camp, I seen they were still fishing with worms. They had a long stringer of fish that was clearly over the limit and I told them again that they were fishing in the wrong place. One of them turned and sneeringly asked me in a heavy Latin accent, “Are you the Game Warden?” I said, “No. I’m the son-of-a-bitch who is going to take down your license number and give it to the Game Warden.” With that they packed up and left. After they left, I filled up a thirty gallon trash bag with the dirty diapers, pop cans, and trash that they had left in their wake.

   Shortly after that I made my last trip to my hideaway. I was camped in my usual spot, and on Friday night I had the place to myself, but Saturday morning a group pulled in and set up camp next to me. Everything seemed fine until the sun went down. Then a party broke out. They cranked up a “Boom Box” full blast, and the drinking, shouting, and loud music went on until about four in the morning when they gradually drifted off to their tents to crash. I waited until I was sure they were good and passed out. Then I quietly broke camp and loaded up my truck. When I was ready to pull out, I slipped through their camp and found the “Boom Box”. I placed it on the trail in front of my truck and run over it on my way out. 

GETTING LOST


1,500 words                                                                           Getting Lost

           

 

 

             The thing that I love most about fly-fishing is the process of becoming immersed in the act, loosing myself in the mechanics of it, forgetting everything but solving the immediate problem of why I’m not catching fish. I often tell myself, mostly when I’m not catching fish, that it isn’t the catching of fish that is important—but it is; it’s the only indication, that out of all the things that could be done wrong, you are doing them right. You don’t have to be a fly-fisherman to leave your troubles behind when fishing, but sitting in a shack watching a hole in the ice, or sitting on a bucket staring at a bobber, waiting for a fish to find your stink bait, leaves a guy with too much time to think, too much time to let the dark thoughts creep in, thoughts of failed relationships, missed opportunities, and fiscal cliffs, causing you to reach for a bottle—and a gun.

            The escape that fly-fishing offers is in the focus required to be successful. For me this starts in the planning stages of a trip, in choosing where I want to fish and which rod I want to use. I may have a rod that I’ve neglected for a while, or one that is a particular favorite that I need to commune with. There may be a piece of water that has been nagging at me, whispering to me, begging me to return. I start thinking about what that water looked like the last time I was there and what it looks like now.

            Depending on the time of year, I can make a good guess at the stream conditions. In the spring, the water can change from day to day, but in the summer, after the spring runoff, the choices of where to go and what to use can be made with more certainty. However, when you get to the stream, you may find all of your prior headwork undone by water color, level, and rate of flow. In the spring, the water can be put off color by the runoff washing sediment down from the sides of the mountains. In the summer, a stream can be clouded by a passing thunderstorm. These showers can be quite localized, affecting one side-canyon while leaving others untouched, causing just a small section of a creek to change color. If there has been a recent burn of a side canyon, or network of canyons, the effect on a stream can be extreme and even dangerous. It’s surprising how little rain it takes to send a ten-foot wall of water rushing down a small canyon.

            If the water is only slightly cloudy, I’ll fish it, but if I can’t see the bottom and debris is floating down, I find somewhere else to fish. I have a rule: If I can’t see the bottom I don’t wade. If the water is murky due to the spring runoff, you could step in a hole and go in over your head and get swept down river with the rest of the trash. Sometimes the creek may be clear but running at a high level, and this can make for some good fishing, but crossing the stream and getting into prime casting position can be tricky.

            When the water is running higher than normal, a familiar stretch of water can look totally alien to you, and what was a nice riffle with well-defined feeding lanes now has no distinguishing features, and what was a back eddy is now part of the main current. But reading water is reading water; the back eddies and riffles are still there, they’ve just moved; the fish are still there, they’ve just relocated, moving to places where they expend less of their energy to stay in position.          

            The night before any trip into the mountains I check the weather report, looking at wind speed and direction. Once I have an idea of the wind conditions, I make my final choice of destination and what rod I think will work best. Knowing what kind of wind I am likely to face gets me thinking about leader length and weight.

            Besides the wind, whether or not the day is sunny or overcast can determine length of the leader and tippet weight. On bright sunny days the Trout are more likely to see you coming before you are within casting distance. With the object of keeping the heavier fly-line as far away from the target area as possible, a longer cast may be necessary, requiring a longer leader. A combination of bright sunlight and clear water may make lighter tippet material desirable. If planning the trip, checking wind charts, choosing rods, leaders, and tippets hasn’t gotten your mind focused, deciding what fly to use will probably do the trick.       

            The idea that you are trying to fool fish with artificial representations of natural aquatic insects will cause even the most casual fly fisherman to become a half-assed entomologist. Learning what insects are likely to be present on a given stream, at a particular time of the year, and at what stage of development, can seem beyond the understanding of the poor fisherman; however, you quickly learn to reduce the long Latin names to the one and two word names of the artificial patterns that represent them. The different stages of most riparian insects can be reduced to two, the nymph, or underwater stage, and the hatched out adult fly. The kinds of flies, for fishing purposes, can be reduced to four; the Stone, Caddis, Mayfly, and terrestrial: Terrestrials being insects that live out most of their lives on dry land such as crickets, ants, and grasshoppers.

            To represent these flies, thanks to generations of nefarious fly tiers, we have hundreds of commercially tied flies to choose from. Indeed, you can sink into depravity and tie your own flies, concocting your own evil recipes, naming them after your ex-wife—Dirty Alice. I have known old-timers who fished all of their lives using one fly, the Double Renegade, and they catch a lot of fish, so it really doesn’t need to be that complicated.

            When choosing a fly, I go through the ritual of shaking the willow bushes to see what flies are resting in them. I strain the creek with my aquarium net and try to match what I collect with something from my fly-box—then tie on an Adams. I sometimes tie a dropper nymph to the hook-bend of my dry-fly; it’s a good way to figure out what the Trout are up to.

            Although I have plenty of commercially tied flies in my box, it’s more fun to use the ones I tied. Tying flies is an excellent way to occupy your mind during those long winter months when you are cooped up in the house, when you, the dog, and the old hides equally stink. As spring approaches and my fly-boxes have been replenished, I begin playing around with the traditional patterns and coming up with my own versions. Most commercial flies are tied in Taiwan now, but I still run into locally tied flies in out of the way little fly-shops, and when I do, I pick up a dozen or so to help the guy out. I also tie my own leaders and enjoy experimenting with different formulas for those.

            Casting is another aspect of the sport that has its devotees. Some people enjoy going to casting competitions and hardly ever actually fish. I am not a great caster. I only have a few casts that I have mastered well enough to get by with. Once I learned how to adjust the plane of the cast to avoid obstacles behind me my life became much easier, as long as I remember to look behind me first. I use the traditional forward cast and the roll cast mostly, but the reach cast and single haul cast are handy tools as well.

            I try to get on the left side of a creek and move up slowly, casting tight to the left bank with a forward cast, then working the fly across with a series of roll casts until I get the fly next to the right bank. I found that a roll cast delivered at a forty-five degree angle toward the right bank will have enough built-in mend to give the fly a long drift without having to mend the line, and for me at least, it works better than a reach cast.

            Every aspect of the sport presents the angler with opportunities for becoming totally engrossed; from making your own rod and tying your own flies and leaders, to learning all the casts and how to read the water. You can find books written by experts on every facet. You can take it as far as you wish. You can take it too far. You can take it just far enough to get lost in the process.

KINDRED SPIRITS


Word count: 1235                                         Kindred Spirits

By

ROBERT ROBINSON

I came west from the southeast, where the rivers are wide and their banks muddy. One river that I fished back east was more cesspool than river, and it makes me cringe now when I think of what must have been on my hands as I stripped my fly-line through my fingers. Most of the bridges had a fisherman’s access, a place to park with a foot path leading down to the river and along the bank. One day as I approached one of these bridges with the intention of wetting a fly, I could see that the side with the easier access was occupied and I would be forced to take the side with the much steeper path.

After stringing up my rod, I walked over to look at the steep, muddy path. It looked more like a drop-off than a path, but I thought I could make it. It’s funny how you can deceive yourself when you want to get to a fishing hole. Looking over at the opposite bank I caught sight of the other angler. He was sitting on a bucket with his tackle box, bait can, and cooler within easy reach. His poles were propped up on forked sticks and I counted three bobbers floating about thirty feet in front of him. He was a bait fisherman. Not a problem I thought; after all, he was a fisherman, and therefore a kindred spirit. I raised my hand in greeting, but my gesture was ignored. Not a problem I thought; after all, there was plenty of river for the both of us.

Looking down from the head of the path, I noticed some old bridge pillars sticking about two feet out of the mud. I had made it about half way down when my feet shot out from under me. I remember looking up at my boots as I went over the embankment and landed on one of the old pillars. I lay there for some time with the wind knocked out of me, making strange sucking sounds. When I was finally able to sit up and pull up my shirt to check the damage, I had a gash under my left breast that ran around my torso and disappeared from sight. I looked to the other bank thinking that I would see my fellow angler showing some sign of concern, perhaps even offering to come and give me a hand. What I saw was him disappearing over the top of the hill with his fish poles, cooler, and bucket. It wasn’t until then that I noticed that my “kindred spirit” belonged to a demographic that nowadays prefers to be called “little people”.

Using the offending pillar, I pulled myself upright and slowly made my way back up the hill, gasping out Randy Newman’s hit song “Short People” through clinched teeth.

Over the years I have met some good people on the water, developing friendships that sometimes lasted for decades, and sometimes lasted for only a day. Some of these friends I still fish with, but some have passed on, and we now fish waters of memory.

I had taken a job that placed me slap in the middle of some of the best fly-fishing in the country. I had weekends off, so on Fridays after work I headed for the river, set up camp, and fished until late Sunday evening. Fishing a big western river was not only new to me, but mind blowing. I didn’t have a clue. I would pound the river for twelve hours straight and catch one or two fish. It was frustrating, as I could see other fisherman hauling in one fish after another. I tried to learn from watching the more productive anglers, but it wasn’t working. I was submerged in a festering morass of ignorance. The other fishermen seemed unfriendly and unwilling to impart any information. After all, I was just another rube with out of state plates. My inexperience shinned like a glittering jewel in a goat’s ass—I had an old fiberglass rod when everybody else used graphite, my waders could be more accurately described as ditch boots, and my fishing vest was a pair of bib overalls. Clearly, I had not paid the initiation fee to be in their fraternity. But help was on the way in the shape of a kindly old man named Ed Jones.

I met Ed on a cold, foggy Sunday morning. He was sitting on the back of his jeep struggling into his waders, and when I walked up to him he looked me up and down and exclaimed, “Well goddamn!” It was a greeting that I would hear from him many times in the coming years.

Ed was in his mid-sixties. His head had a thick covering of white hair and his frame was bent from years of hard work. The joints of his hands were swollen from Arthritis and he had special magnifiers on his thick glasses so he could see to tie on his flies. As he geared up we made small talk. I told him that I was from back east and would be in the area working for the next few months. He told me he fished there rain or shine every Sunday. He told me that he thought of the river as his Church, and it was on the river that he felt closest to his Maker. I noticed that he kept looking at my rod and I started to feel a little self-conscious.

When he was rigged up and I was about to be on my way, he grabbed my rod and began rebuilding my leader complete with flies from his box. As he worked on my leader, he explained to me what he was doing and, more importantly, why he was doing it. Satisfied that he had me squared away he handed me back my rod and told me to follow him.

That day under Ed’s tutelage I went from catching one or two fish a day to catching four and five an hour. When we parted that evening he said, “I’ll see you next Sunday.” It was a fishing date that I kept for the next three months. A few years later, I relocated to the area and we picked up where we left off.

Over the years Ed became crippled with age and came to rely on me to help him. I built his leaders, tied on his flies, and helped him with his waders. He leaned on me as we moved up and down the river, his weight becoming lighter with each passing year. We had gotten into the habit of calling each other during the week to talk fishing and make plans for the next Sunday, so one week when I hadn’t heard from him by Friday I gave him a ring. I was surprised to hear a strange voice on the other end; it was his son who informed me that Ed had passed on earlier that week.

I haven’t fished that river since that last Sunday we fished there together. I go there though, to look, sit, and think. When the clouds slide down the mountain and hide the river in foggy mist, I can almost see him casting—there—at the edge of sight . . . and I say, “Well goddamn.”

© Robert Robinson 2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

THE STORM


THE STORM

Word count: 1,136

I had the trailhead to myself that morning as I strung my rod and prepared to head out. I stared at the poncho rolled up behind the seat of the truck—I have found those times when you stare at something and your mind goes blank to be harbingers of trouble; I once went blank staring at a miniskirt and wound up getting married—but the robin-egg blue sky was clear; besides, the trail down the creek was rough, more of a game-trail than a footpath, and anything I could do to lighten my load would be to my advantage.

The little tailwater creek left the small reservoir and meandered for a couple of hundred yards across a meadow before dropping into a narrow canyon. I had fished there a few times, but I had only made it down the creek about a mile and a half to where the footpath spiderwebs; sometimes wandering up the steep slope to disappear over the ridge; sometimes ending abruptly on the precipitous hillside, leaving you ledged-up with no option but to slide back down to the creek on your butt. The slopes are sparsely covered in sage-brush, Scotch thistle, and tufts of Johnson grass. Much of the creek is lined on both sides by shear outcrops that in several places stretch across the creek to form a series of small four- and five-foot waterfalls, each with plunge-pools that hold fifteen- to eighteen-inch cutthroats. I took the risky game-trail detours around the deep pools to keep from spooking the fish, crisscrossing the creek several times on the way in and not giving much thought to the return trip; I would be fishing and wading my way back, and the little waterfalls all looked climbable.

When I had made it in about twice as far as I had previously been, I sat down to rest for a few minutes before I started fishing. The several ninety-degree turns the creek took and the depth of the canyon limited my view of the horizon, so when I noticed a bank of brilliantly white, puffy clouds coming over the ridge they were already on top of me. Weather can change quickly in the mountains, sometimes so quickly that your ears pop. I knew all of that, but the fluffy clouds didn’t look threatening, and if it did rain the chances were that it wouldn’t last long and would blow on by.

I took off fishing and was having a good day, catching four and five nice cutts at each hole. I had been fishing for a couple of hours before I thought to check the sky again. I could still see the white clouds, but now there was a lower layer of cadet-gray clouds that looked wispy and disorganized. I knew I should pick up the pace and start thinking about getting out of there, but every pool I came to had trout rising all over the place and I couldn’t pass up casting to them.

I hadn’t made it far when a gust of cold wind caused me to look back at the rim of the canyon. The white clouds were gone and the wispy gray clouds were on top of me. A third layer of densely packed gunmetal-blue clouds were rolling in fast and low, with purpose. Deep, distant thunder grumbled, and puffs of dust sprang up on the hillsides where rain drops big as horse turds began to fall. I had a clear picture in my mind of the rolled poncho behind the seat of the truck.

I reeled in and started up the creek as fast as I could waddle in my waders. An ear splitting crack just above and behind me caused me to crouch down on the balls of my feet. I could smell ozone and feel electricity in the air. That’s when the bottom fell out and in an instant I was soaked through to the skin.

The felt soles on my waders filled up with mud, leaving me with not enough traction to stand upright on the muddy trail. I squatted on the bank for a few minutes hoping the storm would blow over, but it settled in right on top of me. Rivulets of water ran down the hillsides turning them to mud. The creek rose dramatically and turned the color of latte. I could no longer see to wade around the deep pools and my mud caked waders made scaling the rocky waterfalls impossible. The only place I could get a foothold was in the thick stands of willows. I took shelter under a rocky overhang until the streams of water rushing down either side of it made me realize that it could wash loose and come down on top of me. By now the wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped enough that I was shivering in my wet clothes. The wind blew up and down the canyon, changing directions instantly, and at one point the rain turned to sleet that blasted and stung my face and hands. I had to get back to the truck before the sun went down or dying of hypothermia was a possibility. I did have three ways to start a fire with me in my survival pack, but there was no way I would get a fire going in this downpour.

I tried moonwalking along the trail, but after taking a couple of hard falls I took to the thick willows. When I would come to the end of one stand of willows, I would crawl on my hands and knees to the next stand. My glasses fogged up and made the going even harder, as I couldn’t tell where I was in the canyon, or how far I had left to go.

I finally reached a spot in the canyon where I knew there was a four-wheeler trail about a hundred yards up the slope. I would have to crawl up the hill, but the trail would dump me out on a good gravel road about a mile from the truck. I tossed my rod ahead of me and then crawled up to it using sage and tufts of grass to pull my way up the hill.  When I topped the ridge on my hands and knees, I found that I was able to stand up and move along the trail as long as I stayed in the middle between the muddy ruts. I got to the truck just as the light was fading, covered in mud, soaked to the skin, and shivering from the cold.

I take a zip-lock bag full of dryer lint soaked in white gas with me now, and cleated waders are now next to the poncho, rolled up, behind the seat of the truck.

© Robert Robinson 2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

WINTER SPORTS


 

WORD COUNT: 1004                                        WINTER SPORTS

It’s that time of the year when the days are in perpetual twilight. The fields around my house are burned brown by winter frost, and patches of snow lay where the Sun’s rays never shine. Hunched over my tying vise, I sip coffee and listen to the wind batter the canvass cover on my swamp cooler. I hear snow pelting against the window above the desk; I can’t tell if it’s blowing snow or if it’s snowing again. It doesn’t matter and I don’t care enough to get up to see. Shadows creep from the corners of the room toward the puddle of light thrown from the lamp on my desk. My dog Touch is lying by my feet under the desk; I slip my foot under her for the warmth, and to keep the shack willies away.

The phone hasn’t rang now for a couple of weeks and nobody has been by to visit for even longer. I worry that Touch could starve if I was to tip-over, but I suppose she would eventually start eating on me and happily washing me down with toilet water. I pull my foot out from under her.

I don’t think I would eat Touch, but once when I was reading about a mountain man who purportedly ate the livers of Indians, I got so hungry for liver that I went to town to get some for supper. Touch doesn’t know about that.

Except for that time we were both trying to lap up spilt beer, Touch has never been aggressive. We get along, overlooking the little things that irritate, like that nasty scooting thing she does on the rug; a maneuver that is difficult to execute, but one that I highly recommend for building upper-body strength.

I refill my coffee cup, this time adding a splash of Irish cream; not the imitation stuff you get at the grocery store, but the real thing. Using imitation Irish cream is like going to a topless bar, or watching people eat when you’re hungry. I’m in for the day now.

I look at the hook clamped in my vise and draw a blank. My boxes are full and the patterns that I like to play with have all been played with. I look through my journal for descriptions of flies that I wrote down last summer and find one that I had forgotten about; an olive bodied, brown headed, light winged Caddis that I noticed crawling on my boot one day. I tie up a dozen and stuff them into my box. The phone rings but I don’t recognize the number so I don’t answer it. I ask Touch if she wants to go for a walk, the wind slams the cooler cover and the furnace kicks on and she looks at me like I’m nuts.

I look over my list of things to do this winter: inspect and repair rods, clean and oil reels, wipe down lines and rebuild leaders, tie leaders and flies. Everything is done and there’s still two months of hard winter left. It’s too early to start Jonesing, coming down with the winter blues. Cabin fever actually has a clinical name, SAD (seasonal affective Disorder), which means they could come and take you away for shock therapy if they found out that you’ve, out of curiosity, been scooting your ass on the carpet.

I build another pot of coffee and call my fishing buddy Pete to let him know I haven’t winter killed. We make small talk about the mountain snowpack and next year’s probable stream conditions and he invites me to have Christmas dinner with him and his family. I thank him for the invite, but we both know I won’t go. I don’t know why I won’t go; it would take too much self-examination to figure that out, but it’s nice to know there is some place where I would be welcome. By the time I get off the phone it’s time to walk down to the road and check the mailbox, and I need to take Touch for a walk before she lays an egg.

I get nothing but bills and stuff them in my jacket pocket, hoping I won’t forget where I put them. We walk back to the creek. It’s frozen hard enough to walk on now. I’ll take Touch for a hike down the creek tomorrow. It’ll be good for us to get out and blow the stink off—one of us is starting to smell like an old buffalo. My spirits lift as I start planning for the hike. I’ll make a fire and build a pot of coffee. Touch will roam around identifying scat, and I’ll sit by the fire trying to figure out where I went wrong. I’ll pull out my old ruck when we get back to the house and pack it for winter hiking, with camp stove, dry socks, dog biscuits, and power bars. Even a day hike can turn into a life threatening event around here in the winter.

A couple of years ago we both broke through the ice. I went in up to my waist and Touch went in up to her nose. The temperature was ten below. We were lucky, as there was no wind that day. There was about a foot of new snow on the ground and I rolled Touch around in it to dry her off. I thought about starting a fire, but we had enough daylight left to get back to the house before dark if we left the creek and headed across country. We made it back in good shape, but it could have easily went much differently.

It’s getting dark by the time we get back to the house. I pour another cup of coffee and settle back in at the desk. Touch plops down at my feet and lets out a huge sigh. I reach down and pat her on the head and say, “You can say that again girl.”

© Robert Robinson 2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

SHATTERED DREAMS


SHATTERED DREAMS

Every fly-rod has that sweet spot, that smooth-flowing, singular rhythm; when you find it, it’s poetry. With bamboo rods, that sweet spot is pronounced and unique. Each rod has its own history and personality—you don’t just fish with a bamboo rod, you commune with it. They are most alive when you have a fish on, and I love to look up and watch a rod working with a backdrop of green pines. I like to sit on a creek bank and admire the craftsmanship that went into them. I wonder what was going on in the maker’s life when he planed the sections and wrapped the guides. I wonder if the original owner is still alive and where he fished. I wonder what stories the rod would tell me if it could talk.

In my idea of the perfect afterlife fly-rods and dogs WILL talk—I just hope they aren’t talking about how hot it is.

I get attached to my rods and feel guilty when one gets neglected in favor of another. Some of my rods I’ve had for over thirty-years and they are like old friends and I love them, but I don’t baby them. I fish them hard. (My rod-maker/fishing buddy claims that all my rods are combat tested). Short of adopting the wearing of protective underpants, there is no way to prepare for the day when you break a favorite rod.

I don’t don sackcloth and ashes, but I feel like I should. It feels like a heavy weight is on your shoulders driving you to your knees. It’s your fault; who else’s could it be? You look away, and back, hoping it will go away. You try to figure out how it happened, and when you do, you swear never to do that again. I had been fishing with bamboo rods for over twenty-five years before I broke my first one.

It was a sweet little three-weight that I had found on consignment at a local fly-shop. I had always been of the opinion that anything smaller than a four-weight rod was a waste of time, and I still am, but the little rod was beautifully crafted and the price was right.

I hadn’t fished the little rod in a while and was feeling guilty, so I was determined to fish it that day. When I got to the creek, the wind was gusting a bit and I thought about going with a heavier rod but didn’t. I tied on a bushy number twelve Adams without giving that much thought either. I fished for a couple of hours, bucking a stiff head wind at times, and casting the big Adams was like waving a flag.

I was casting past a rocky point in the stream and didn’t notice that my fly-line had gotten trapped in the rocks. I pulled up for a back-cast and snapped the rod in two just below the ferrule. When I got home, I called the fly-shop and got the contact information for the maker, and that’s how I met my fishing buddy Pete. Pete said he could fix the rod for me and I ordered a couple of more rods from him that day. He told me that even though the reason the rod broke was the fly-line being hung up, I probably shouldn’t have been trying to buck a strong headwind with a big bushy fly on that little rod. From him I learned that the weakest point on a rod is just below the ferrule and that is where most rods normally break. I told him to never, never use the word normally when talking about breaking fly-rods.

I recently shattered the tip on a wonderful three-piece-six-weight. I had spotted several risers in a bend-pool and had eased into position intending to pick them off one by one. Of course my first cast wrapped around a willow branch on the far side of the pool. The fish were still rising, so I gave the line a pull to see if it would come loose. It didn’t. I was so pissed at myself for making such a slobbery cast that I gave the line a hard jerk—jerk can either be a verb or a noun—shattering the rod about four inches down from the tip. Not wanting to tell Pete what I had done to one of his rods, I tried making the repair myself. I wrapped the shatter with two layers of thread and then put ten coats of varnish over it. It fished ok, but I could tell it wasn’t going to last long; Pete’s making me a new tip for it now.

There are hundreds of ways to break a rod: car doors, tail gates, bushes, and rocks to name a few. I’ve had some close calls falling down, but I’ve developed a technique that’s a real rod saver. Instead of throwing your hands out in front of you to break your fall, concentrate on throwing the rod clear and take the impact on your shoulder or chin. I got the idea while driving past a liquor store one day with my EX. A guy was just leaving the store with a brown paper bag cradled in his arms. He stumbled and fell forward, but had the presence of mind to tuck the bottle into his mid-section and cover it with both of his arms like a fullback diving for the goal line on third and eight. He took the full impact to the curb with his face. My Ex said, “We should go back and see if he needs help.”  “He’s fine”, I told her, “He didn’t spill a drop.”

Some breaks are mysteries that will never be solved in this life. They just happen—like a big butt on a girlfriend. You’re going along fine when you realize that something doesn’t feel quite like it used to. You look up to see what’s wrong, and there it is.

© Robert Robinson 2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.