Dues Paid

Sunset on the Dog

It was a beautiful morning, sunny and clear, and not a breath of wind. Mine was the first boat out of the launch so I knew I had untouched water before me. I was anxious for a repeat of the action I had enjoyed on Monday, and I slipped quietly down the first few miles with my spirit as bright as the morning sky.

I didn’t expect to see any activity in the upper river that early, and I didn’t. At the end of the last long riffle I drifted easily along the bank searching ahead for rises. Seeing none, I dropped anchor and waited. It was a perfect scene, I was early, alone and I had time to relax and wait for the flies to increase in number and the trout to rise. Perfection doesn’t always last.

The wind rose quickly into a full downstream blow. The forecast had been for 5 to 10 miles per hour, but this was a lot more than that prediction foretold. I slipped the anchor, moved downstream and stopped again, hoping that the water a touch further down from the riffle would be conducive to feeding trout. The flow gage had read 2,830 cfs at dawn, up 500 cfs from Monday, and now there was the additional wind current to deal with. Fewer protected pockets along the banks means fewer feeding trout.

I found a pair of risers, a little further down on my third drop. The initial gusts, the ones I hoped were a phantom wind, one of those quick little blows that comes suddenly out of the mountains and then vanishes, had made it clear they were here to stay.

Fishing to bank feeders sliding up and down in tiny pockets of softer water is a presentation game. Long leaders, long tippets and reach casts are required to give a fly as much time as possible in each pocket with a natural drift. Fishing these lies from a drift boat means casting downstream and across, then reaching upstream; on this day right into the wind. This would be a day of difficulties, of splashy refusals when the casts were accurate, for the wind would straighten every precious curl in the tippet by the time the fly alighted. A dues paying day.

That first pair offered three refusals between them. Throughout the day, when I was able to find rising trout, this scenario ran on repeat, just like a video loop. A calmer moment between gusts would allow a cast with a little bit of slack, and the drift would be almost perfect, until that last inch. The trout would come to the fly until some tiny unnatural movement would trigger his marvelous instincts to refuse, splash it but decline to take it, and the angler would raise his rod into nothingness.

My solitude evaporated a bit later than my expectations. In early afternoon I turned around to count seven boats bearing down upon me. I had no deck gun, no crew to repel boarders, though it was hard to shake the feeling that I needed both. It wasn’t a battle. A few anchored above me and waited: that guy’s found a fish rising, we’ll wait and try it if he doesn’t get it! I didn’t, though I did get three or four refusals. The others simply rowed past, fishermen with puzzled looks wondering if this was all they would get for their $500 day on the river. Weather is the great equalizer. Even luck finds it hard to triumph over it.

I had one chance at luck, down river at my last stop for the day. It had calmed for a few minutes, and I was sitting at anchor waiting. A few roving trout began taking the odd Hendrickson mayflies that were drifting by on the surface, their light patterns finally clear to see on the flat, smooth surface. I stood slowly and made a few lazy casts to rings downstream. I knew those trout were moving, that it was a game of luck, but I played my hand. On one of those casts I watched my fly drift out of sight into the glare. A moment later the water bulged nearby and I lifted my rod: a strong pull, a good boil, and the hook came away. Luck nearly gave me one big fish for the day.

The wind rose again a moment later, so I sat down and waited for the next calm spell. When it finally came, it didn’t last long enough for me to stand and begin looking for bugs or rises. Neither did the next calm spell.

A gorgeous, sunny day on a spring trout river, and I had a few laughs, finding the humor in the circumstances and the vagaries of fishing. I think I’ll live longer being able to laugh at splashy refusals and missed fish than groan and curse at those occurances. I have seen fishermen beat the water with their expensive fly rods and stream all manner of profanities at a fish that splashed their fly. That has to take the joy right out of fishing for them.

Fishing is much more than success, it is more than big catches and bragging about your numbers, the kind of talk you hear around the fly shops and bars. Fishing is a lesson in life, in joy and humility, in beauty and wonder, a lesson in patience and appreciation for the little things.

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