Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February at Our Feet

(Photo by Ben R Sandoval, used with permission)

I was sitting at my desk at work yesterday; the sun was shining, and there wasn’t a cloud to be found anywhere – not even in the Yellow Pages (I looked, under “Clouds”). For the first time in literally weeks, it felt like spring. Unbelievably, it’s supposed to rain tomorrow; how could rain be in the forecast with this high pressure system firmly lodged over the Southwest, all but baking us to a delightful crisp? Preposterous!

Something stirs in my soul, like a trout swirling underneath an emerging mayfly, inhaling all negative thoughts of work, and exhaling an undeniable desire to find myself, laughing, stream-side.

I examine my workload: nothing much pending. I check with my co-workers and confirm that, indeed, there’s nothing work-related to justify my presence, nothing that can’t wait a day.

A thought forms: can I swing an afternoon off for a little piscatorial pursuit? After all, I haven’t been on a stream with a fly rod in what, two long, interminable weeks? My soul, it appears, is in dire need of rejuvenation; trout provide an answer to an unasked – but clearly felt – question. Thought leads to action: I ask -- beg, actually -- for the afternoon off, and am rewarded with a positive answer from the boss.

It’s on...

I rush home, grab some gear-n-grub, and hit the remarkably sparse freeway at full throttle, anxious to reach my home waters; after all, I haven’t fished these waters in ages (at which time, I morosely remind myself, I’d been skunked). I’m just happy to be headed to the stream for an afternoon of splashing around in warm, caressing sunlight.

The home waters are unpredictable; I never know what’s in store for me until the moment I arrive at the stream: will the water be low, with algae-covered rocks exposed in what is “normally” – as if the word “normal” could ever be applied to this stream -- a fantastic run? Or will it be blown-out, scary, fast and furious?

This place can be a miniature Kings River at times -- I’ve seen it myself on more than a few occasions. I admit it: the uncertainty of this place tickles me to no end, drives me to somehow make sense of it’s many moods, to try and get a handle on what makes it tick.

Speaking of ticks, it feels like full-blown summer upon my arrival, with one major exception: everything is green, green, green. What a difference a month – and several late-season storms – makes; I have trouble finding the trail, what with all of the new growth that has sprouted since my last visit. No worries -- I know the way – so I battle the brush in the unrelenting, unseasonable heat, black flies in my ears and eyes, and a song in my heart.

Well, well, well, what do you know: the stream is in perfect form, flowing at just the right level, one that often finds trout in the riffles and runs in addition to the almost-always reliable pools. My heartbeat quickens a little and my excitement level rises a notch or two, but I remain uncharacteristically calm. There’s no sense of urgency today, just an overriding sense of peace.

I decide to hit the Walmart hole just for old times sake; after my experiences on "1972 Plymouth Roadrunner Creek” with my buddies "B" and Evening Rise, I have a strong feeling that today is the day when the woolly bugger will finally draw some attention here on the home waters, so that’s what I tie on, that’s what I drift down-current and then strip-back, and that’s what absolutely nothing touches -- for the entire day, in fact.

Oh well, it’s just as important to know what doesn’t work on a given stream as well as what does. Or so I tell myself.

I play it safe and tie on a tried-and-true home water special: a #14 bead-head Prince nymph. With the sun beating me to a citrus-y, nicotine-hued pulp, I revel in the moment, my eyes fixed on my lemon-yellow indicator bobbing around in the choppy waters of the hole; I am delighted to be alive and on the water. Having left my waders at home – on purpose – my wet Levi’s feel cool and comforting as I bask on a rock, sipping a beer, lobbing my rig again and again in the milky-green waters, waiting for something to take the fly.

I begin a retrieve in anticipation of another lob; am I hung up on the bottom? I gently pull back on the rod – my lovely Sage 5WT – and feel something move; I am most definitely NOT hung up.

Without warning, I am battling a trout – a nice one, from the feel of things. The fish takes me directly into the rapids, a dangerous class III chute of churning whitewater that can spell L-D-R in the wrong hands. I pull an Evening Rise move and swish my rod to my left, guiding the trout away from the rapids. Then, with my line peeling off the reel with that wonderful “zzzzzzing!” sound, the fish dives – DEEP. I didn’t realize how deep this pool actually is; this diving warrior gives me an indication. Wow! The strength of this thing makes me certain it’s a 20” monster, the fish of my dreams. She all but jerks the rod out of my hands with heavy, strong moves, time and again.

I keep the pressure on, suddenly catching a glimpse of flashing purple-silver in the water at my feet. Nice looking fish, but not as big as her strength would indicate. She takes off for the depths again, and again I hold on – with both hands. I feel no sense of panic, no sense of urgency; all seems natural and right and, if she throws the hook or my knots fail, I’ll still be ecstatic just to experience this incredible display of strength.

Eventually, with much switching of the rod from side to side, taking in and letting out line, the fish tires and I guide her into my net; she’s absolutely beautiful, about 15” long, completely wild, and healthy as a horse. I try snapping a quick picture, then go for another; my camera displays the “memory full” message and I remember I’ve got pictures from my last three fishing trips in the memory. As I frantically delete a couple of old photos, the fish makes a desperate lunge for survival and escapes my net, vanishing like a spirit back into the milky-green waters.

I feel relaxed, happy. I move upstream with a certain deep run in mind. I’m singing an old REM song in my head: “This one goes out to the run I love...” The run is as delicious and sexy as ever, even more so with all of the new growth alongside, making a lovely home for a trout or two. Once again, I’m lobbing the Prince nymph and, once again, I think I’m hung up when, in fact, I have a fish on. This time, I hook – then lose -- a small rainbow trout that looks to be in the 9” range (pretty small for this stream, actually). The relentless sun bakes me dry and I take a little lunch break, pondering the stream and my place in the scheme of things. A warm breeze washes away my cares and, for a brief, wonderfully Zen moment, I forget who and why I am.

The afternoon passes in amber waves of water and sunlight; I see no other humans on the stream. I can’t believe I’m here, practically within sight of Los Angeles, with this remarkable place, with its unlikely, hard-fighting wild trout, all to myself. Life is good.

Before I realize it, it’s almost dark. Once again, time has passed through that strange zone that defies what my watch tells me, causing me to shake my head in disbelief. I have one last run in mind to fish, and I make my way over loose boulders and through scattered brush towards it (it’s a tough spot to reach, really brushed over, with fly-snagging willows strategically placed all around (as if by the hand of God), and one lovely rock to stand upon). Sticking with the Prince nymph, I make a half-dozen drifts and am rewarded with a fine fish for my efforts. She fights like a warrior, surprising me with her heft, and scaring me when she plops over a plunge at the bottom of the run. She’s heavy, and I worry about how I’m going to fight her back into the relative safety of the run from below the nasty plunge. Somehow, I do it, the feisty trout tires, and I bring a nice 14”-er to net.

A gorgeous, full moon rises above the ridge to the east; to the west, a hint of the storm to come lingers on the horizon. As I sit outside at a table at a run-down burger joint, enjoying a well-earned meal, I reflect on my unexpected day off and give thanks to the Creator of the Universe for blessing me with such a beautiful, eternal day. It was, in a word, marvelous.

As I sit here writing this report, with rain coming down (just as was forecast), I realize my incredibly good fortune with regard to the timing of my little adventure. Was something telling me, yesterday, “Go fishing today, for tomorrow it may rain?”

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