May 2, 2012

The Salmon Fly Hatch

Salmon Fly Assortment
On the bank by the river you kick your boot off and shake it upside down. Sweat drips into your eye; you have done it again: put on too many layers of clothing. A pebble drops out of your boot and into the grass. You draw your laces tight, secure the gravel guard in its rightful position and start to undress there beside the riffle. There are splotches of blue overhead and an upstream breeze cools the ring around your armpit. A flat chunk of basalt under your bum, an osprey peeps and the shadows crawl across the sage.

Sighing, you recall the words half spoken in the kitchen - Not loud but loud enough to ignite the broken dish in the sink and the yelling and the door slam. Weeds in the garden and crawling up the white fence post. You sat staring at the sunny sides on the plate for a long while before finding your fly rod where you had set it out with your gear bag the night before. Pesky words… Where were you when I needed you most? Hiding in my flybox?

Deep breath, you stare out to the river’s edge wondering of flamboyant hypes of hatches, of trout and the nature of chronic relationships. The surface of the river is dancing but there are no signs, no spotted snouts or flittering flies– just movement but you know it’s just a cover, like a face. A fine poker player - this river this day.

Beneath, there are Riversauers and serpents amid the cobble and tree trunks and the swirling muddy earth. What is your hand? You open your fly box. What will you make of your seat at this table? You pull the leader through the eyelets. Mustn’t you play? You walk to the edge of the river to a place where the water dumps softly into a darker shade of green. Something is not right. You have missed one of the eyelets and the line is wrapped around your rod. You cast anyway and the line plops like noodles before setting up and the flies are gone – lost. You walk from the shallows to the grassy bank where the basalt rock sets. You fold. “What the hell. What’s the big deal anyways?" You shake your head.  "I'm just misunderstood.”

You wiggle your other boot but nothing falls out. Hmm, must be inside the wader.

You think about bugs. From what you understand, they are vegetarians – those monsters of the riverbed. For 3-4 years they crawl among the deep crannies in areas where the current flows stiffly, so as to keep their gills functioning. Crawling, clinging, feeding they ready themselves for the time when migration leads to their ultimate metamorphosis. Stone Flies. When the temperature alarm goes off, they make the arduous journey to the edges of the river, where they wait for darkness of night to crawl up into the world above. Their bodies are changing. No longer can they stay bundled in this nymph casing. A crack appears upon their back and they struggle and shimmy out of this crack until they are free to stretch their two sets of virgin wings.

What a meal, you think; like Tootsie Rolls, only bigger. The time has come. Everywhere, under the surface you picture the life, crawling and tumbling in the depths and the trout that follow them to the river’s edge. You continue to scan the river, the rocks, the grass and the willows for evidence. Nothing, but you know that they are here or they are near but to be sure you reach into the river and lift up a stone. Aha. There you are. Clinging to the rock is this dark brown creature that you have been wondering about. “Almost there,” you think and you set it back in the water – releasing your grip, your control on its fate. But you have gotten a look, a brief look at the deck and just maybe, the right card.

Like the trout you follow, who follow the bugs, who follow their paths to the rocks and the willows, you are here. For some reason you are here. Could you call it survival? Hmm… how about love?

Next cast: your line unfurls behind you and then does not return. You look back to witness your tippet finishing up its last few wraps around the branch until your stonefly nymph dangles like it is noosed for some damning crime. But, you are the guilty one. You pull and pull, but it does not budge…

Your mind wanders…You like it when she is in your arms and giggles, cocking her head to smile at you with her white teeth. And in times like these when she is in your arms, you feel as though you are in hers. You wish she was here with you in the canyon by the river and the trout and the flies. You wish you hadn’t pulled so hard. You walk to the tree and begin the long series of unwraps from around the limbs so that you can continue on and get your line in the water.

You have scrambled down a rocky embankment where the current is interrupted by big boulders and eddy lines. Your line lands upstream along a fickle seam close to shore. You pull the slack through your fingers as the drift meanders back. You observe the line and make those fine adjustments in order to keep the nymph patterns moving as though they would be moving if they weren’t otherwise tethered to you. Ummm, that feels good. Another cast and then the indicator indicated and you set the hook and your heart goes pitter pat as your rod tip shakes and a rainbow breaches, wiggling in air. She spits the fly and disappears into the flow. You balance comfortably on the rock and recast. The line feels tight on your rod and then it lands there in the river and the shadows follow on down the canyon. Your flies slip through the current tumbling on down the canyon and then you lose your balance and fall into the cold water.

You met her on a ranch by the river. Her long, glowing hair bounced over her back as she walked through the pasture. You had never had your chest fall into your guts like it did when she first caught your eye. When she looked back, you nervously put your hands in your pockets and stared at the dirt. And the pitter pat began and steadily grew until all the pitter pats were put together into one big pitter pat that pushed from your hands into your jeans and radiated from your throbbing feet into the earth…

Cold, wet and hungry is your current state in the bowls of the canyon. You sit back against the jumbled array of angled stone and start to shiver. “Damn your foolish attempts to stand upright and try your hand at this ludicrous game,” you think as frustration and disappointment wash over your mind like the biting river washed over your body. You think about how the house always seems to win. The skies darken, your chill deepens.

Wait! What’s this? From your periphery something moved differently. Inches from your ear- clinging to a bent blade of grass, an adult stone fly, a Salmon Fly for that matter, was there. Right before your eyes rests a veteran of the water world and a pilgrim to the next. You sit staring at her ambiguous form as she calibrates her new body and is overcome by thoughts of a mate.

Your shiver evaporates above the glow of a resurging ember. You tie on an adult Salmon Fly pattern and hop to the river while peeling off line for a cast to that shallow cleft beneath the tree where the rainbow lay. And amid the growing breeze and the erratic wade, you cast and drift this fly the way that you know how. Sometimes it even lands perfectly.  You keep at it and eventually you prick a white mouth on the top lip and then after a rapid headshake, the fish is gone.

You reel up your line and your heart travels the river leading back home to your love.


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