As previously published in Fly Fusion magazine.
Who did I think I was kidding?
My forehead rested heavily atop my hands; the cool river water from my stripping fingers helped to ease my heated discouragement.
My line slacked and bellied into my legs until the river’s current caught hold and pulled it taut on either side of my obstruction. It reshaped the flow into a broken ‘v’.
I stood in the middle of it all – fly hooked securely into a tall tree limb on the bank behind me, line rubbing against my legs like a florescent, unwelcome house cat.
The single-hand rod lay deceitful and light in my palm. For a moment I was tempted to donate it in shards to the rock bed beneath me.
Yes, I was frustrated.
The wind routed through the valley in one consistent gust and my lack of skill casting off my left shoulder had me ducking in an attempt to avoid contact. How absolutely embarrassing.
Ugh. One of those days. Alyssa Lloyd photo.
The cast finds its muscle memory, making itself comfortable in the bushes yet again – not the sort of habits I was looking to build.
My head remains stationary, eyes scanning from left to right beneath polarized sunglasses.
No laughing spectators. I unclench my jaw – we’ve all been there.
I was on a mission to prove a point, to prove a theory, to prove that tradition could be revived within my own angling practices. I’d committed to spending the day attempting a ‘greaseline’ presentation on said river with the use of a nine foot rod, delicate tapered fly line and lengthy, accurate cast.
But who did I think I was kidding? It was all I could do not to wish for my double handed rod, condensed shooting heads, and casts that didn’t matter to the non-judgmental current or the extremely discriminate wind.
Wind? Who cares? Right…
The cool water on my brow lightens the red in my cheeks and the situation broadens its spectrum.
Undeniably, long rods, short lines, heavy tips and large flies landed fish at my feet but I couldn’t help to feel as though I was robbing myself of specific methodology that required more skill – patience at least – and I was failing miserably at each of these right now.
It began close to three years ago when deeply sunk flies lost a great part of their appeal to me. The “out of sight” concept threw me into an “out of mind” state and I slowly lost the tranquility of silence in my head upon the mid-swing submergence of my fly.
I needed more – needed to see more.
Without this, too much noise emerged during a mindless, unfocused swing.
Dry flies were the obvious solution but upon facing an entire season of disinterested steelhead, my own enthusiasm was inevitably turned back towards my trusted wet flies. As compromise might suggest, I hoped a subsurface presentation would suffice to satisfy, so I purchased an old reprint of Greaseline Fishing for Salmon by Jock Scott (as per A.H.E. Wood).
The term greaselining is a method introduced in the early 20th century by the late Arthur Wood of Scotland. Silk lines and deeply sunk flies were a standard practise by anglers worldwide but it was Wood who popularized the greasing of lines with Mucilin, lanolin (or a grease substance of choice), resulting in a subsurface and somewhat drag-free presentation of the swung fly.
Wood sought to fish his Cairnton beat on the River Dee with a semi-natural presentation. By using the water’s current, hydraulics and speed, he played the eddies and used flies shockingly sparse in attempts to imitate fish or other small creatures in distress.
His casts varied but often angled on 90 degrees where he then mended regularly to ensure his fly presented itself broadside and at the same speed of the current. Wood cast a long line, the fly swinging slowly while maintaining a semi-natural drift. Low and clear water often meant difficult fishing, as increased water temperatures and changes in fish behaviour meant that the sunk fly could not be fished as efficiently as those on one that had been greased (a floating line by today’s standard).
As I turned each page with reignited fervour, the spine of my book arched in flexible delight; relieving its cramps from prolonged hibernation.
My right hand gradually gripped fewer pages and I dreaded the moment I would reach Wood’s conclusion – for he was gone and I had no where else to find him.
As Scott came to the final sentence of his masterpiece, I heard him clearly - “Very, very rarely have I known an angler who refused to succumb to the temptations of the greased line!”
And he was right. I was enamoured with the lost words of the art – a book so available yet so unknown amongst most of my peers in this sport.
But a subject with such facets would be poorly represented by merely one sportsman. Given the century of growth that the 1903 greaselining birthing entailed, it was only inevitable that revisions would find their way laced through the margins.
I turned to the likes of Hill, Waddington, Kelson, Haig-Brown, Wulff and just about anyone else passed whose literature sat dusty on the shelf.
The philosophies, techniques, theories, prophecies, equipment, innovations, stories and passions wove themselves into my heart and mind.
Late nights were spent reading – early mornings spent practising what I had learned. Mentored through their words, I felt a connection with them and a revitalized flame in my journey as a young angler.
I would catch myself holding my breath through almost an entire chapter, other times having to put the book down to regain composure. My stomach tensed with realization that these books had been here for me from the start – what had taken me so long?
The value I placed on the the old guard began to expand as quickly as my reading list, and upon reaching out to a few of its select gentlemen (and one special lady), I was kindly received and warmly engaged. Their support was genuine but their underlying message to me was clear – “Your generation doesn’t read books…” They would trail off as though lost at the concept.
Adrienne Comeau photo.
I couldn’t tell them that they were wrong – for the most part, I had no reason to believe that they were.
So dive to the depths of knowledge I did, and in tribute to the education they offered me, here I now stood red-faced and statued in the water of a steelhead run where there was sure to be a fish.
The longline presentation of my single hand rod was putting me to the test. The wind threw my backcast for the long grass to catch eagerly – an uninvited game of catch and I was the ‘piggy in the middle’.
I was desperate for the shallow backcast of a short line on my double handed rod and was kidding no one other than myself. The double handed fly rod (commonly referred to as a Spey rod), has been around for several hundred years before my time. Though not originally from North America, double handers were in fact deemed traditional and I cursed myself for leaving mine behind. Even Mr. Wood himself would have asked me what in the world I was doing.
As obsessions tend to do, soon I’d committed to writing a book on the sport and history of fly-fishing as it migrated and evolved from the UK to the west coast of North America.
My workload exploded – I had just taken on the most ambitious project of my life.
Interviews, gear comparisons, copious reading, travel and experimentation all consumed my time and soon I was analyzing temperature changes, oxygen content, aquatic life cycles, fly size and just about every other technicality that I had never actually needed before to catch fish. It was only natural to question why I was bothering at all – fishing for me was always based around fun and awareness. Beyond that, was all of this just overthinking? Were the ghosts of the past leading me by way of disproven theories and solely emotional connection?
But then the fish came. Upon applying my findings from the books that I’d read, my fishing productivity increased and I finally had some understanding of why!
Today, every book that I read inspires me to further preserve some sense of our history within this sport.
My studies are showing that remarkably fewer books are being read by young people. While that argument is offset with theories that we are actually reading more (only by way of the internet and tablets) when it comes to fly-fishing, much of this knowledge is still only found over a crackling campfire or amidst the yellowing pages of a good old-fashioned book.
Adrienne Comeau photo.
Several years ago, I agreed to take on this column with Fly Fusion. The agreement was that I would inspire the reader and possibly evoke an excitement for them/you to get outdoors.
Naturally, I still aspire to do exactly this but I am a thirty one year old woman – excitement and inspiration can’t help but sparkle in my eyes. So what would it hurt to add an element of ‘yesterday’ into our rapidly transitioning ‘tomorrow’ – time taken to help us understand more about a sport that draws us closely together? For the next while, this column will be taking a soft turn on a backtracking road and I hope that I may share my reading list with you here as a preview to your own library.
True, evolution exists only with progression and there are no rights or wrongs – but there is invaluable information that seems to dim over time. It would be a shame to smother a flame that once gleamed so bright as to light a whole village.
Our community today thrives in the light of immediacy, but there is not one of us who can deny the warmth or appreciation for the slow burn of a campfire glow – sometimes flames are exactly what is needed to bring people back together.
Thank you for reading,
***Note – April has moved her more personal blog entries to our partner site www.aprilvokey.com/blog – feel free to have a look!
Last week at our Patagonia meeting, we were informed that Patagonia was having a hard time getting the last 10,000 signatures for an extremely serious proposal to crack down on deadbeat dams.
They informed us that they had 30,000 online signatures & 10,000 written ones and that if we could just get 10,000 more, we could fight this!
I couldn’t help but volunteer you. I am asking (begging) that you take all of ten seconds to sign this online petition so we may move forward. If you could share and sign until we hit that 40,000 mark, it would just prove that, together with social media, we can make a serious impact.
Please help – it’s so little to do so much!
Peace and love, April. xo
The first Spey line that I ever purchased came packaged in a box as thick as an encyclopedia.
Like a book cover designed to culminate my curiosity until relief by purchase, the word “Spey” prominently highlighted the box’s crisp edge and sold me on the promise of its contents.
Encyclopaedic is not far off from what I held in my hands.
Rich with knowledge and the possibility of growth, the comparisons were evident; the difference being of course that with an encyclopedia, I had an idea of where to start.
At the time I had just become a proud owner of the easiest Spey line to cast on the market; the Windcutter at fifty-five feet long.
The kit included the mid-belly line (already fused to an integrated running line) and a series of fifteen foot sink tips in a compact wallet with a cardboard cut-out to explain the different sink rates.
As a new caster, my casting stroke was unsightly and I imitated a flailing backwoodsman while chopping liquid wood with a piece of graphite. It was horrifying.
It was soon thereafter that the popularized Skagit shooting head hit the scene and nothing was ever the same.
Half the length of the Windcutter, the short condensed head allowed anglers the option of turning over heavy sink tips and large flies with ease, especially in areas with limited back-casting space.
This particular line was developed in the Pacific Northwest and was specifically made to be cast with a tip on its thickly tapered end to avoid having its anchor ripped from the water’s surface before allowing the rod to completely load.
As a general rule, a sink tip should not be longer than the rod being fished, making most tips somewhere between eleven to fifteen feet long.
The Skagit line, while deemed the more simple of the line categories to cast, is one that is a blessing to many of us who guide. New casters easily adapt to the stroke of the short line and are able to keep their time on the water more efficient as their fly remains in the water and out of the bushes behind them.
With this sudden casting aid, I dusted off my old lead-core lines and began to make my own cost efficient systems. I was not alone in my ventures…
Shops were soon selling tips in various sink rates/lengths in either a home-made tungsten fashion (labeled as T7, T11 or T14) as well as the RIO pre-made tip systems (labeled as Type 3, Type 6 or Type 8).
To many customers, the differentiation between the two was unclear. For some, it was the simple matter that both systems were named with words that began with the letter ’T’. For others, it was expressed confusion regarding each’s relation to depth and density.
Enter the MOW tip, T17 and fused looped tungsten systems and we had widespread befuddlement.
With four tip systems available through RIO, the confusion only seems to grow within our clientele. While the systems are rather self-explanatory to those who use them regularly, to some customers, this gave them the impression that they were outdated; intimidation set in.
While many of our guests come from overseas equipped with a variety of Poly or VersiLeaders, we are left to explain that as a standard rule of thumb, such leaders are best cast on a Scandi (or longer line) due to the inefficient energy transfer from the diameter difference between the thick front taper of the Skagit line and the butt of the aforementioned leaders.
With that in mind, I had thought that a clear explanation of the very basics of Skagit sink tips would be a fresh change to this column.
I reached out to Simon Gawesworth of RIO to clarify the mystification and have simplified it here for you in hopes that it may make your time on the water carefree.
Option 1 – 15 Foot ‘Type’ Tips
The original fifteen foot tips, come with a color coded welded loop that indicate the tips’ density (or in this case, sink rate) and the weight of the rod/line weight it should be used on. One will note that the heaviest tip (type 8) is thinner than the lightest tip (type 3), thus explaining how the system works.
Such tips are tapered and allow for a much better presentation than their level tungsten relatives.
They come in the following:
- Intermediate (1.5 to 2 inches per second)
- Type 3/Yellow (3 to 4 inches per second)
- Type 6/Grey (6 to 7 inches per second)
- Type 8/Green (8 to 9 inches per second)
To ensure consistency as a balanced outfit, each tip is given a standard weight (measured in grains) per weight class of rod.
For example, all #10 weight tips weigh 150 grains regardless of which of the above ‘types’ they are, so as to allow the angler the option of changing their tip density (depth) without losing the line weight necessary to load the rod efficiently.
(#8 = 109 grains, #9 = 129 grains, #10 = 150 grains, #11 = 166 grains).
Option 2 – 10 Foot ‘Type’ Tips
These are simply a shorter version of the fifteen foot tips. They are ideal for shorter rods, tight casting situations or smaller rivers. The density options are the same as the fifteen foot tips listed above.
Option 3 – Level ’T’ (stands for tungsten) Tips
These tips are level (non-tapered), fast sinking and designed to be cut to a desired length. Their lack of taper delivers them with a “punch” and large flies roll over without much effort from the caster.
Quite opposite to the density of the ‘Type’ tips above, these lines sink as per the amount of grain weight they have per foot. In the case of ’T’ tips, this equates to the amount of tungsten impregnated into each foot of the tip (example, T8 weighs eight grains per foot).
- T8/White (6 to 7 inches per second)
- T11/Green (7 to 8 inches per second)
- T14/Blue (8 to 9 inches per second)
- T17/Black (9 to 10 inches per second)
- T20/none (+10 inches per second)
Option 4 – MOW Tips (stands for McCune, Ward and O’Donnell)
Available in ten and twelve foot lengths, the Mow tips come in “light”, “medium”, “heavy” and “extra heavy” ratings. They are of the same tungsten material as the ’T’ tips and translate to:
Light = T8/White
Medium = T11/Green
Heavy = T14/Blue
Extra Heavy = T17/Gray
So what’s the difference between the MOW and the ’T’ tips you ask?
There are times when an angler is looking to specifically sink their fly into pocket water or behind rocks/structure without the use of a full tip. At times, just a mere two feet of sinking line is required to get the necessary presentation to catch a fish.
The dilemma here is that a two foot sink tip wouldn’t allow the short compact anatomy of a Skagit line to anchor in the water without “popping” itself from its loading sweet-spot.
The MOW tips feature six different tips with differing lengths of sinking sections seamlessly fused to a floating line. Each of the below blended tips is available in the light, medium, heavy or extra heavy as mentioned above.
10 ft Floating
7.5 ft Float/2.5 ft Sink
5 ft Float/5 ft Sink
2.5 ft Float/7.5 ft Sink
10 ft Sink
12 ft Sink
When trying to determine whether your rod will cast best with a light, medium, heavy or extra heavy class, the RIO recommendations are that:
Light tips are ideal for Skagit lines of 475 grains and lighter
Medium tips are ideal for Skagit lines between 475 and 575 grains
Heavy tips are ideal for Skagit lines between 575 and 700 grains
Extra Heavy tips are ideal for Skagit lines heavier than 700 grains or for when large heavy flies are used.
Personally, even after gaining an understanding of the above explanation, I still find myself favouring the same sink tip I once did as a bright-eyed Spey hopeful; a 15 foot, faded grey to white type 6 fifteen foot tip (now slowly nipped down to about 13 feet).
Fishing it differently depending on the situation at hand, there are times where I high-stick it, times where I dump slack into it, times where I walk it through a seam with side-drifted tension and the frequent occasion where I just let the pushy current fondle it as it sees fit.
Like all things casting, mathematics and physics are the sole components of the efficiency of proper rod load. Both are equally as essential for comprehension of how objects of various densities/materials sink with varying current speeds or hydraulics.
Truthfully, one could spend a lifetime trying to analyze every factor that plays a role in a presentation that they feel the fish prefers to see… or one could find something that simply works for them and just go fishing.
Several years ago I spoke with steelhead expert/biologist Bill McMillan while collecting data for a column I was writing. I recently stumbled upon the article in my folders and thought it would be worthwhile to share…
Five steelhead facts worth knowing:
1) It is no secret in the world of steelhead fishing that there are two distinct runs of steelhead. Appropriately termed “winter-run” and “summer-run” steelhead, it is a fair assumption that winter-run fish enter the freshwater system during the winter months, while summer-runs begin their migration earlier in the year during the spring and summer.
Beginning as early as November and continuing through May, winter-run fish enter the system at a relatively developed stage of maturation. Their bellies are robust; their time scarce and their attention concentrated.
Upon entering freshwater and undergoing the transition from saltwater to freshwater, winter-run fish have a limited time to spawn before their reproductive systems are ripe with sperm and eggs.
Conversely, summer-run fish begin to venture into freshwater as early as April, entering in abundance through the warmer months before beginning to trickle off by November.
Sexual maturation in these summer fish differs substantially from their winter-run counterparts. Reproductive organs in summer-run steelhead do not begin to mature until after their transition from salt to freshwater. Historically harvested, it is documented that the entrails of retained steelhead were not only immature, they were near barren.
Mild weather and comfortable water temperatures increase the metabolisms of summer-run steelhead and their aggression is anything but subtle. These differences make summer-run fish a sought after quarry for many angling enthusiasts.
Despite the differences in their migration timing, both winter and summer-run fish typically spawn in the spring/early summer time frame.
2) Naturally, given the above data, timing is a vital factor of a steelhead’s migration pattern.
Maturation inevitably drives both summer and winter fish towards a schedule – one which is presumably more lax than the other.
Winter fish, swollen and up against Mother nature’s clock, primarily dominate tributaries within 100 miles of the ocean. Summer fish on the other hand can spend up to a year in freshwater, historically traveling as far as 800 miles away from the salt. Both races of fish have been known to survive up to one year in freshwater without feeding in abundance.
Battling long journeys and major obstacles, summer-runs often require the extra time allowance to ensure a punctual arrival to their spawning beds. Fish venturing further inland must factor the increased number of barriers into their journey so that they are able to time their travels accordingly.
McMillan made note of a stream paralleling that of an obstacle course – complete with fourteen waterfalls and other contributing hindrances.
When I asked him how these fish know? His response was, “genetics”.
It makes me wonder how well our hatchery fish will fare in the ‘time management’ category.
3) Steelhead have otoliths or “earstones” in their head between the ears and behind the fleshy part of their brain.
An otolith is solidified calcium carbonate that serves as part of the hearing and balance system in fish. This calcium carbonate is primarily derived from water and, as its host grows older, new calcium carbonate crystals form allowing trace elements of water to bind with the otolith (causing layers to develop).
All of this composition and build-up play a very important role for biologists.
From the otolith, a scientist is able to determine the age of the fish and the properties of water bodies that fish have previously occupied. In addition to being able to determine the specifics of the river system each fish has visited, the otolith plays a key role is showing how long a fish spent in both fresh and salt water. It also identifies individuals who’ve returned to freshwater to spawn more than once.
While scales also tell biologists specifics about fish age (they have rings on them similar to trees), scales can become damaged or misconfigured during spawning migration. Scales also have a tendency to reabsorb during times of weakened or decreased energy levels, thus securing analysis of the otolith as an extremely significant research tool.
4) As steelhead are anadromous rainbow trout, their spawning habits are inevitably very similar. A unique fact unknown to many is that rainbow trout have the ability to fertilize steelhead eggs and vice versa.
John McMillan (Bill’s son) is a biologist who is currently conducting a major study on such data. He specifically takes note of the amount of lipid body fat within individual fish. An interesting find is that fish who are already healthy and not in desperate need to gain body mass are more likely to remain in the freshwater, avoiding the perils of an ocean commute entirely and indefinitely.
Comparatively, a fish low in body fat is much more likely to seek saltwater where it will feed heavily until it has reached a substantial size.
High body fat content is often related to water temperatures, and cold water is a contributing factor to finding fish with higher lipid reserves.
The further down a river system one will venture, the warmer the water becomes and these fish become much more inclined to partake in anadromy (return to the ocean) as a result of lower body fat reserves.
Research has shown that male juvenile steelhead (often assumed to be resident rainbows) have a higher inclination to remain in freshwater, as they have less demand to gain bulk than the egg-bearing females. In addition to the advantages of security and fertile stream-beds, these male fish are able to spawn with the large ocean-run females and are in fact even more efficient than many of their anadromous counterparts in that they often spawn multiple times with multiple females.
5) Steelhead are a species with an adaptivity beyond our comprehension. It is their wide array of life history choices that explain why they have been such a successful species through the years. Seeming to break all of the rules in areas of consistency, steelhead in some parts of Russia have been documented to spawn as many as ten times!
Regardless it is undeniable that, try as these fish might, their survival rate is increasingly plummeting.
Smolt to adult return rates (SAR) historically varied between 10-20%. Now, present day data shows an alarming decrease with return rates as low as 1-2% (and sometimes even lower).
Equally as disconcerting is the misconception that all steelhead return to spawn again throughout their life cycle.
While it is true that a great number of steelhead do not decay, as the Pacific Salmon do upon spawning, it is an incorrect assumption that all steelhead survive their migration route after leaving freshwater.
Contrary to public belief, the majority of post-spawned steelhead do indeed perish as they attempt a migration back to the ocean.
Weak, spent, battled and debilitated, steelhead bear the marks of exhaustion brought on by competing fish, angling pressure, reverse osmotic chemistry and biological fatigue. Their poor condition makes obstruction all the more lethal.
Male fish have a very low respawn rate as they eject sperm multiple times while spawning, resulting in severe fatigue. Females only drop eggs once, thus slightly increasing their likelihood of survival.
Additionally, the respawn rate is lower on summer-run fish as they spend so much time in the system without food and travel longer distances than winter fish.
Historically, the percentage of respawners in the northern and southern steelhead ranges fared higher than that of the central basins. In places such as Kamchatka, steelhead reached respawn rates as high as 70%, and southern ranges (like northern California) once averaged between 25-60%.
Presently, the average return spawning rate finds itself somewhere between 5-20% – with central regions like the upper Columbia tributaries ranging between 1-2% (largely in part due to the excessive damming).
All in all, it makes me wonder about my own contribution to the decreasing numbers of our steelhead stocks. Data indicates that in some systems steelhead are caught an average of 4 times during their commute (twice on their way up and twice on their way down). If the catch & release mortality rate ranges from 3-10% on a steelhead caught once, is it a relatively fair assumption that a quadruple capture might raise the mortality rate to 12-40%?
Such numbers cannot help but demand the attention of those who will listen. It’s a scary thought for a wild steelhead advocate, isn’t it?
Thanks for reading!
Co-hosted by April Vokey and Adrienne Comeau
These fish are some of the largest in British-Columbia and April & Adrienne will also be offering Spey casting lessons, fly tying courses and hearty laughs. We have teamed up with the Skeena Spey Lodge (click on the logo above to visit their website) and their gorgeous accommodations located directly on the river.
Dates: September 14th – 20th 2014
Rate: $5200 CND (plus tax)
Includes 5 days of guided fishing, all meals and 6 nights accommodation.
Guests also have the option of fishing Sunday afternoon after arrival.
The famous American author/angler Zane Grey described New Zealand as an “Angler’s Eldorado”. He was right on the mark – especially when you look at the trout fishery.
April Vokey Seven Night Hosted Fly Fishing Package
Includes 7 nights of 5 star accommodation, all meals (i.e. a three course dinner, cooked English breakfast, picnic lunch daily), use of our fly fishing equipment and 6 days of expert guiding with one of our senior fly fishing guides.
o Twin share accommodation & share guide NZ $6,400 per person
o Single occupancy accommodation & sole use of guide NZ $9,995
What is not included: Alcohol, fishing licences, airport transfers, helicopter flights (All available at ORL)
Deposit required 50% of package tariff, the remainder of the package must be paid a minimum of 90 days prior to arrival date @ ORL
Arrival date: 30 November 2014
Departure date: 7 December 2014
Guided fishing: 6 days – December 1 – 6
For more information contact Fly Gal Ventures at 1-888-359-4259 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi everyone! We are having a major clear out event this weekend only! Check out the cart for most items close to 50% off! Also, we just had the June 27th to July 4th week open up on the Dean! This is a great week and is a rarity that it’s available. Email email@example.com for more info.
Thank you for your business!
~The Fly Gal team
Uneven edges of volcanic rock push their jagged prongs through my thin khakis.
Uncomfortable, I shift my weight to alleviate the numbing tingle of pooled blood in my lower extremities – a fitting discomfort while sitting atop a rock-face spotted with dips and dimples home to equally as stagnant flow.
The air smells of salt. What my nose can’t decipher, my tongue can.
It runs itself over my dry lower lip, tasting the ocean’s seasoning.
I pick at the flaked skin until my fingernails pinch pain through the raw gummy flesh beneath its peel. The sting interrupts my mindlessness…
I lower my hand to my side, again staring vacantly into the cobalt blue sea.
There’s a pack of cobia working their way through the headland I patiently perch on.
I am sure that proper terminology for these creatures is a ‘school’, but to refer to them as such would be misleading; a ‘school’ of fish might be deemed as a behaved and conformed assembly – innocent children on a chaperoned outing. These fish were anything but that.
A pack of hunting predators, they churn the water beneath me, wreaking havoc into swarms of baitfish and following closely behind nonchalantly floating stingrays.
Myself a predator, I stalk them from afar and cast my lure into their line of vision. A rush and a refusal followed by a second aggressor who narrowly missed the impale through his lip. The water lightens with only a linger of bubbles from the torpedoing cobia who now shoot full speed ahead.
I feel my heart threaten to beat through my sternum – I might even actually hear it, if I could hear anything apart from the beating of the waves.
The waves… so noisy, so intrusive. I’d hoped them to be louder today; loud enough to drown out the voice in my head. My voice in my head.
So many thoughts, ideas, inspirations and questions. Like the swell below me they rolled in gently, softly even, before catapulting over themselves and crashing into my brain like white paint dropped from a two storey patio.
They didn’t mean to be violent – not all of them anyhow. Some lapped gently at my exposed emotions while others ruffled my mind in playful zeal.
Every thought that rolled in did so unapologetically, dousing me with the freshness of a spurting water hose on a hot summer’s day, reminding me that she wouldn’t allow my fires to burn on past the point of control. I let her in…
I’d always been known as the little girl who couldn’t sit still. Running life at warp speed was the norm and there was never such thing as “biting off more than I could chew”.
I had never understood the silly phrase, rather always just questioned why people couldn’t merely chew faster? At the very least, just accept that some scraps may momentarily fall from their mouths. One way or another, they’d eat it eventually.
And so I was.
A multitasking, ambition driven, fishing junkie who had the system nailed down. I worked all night, serving drinks to patrons and slobs… my notepad smudged with business ideas behind the pages of food orders and gratuity tallies.
I remember a night in the grungy staff bathroom of Langley’s Olive Garden. I hid behind its locked door and stared into the mirror.
My shirt wore marinara sauce like the primary suspect of a tomato massacre and my skin was sticky with dishwasher vapor.
My tie, supplied by Darden Restaurants, was deliberately tacky; as though to imply that if the distinguished formalities of a silk dress code were unworthy of any respect, those who had to wear it must not be either.
Complaints about food times and table size… I couldn’t wait to get back to the river.
But the summer days got longer and 4:30pm starts became more tedious.
I applied for a job at the casino down the street and celebrated my new employer – albeit only after hooraying its 8:30pm start times and presumed longer days of fishing.
The slobs got sloppier, the notepad got thicker, my bathroom breaks got longer and the silk was now a maroon bustier.
Eventually, I started a company (Fly Gal) and kept up the pace: Guide all day, fish all day off, waitress all night, draw operational strategies towards business expansion…
My home stayed clean, my files neatly organized, my fly boxes stocked and my cooking skills sharp. It was easy, sleep was overrated and my relationships could wait (I thought).
Who had time to slow down?
A year in business and the juggling act continued. I took on another commitment with Fly Max Films, balancing on one foot while I performed my routine: Guide all day, fish all day off, waitress all night, draw operational strategies towards business expansion, film it all for television…
Until one day a more senior entertainer stepped onto my platform and all five of my juggling knives came tumbling down.
Six years ago now since the day I ‘dropped the ball’ and fell off the balance beam…
Tires screeched and hoods collided – my terrified soul screaming promises amidst the wreckage. I vowed to live each of ‘one more day’ as though it were my last.
I closed my eyes through the dreaded collapse of the trucks and waited to see if He might give me a second chance. The dark of the night focused slowly through my squinted eyes and He took my hand… promises never again made and then broken.
But the bar was now raised and I felt an inordinate amount of responsibility to try even harder.
My schedule soon looked like a well executed circus act.
A different city daily, office work done in airplanes, landing time at airports only long enough to change shirts before class began, evening layovers in Vancouver to update mom & dad, and rental car treks so Colby could accompany me through it all – I loved it.
The money came – it always does. The relationships built – they always do. The passion stuck – I had hoped it would. My loved ones worried – I loved them unconditionally. The haters misunderstood – I just kept trying my best.
But it was my addiction to spreading education that kept my legs running. And so the race continued.
Another wave rolls itself off the bluff and my ambling mind jars back to the remnants the wave leaves behind. Diminishing to a bowl of foam, it recedes into the main wash and temporarily opens windows of glassy boils. Exposed racing bluefish and the squeamish unease of my livebait shudder with upset under my float. A large bronze-whaler shark circles the commotion. For a moment my mind succumbs to the sheer simplicity of nature’s reality.
The float is red and it captures the attention of the large animal. I hold my breath, my knuckles white around the rod’s handle. My feet shuffle until they rest into small grooves of safety and I lower my weight onto them to avoid being torn from the ledge.
The steep incline and razoring rock almost guarantee failure with a fly rod. I secretly praise the impossibility of it all, the reminiscence of conventional gear warming me with thoughts from my younger days before vanity or challenge ever mattered. My thumb rests on the still monofilament and waits to feel the burn.
The wide head of the shark nudges the frantic baitfish and for one second patience is all that exists before the reel is screaming and the shark is gone. Flipping the lever and thrusting the rod tip into the air, I connect with a dull thud and a weight that bends the entire pole. It doesn’t stay dull for long as the hooked bronze-whaler realizes the interference and beelines it into the vastness of the open ocean.
The water erupts in the distance as the enormity of her slashing body jolts into the air, not willing to slow its emergence until only the tips of her tail are left skimming the water’s surface. Gold and silver paint the sky in a metallic rage before she lands on the leader and the line goes slack.
Again rhythm fills my limbs and throat; my heart throwing my body into dance.
It fades to subsided cognizance. My mind embraces it and mimics the next foam bowl. Opening windows of glassy boils expose the reason I sit here today and I mindlessly fall back into thought.
This January I felt the brunt of change.
I suppose it was to be expected. Something peculiar beset my stride – scheduling obtrusion into my agenda and slowing my enthusiasm for inconsistency.
Suddenly a simple commitment to the middle of the country seemed undesirable, my longing to board another airplane lacking drive. I felt tired. I finally felt tired.
But it was a different kind of tired. Not a burn-out or a mouthful of more than I could chew. It was the sort of fatigue that spreads when passion isn’t pursued, dreams not chased – left unattended to aimlessly weed and smother the security of one’s inner garden. There were dreams at the very root of my core that I had been ignoring; one of which had been waiting patiently since my days as a young girl.
I had denied them the nourishment they rightfully demanded and only watered them occasionally with promises of “next year”. The seasons changed and “next year” finally came, revealing itself by my extinguishment. I was ready for more.
I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t seen it coming. As a result, I had taken precautions. The year before I hired an office manager, Catherine, who took on the responsibility of emails, invoicing and shipping.
She had come into my life bearing resemblance of a saint and gave me the gift of time.
Like a self-brewing cappuccino machine sans instructions, this gift of time sat on the shelf unused while I stayed unnecessarily busy fiddling with coffee filters and messy grounds.
I didn’t know how to use this foreign tool but upon pressing all the buttons, together we learned how to make it function and I was free to find energy for my two most persistent dreams.
The first thing I did was stock up on reading material and Keurig cups.
The second thing I did was book a ticket to Australia, giving myself plenty of time to brew.
From my first days of grade school I had wanted to be a writer; one with a talent for simplicity and boldness emulated from the likes of Mark Twain (a household name in my youth).
From my first years of adulthood I had wanted to be an exceptional fly-caster with the grace and class of Joan Wulff.
Both of these desires remained constant in my life, neither of them dwindling yet neither of them transpiring. For such dreams need patience, practise and polish – each of such requiring copious amounts of time.
Abroad and unsettled, the smell of crisp book pages soothed my ache to immerse myself in literature (outside a plethora of business and self-improvement manuals).
Time spent with casting students broadened my insight to the mechanics and physics of the perfectly loaded fly rod.
My newly relaxed agenda accommodated the learning curve I had desired to indulge in, so I took two months to dive into my library: literature from talented authors, casting gospel from the old guard and a freshly lined five weight as my bookmark when I needed a break from the reading.
Again I was driven… revitalized with a desire to grow, to build, to cease any smothering of my emotional flame.
I made goals for myself to reach: a Master’s exam for the end of the year, a book deadline devised, a devotion to the history of steelhead and Atlantic salmon – even the committal of a TV series based on an educational journey of each species and the associated class within the fly fishing industry.
I knew my comprehension on each of these subjects would naturally heighten. What I didn’t account for was just how much it would draw into question just how little comprehension I really had of myself.
Blue Eyes shouts me back into consciousness.
He assumes I’m reading my book; eyes never straying from the task at hand.
“Tuna are in strong”, he brings me up to speed and my eyes lock onto a dark patch in the water that is moving towards us in a hurry.
They flutter into the cove with forked tails bounding aerially – narrowly escaping collision with one another – black snake tongues tasting the air.
He throws a lure into the stain of fish and a bullet-like body pierces the sea, taking the lure firmly in its mouth upon its descent.
Blue Eyes laughs in villainous satisfaction and braces most of his 200 pounds atop his heels as the fish nearly spools him. Much to my annoyance, my voice can’t help but raise itself several octaves amidst the excitement – its shrill and adrenalized tone adding to the kerfuffle.
I scurry to the gaff, the same high pitch noise now spewing recipes and presumptuous main course ideas to the wise, deaf ears of my partner who is cursing the fish as it runs him rightward and around an unforgiving headland.
For a moment the line stops moving. We both hold still and wait for an outcome.
The rod keeps its bend, the line stuck between two snags out of our sight. The tip heaves sharply, the line assumedly fraying with each tug.
My voice drops back to normal and I console the disappointment leaking through his deep breaths. That famed moment of anticipation and the teeter-totter of the outcome.
Would this be the start to one of our many stories? Or the end to one that we were anxiously hoping for? The line dogs itself through the obstruction, suddenly popping free!
The fight continues.
The Powerbraid leashes the tuna and Blue Eyes does his best to steer it towards the base of the cliff. We scramble down the embankment, both of us shouting safety precautions to the other.
Rockfishing in Australia is one of the most dangerous sports in the country and regardless of how many fish tacos we had hoped to feast on, it held nowhere near the satisfaction of being able to live to fish another day.
The surrendered tuna turns its head towards us. Smears of green, blue and purple iridescence entrance my gaze. And then as if to say “you’re welcome” he turns his head sharply and spits the hook, escaping into the churning chasm.
No one needs to say a word. The sound of the sea beats its chest in boasted triumph – claiming ownership once more of a fish that was not deservedly ours.
I retreat back to the only semi-flat rock I can spot and allow my thoughts to run freely.
The first of the books that I had purchased for my scheduled “break” was the newly released paperback by Joan Wulff. Truth be told, I had never read a casting book prior to last year and I delighted to find that most of my teachings were on point – the analogies and exercises similar, my raw learning valuable and rewarded.
But as I read through, the soothing voice of Joan simplified my more advanced questions. I brought her with me to the park daily, spreading the pages in the dry grass to my left, my running line adjacent to her words. Second by second, inch by inch, revelation by revelation, my stroke improved.
I spoke to her through both the tight loops and the tails, the exhaustion and the exuberance, the good sessions and the bad. Asking questions aloud throughout the entire process, dog walkers displayed confusion that a thirty-one year old woman might still have a make-believe friend. If only I could be so lucky.
The second of my books was “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. Again, having never read a book on proper composition, confirmation of my writing strengths made me beam. Contrarily, the unearthing of my writing errors caused me to wince.
“Ah ha” and “how come I didn’t know that?” mused from the couch. My brow furrowed, my fingernails between my teeth…
The days were always full of “to do’s”. As busy as they were before (pre-Catherine), only now more concentrated without the demand of travel and predetermined schedules.
My calendar ordered sequentially: emails/office work, read about writing, cast, read about casting, MCI questions, plan this TV series, research Atlantic salmon history for my book, stay in touch with loved ones, contemplate, contemplate, contemplate.
Tearing down and rebuilding such vital elements of myself was necessary to build the growth I needed to improve, to be better.
But it bore vulnerable wounds; wounds that needed isolation from viral spread.
My confidence plummeted, my intentions catching it swiftly before letting it hit the ground.
The timing couldn’t have been worse.
Resurfacing spews of my rateability (and the likelihood of it being unwarrantedly high), assumptions by way of misidentification (a common tie to much of the banter online), acquaintances justifying catty comments with a casual “Awww c’mon, the hate’s not new… why do you still let it get to ya girl?”
They were missing the point and I was overly sensitive, never quite able to wrap my head around cruelty or negative energy better spent on love.
My scalp hurt a little from the children pulling my hair on the playground. Assumption that support and fawning was my norm, they mistook venomous slurs for rarity – determined to stand out amidst the masses.
The irony spun me back to my days as a single woman where eligible bachelors assumed my dating life to be rich with prospect. Priding in their unique refusal to ‘join the hordes’, I sat alone, un-courted and dateless, wondering what other girls my age were up to those evenings.
Only days before, I had numbingly poked food around the edges of my plate.
Blue Eyes looked at me with compassion. He smiled warmly at my exhaustion, knowing better than to scold me for being too hard on myself or for misunderstanding the world.
He loved me for it.
Fully aware of the healthy tensions caused by the book, show and learning curve, he squeezed my hand in his, leaning his head towards mine.
Eleven years my senior, his advice was always welcome. I dropped my chin to the side to allow for his closeness. He whispered through a grin, the upturned corners of his mouth sounding unmistakably through his words. They rustled my hair as they passed into me, my typical cheeky smile now back on my face.
He knew what I needed: “Let’s go fishing,” was all he had to say.
Uneven edges of volcanic rock push their jagged prongs through my thin khakis.
The air smells of salt…
* For more blog posts similar to this one, please visit April’s new website.
Please welcome Adrienne Comeau and Catherine Laflamme to Fly Gal’s guiding team! We are now offering Winter Steelhead specials at only $399 per two anglers ($299 for one) with an option to stay at our lodge on the Fraser River! This is the perfect opportunity to advance your Spey casting and learn how to target Winter Steelhead, all while having a great time!
Run time: February to early May
Location: Chilliwack/Vedder River
Trips include: 8 hours of guided fishing, lunch, flies and tackle.
Visit the Guided Trips tab for more information.
Book at firstname.lastname@example.org
There comes a time when personal outlooks and business announcements need to have some distance between them… we’ve done just that with our other site that shows April’s personal posts and travel schedule.
Feel free to have a sneak peek and please take note that we will be in Arkansas this weekend, Montana the next, and back in Chilliwack the third week of November where we invite you to our place at the Fraser River’s Edge for our annual tying night!
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Thank you for your business!