Friday, April 1, 2011
Roll casting in the livingroom
Learning the loops/Ralph Bartholdt
NORTH IDAHO-I think I will learn something today.
The learning like a long cast should stretch into the middle of the month when I am certain the high desert water that I plan to fish will no longer be ice-fringed, and the trout that live there will cruise the murky shore gobbling midge worms that kick and scream in their ascent from the bottom.
It has rained enough in the past couple weeks in North Idaho that someone I know asked if we will float away.
She is new to the area and floods are not uncommon where she is from.
No, I said. Not us. But in the valleys along the Panhandle’s two big trout rivers rough edged with mountains still snow laden, those folks are battening hatches and pulling out canoes.
We should visit there, she said. Water’s too high to fish, I replied. So, it’s not worth going.
Instead, I walked into the small store where the bearded man like Phaedrus unboxes used books from caches across the country, names, labels and prices them before slipping them onto shelves like algorithms: A little pencil flex here, a scratch and calculation there and then the terminable lodging place and the next equation.
I bought seven of these books from the section by the window where, through rain splatters, I could watch my son sleeping in the back seat of our car parked outside.
These books have names and their authors too:
Joe Brooks, Nick Lyons, John McPhee, The Compleat Brown Trout, Float Tube Fishing, The Quill Gordon In Popular Colours, How to Fish a Streamer in a Gully Washer and something about bark canoes.
I carried them under my arm to the counter and Phaedrus wearing a white T-shirt, sweatpants and soft slippers rang them up and gave me a 35 percent discount after punching the numbers on the small machine with the spool of paper as wide as monopoly money.
I gave him cash. He thanked me. The rain danced on the book covers as I struggled to dump them into the back seat beside the sleeping boy and away we went, my dozing son and I into the day for some light reading.
So far, I have learned a thing or two about brown trout. A chapter called Management and one called Ecology most interest me, but they require careful wading and I’m just shin deep.
I bounced to another book and a story by one E.G. Zern, called A Day’s Fishing 1948, that captivated me like those long features on far off places written by foreign correspondents with a foot in the grave, a hand on the bottle and a check in the mail. I wondered when I was through, if the writer was the the same guy who had the column on the last page of Field and Stream for 30 years. The one that hooked me on outdoors and writing both when I was a kid.
Another book meticulously describes the hand twist retrieve, which I have always just called scrunching line. It’s supposed to crawl a bug on the bottom of a silty lake to entice the big trout that scrape muck with their bellies, but I have not used it to much positive effect.
This book is a thin treatise on fishing lakes that pop like blood blisters out of the caked dirt of Washington’s scrub country or the schist and sage flats of Eastern Oregon. Like many books heavy with instruction, it is also a tonic for insomnia.
So far this morning, there has been a lesson on tippets,something called a Galway cast, and automatic reels, “The automatic reel is widely used and a longtime favorite with many trouters.”
I prefer to smack banks with line I buy in the bobber section of the Gas n’ Grub. It’s cheap, doesn’t require you read a manual, and it usually doesn’t break even when a gobbler trout, who lazily ate the conehead streamer, gasses the scenic route through bank debris.
Automatic reels of course were made for steel ferrules and fiberglass. Both dropped from the landscape along with the salesman in the Corsair who sold them.
The Galway cast is just another deterrent to a kid with a fly rod who can learn more by watching the scene in “The Movie” with the metronome.
I learned a lot this morning.
And I think I will learn some more.
I will not wear hats as the men in the photographs in these books wear. I will not, it is clear, wear Irish tweed flat caps on the river unless one day I’m feeling animated and blessed with the juice of barley. I probably won’t don a felt Tyrolian walking cap accessorized with tail feathers of a capercaille. You won't any time soon catch me in an Argentine beret. Maybe a baseball cap.
Someone recently said hats are back, but they are not.
It’s supposed to rain some more and when it is done I will drive east slowly toward the Rockies and water I know fishes well.
I will sleep on the floor of a friend’s livingroom and drink McDonald’s coffee and stand on the bank as the wind makes ghost noises smacking the water until I catch the attention of a trout. They are big there and don’t care too much if your line is $75 clear, slow-sinking or frayed floating from three years ago.
Until then, I’ll keep learning though, and fish from my place in front of the coffee table where my bare feet rest remembering the feel, at each false cast, of damp, stocking foot waders.
To Jeff Green, a fisher who learned on the St. Joe, angled all over, drifted rivers and never gave up learning, trying and casting. Until his last.
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