Friday, August 20, 2010

The Hubris of Drag

I never learn. Or at least my reflexes don't, and since they must reflect some unconscious element of my character, apparently in dire need of improvement, I must take serious note of them. I have lost a few fish in my life, most of the modest sort, and for excuses too easily given and then forgiven. The lost fish that hurt the most are those that, in the quiet moments of reflection, usually done in questionable company and with too much to drink, make you realize you missed something truly, irretrievably special. A large fish. An old fish. A beautiful fish. A fish who cost you a toll of exhaustion, money, and ego, all repaid with a pigtail of broken promises. A fish that would have provided bragging rights to extinguish the glee of others in their own mid-tale of piscatorial accomplishments.
My most recent lesson, and one which I do think has finally penetrated like a ball peen hammer to my frontal cerebral cortex, was on the Pacific Ocean (it should be a proper noun if you have ventured out on it), thirty miles offshore of Astoria, Oregon, a place we arrived at only after crossing the Columbia River bar and making tedious passage for three hours until the water turned from muddy green to luminous navy and cobalt. A small group of flyfishers, half of whom had not partaken of this relatively new and accessible form of saltwater recreation, Pacific Longfin Albacore, formed this merry band of brothers.
I had devoted a few hours tying and preparing large deceivers out of synthetic hair, ultra-hair, bucktail, grizzlyed saddle hackle, flashabou, and krystal flash with epoxied eyes and a deadly stinger hook tied tandem off the Gammie main 7/0. The flies looked good. I added blood red gill with marker. I even thought to bring swivels, realizing at the last moment that flies on the troll tended to twist. To the best of my ability, everything was in order.
These fish are ridiculous. I have heard people say that tuna are a slugfest, a down and dirty game involving grunting and ridiculous rod angles. While this is all true, they are amazing. Gaffed, they present like taunt lycra bags stretched over superheated muscle. If they are allowed their head down, their tails, which look frayed and worn, cut the water like an amphetamine drumbeat. I have caught smaller versions, the aptly named False Albacore, on the fly which I had thought "red hot," a description which now seems...false. Longfin Albacore have outsized pectoral wings designed to cut the water and provide lift and draft(?), their finlets blaze yellow (God knows what they are for) and they have a body that should, by rights sink to the deep, except for a tail stock that tapers to a knuckle and fin.
I have never lost a flyline to a fish, at least not an entire flyline. My first fish brought that hubris, that, what are thinking fish to try to take me this far into my backing. I tightened and the backing bit into itself, parting like two mismatched lovers after the hangover wears off. Hubris makes us think that we can contain the explosive fueled run of a fish who knows nothing of the "game" and all about the tension on its jaw that seems to come from nowhere and tries to control its freedom. It must not be panic, at first, but instinct, which finds a gearbox and moves the levers and makes the thrust possible.
My failing is to think that any first run can be contained by hand and reel and drag. It must be endured and appreciated, like the decanting of an Oregon Pinot Noir. I love the moment that the knob strikes my index finger with such force as to cause nerve damage. We should all fight so, when the moment is at hand. It is hubris to think that we can control the fate of a fish, much less of ourselves.