Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Salmonberry River- Eden in the Moss.

AARP- Not just a gastronomical sound! Well, it really is. But enough of the aging process.

I did actually hear this sound last weekend from my gut, after hiking back on mile 11 (notably between milepost 814 and 815 on the Tillamook R.R.) on the Salmonberry River, a coastal, rain fed, Oregon river, a tributary of the mighty Nehalem river, hosting one of the few untouched native runs of steelhead that top 20 pounds. This was an adventure I had savored in my imagination for more years than I care to admit.

I set out from home and arrived at the confluence by 8:00a and suited up. The river was renowned but had lately taken it on the chin by a tempest in December 2007. The flood cit out the bank beneath many turns of the railroad bed, leaving it literally hanging free in many places, testament to man's inability to envision the rigors of nature. The repair would be astronomical, into the tens of millions, far in excess of the value of using the route by the Tillamook lumber companies that used it. They now ship their wares by boat. What is left is decrepitating and will make the route impassable, even easily by foot, in a few years. So, my timing is good to enjoy a route that is relatively accessible, for the moment.

I elected to hike two hours before fishing because the sedimentation of the lower stretch of the mainstem renders the stretch broad and featureless. Hiking farther up the mainstem the river turns into classic steelhead water, deep pools, rapids, edges, cobble, the very thing that attracts fish and with them fishermen.

When I finally started to fish, I nymphed with a "lifter", a beadhead egg pattern. Finally, walking along the railroad bed, I saw holding water above a rapid with one large fish across the river, holding, dropping, then returning to position. The drop to the river is steep and the path must be selected carefully. I dropped down well below the fish's line of sight. Wading out I knew that I had few plausible shots before the fish would spook. Carefully, I made four casts and worked the drift out the the strike zone. Almost surreally the indicator stopped and I reacted. The fish boiled, its mass tight to the line. It was a good fish- I saw it and felt it. It shook its head, moved head down, thrashing hard, its tail momentarily breaking the surface as it worked against the pressure. Bright and heavy, it started to move upstream and at that moment it came unbuttoned. My sense of time when attached to a good fish is always sealed in the moment. I can't say that I was disappointed because it was unexpected, even though I had believed I would catch it. That is the paradox of fishing. Released, it moved upstream to safety, while I reeled in and watched my hands begin to shake.

My effort felt rewarded even though I will spend the rest of the day wondering why I hadn't sharpened the hook or been better able to anticipate the take. Six hours of walking for four seconds of thrill. How bizarre the calculus leading to satisfaction.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Turning 5-0 and condensing experience into meaningful sound bites

So, at the almost ripe middle age of fifty, I feel that time urges me to share some observations about my most favorite avocation.

This journey began when I was ten years old and was taken "deep sea fishing" on the Lynnway Marine in Lynn, Massachusetts. This was a small party or head boat that brought us barely outside the harbor's entrance, where we dropped our lines using Penn Senator reels and Christmas Tree rigs, which are small pieces of fluorescent tubes tied in sequence, pre-dating Sabiki rigs by over thirty years. Mackerel were the target and they obliged.. and obliged... to the tune of forty fish, brought home in a plastic bucket and cleaned in the backyard on a cement bench. I am certain many were not eaten as no one I know has ever asked me over for a mackerel feed, and for good reason.

Yet even with the slight heft of a mackerel, the moment of hook-up remained etched in my memory, a living connection between myself and the natural world that was tangible, mysterious and fun, all of which are components of any joyful experience.

And so began an odyssey of sorts, evolving over may years, and including summer days left by my mother at Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield, Massachusetts, learning how to catch panfish with worm and bobber, how to pull nightcrawlers from the suburban lawns of my neighborhood, watching mesmerized as an old-timer waded out and caught huge largemouth bass casting rebels along the edge of a patch of lilypads with spinning gear. He illustrated in stark relief the difference between pretending and knowing, faith and certainty.

I fished for stripers from shore during their crash, a cycle of desoluteness, in the mid-1970's and 80's. I recall snorkeling at the age of 13 off of Rockport's Cape Hedge beach and encountering a small school bass that took me a moment to identify... because I had never seen them before. They appeared and disappeared, striped apparitions hovering above the sandy bottom, perhaps 18 inches long. If they lived today they would be over thirty odd years old and far larger than the all time tackle specimen Al McReynolds caught. I spent many hours thereafter trying to figure out how to connect with these fish. I even fished hard in 1974 and 1975 off of Truro for a week with a friend who had a 14 foot dory and a 20hp outboard. We trolled christmas tree rigs with large jointed pikies, tony acetta spoons trimmed with pork rind, hoochie trolls, and large rebels. We cast reverse atoms that took on water and cut long sliding curves on the retrieve. Never did we see or catch a bass, always bluefish and the very largest kind, some topping fifteen pounds. As I look back it is astounding that we found no bass off of Horseshoe Shoal in Cape Cod Bay, only bluefish. I am, however, forever indebted to blues for having tenacity and incredible power, even on conventional gear with wire.

I am embarrassed to admit that I did not finally connect with bass until I was almost thirty, in part because I left fishing behind as I pursued school, livelihood and love. My first bass came while casting a surface popper off of Old Silver Beach in a summer evening, off a jetty. I cannot even recall the stage of the tide, except that there was decent depth. The fish hit almost immediately, as if I cast on top of it and it defended its space by a slashing strike. I looked at it with a mixture of relief and alarm. I saw a fish that had long eluded me and at the same time, since my in-laws lived up the street, I saw I would be plagued by impulses to find more. And that is what happened.

After pursuing trout out west, I came to that moment where I knew salt flowed through my veins and could not be dismissed. More later.