[The second and final set of excerpts from “The River’s Edge,” a narrative chapter from my book called River’s Edge, WTB, 2008]
“My first four or five trips to the Oak were unsuccessful, but eventually the law of averages caught up to me. I think my initial failures had to do with inexperience in the face of incredible fishing pressure. I had come from a life of fly fishing on the small upland streams, and here, wedged into a river with untold hundreds playing fish of great proportion on either side of me, the game had changed. Autumnal spawners cruised by like submarines able to accelerate with the speed of lightning. I had inappropriate tackle and an abundance of bad technique. Fishing well was not an option until I took the crash course that involved reading everything I could find about the subject, asking questions on the stream and in the fly shops, and doing time at the river’s edge. Something had to give, as surely as those Pacific salmon were about to die and rot.
“Through dogged determination and a willingness to man the front lines and watery foxholes of this combat fishing, I began to learn how to catch the big ones with a fly. I learned how to drift a small Glowbug so a giant brown would hook it in the lip. I learned that an Egg-sucking Leech is not exactly a streamer, that it should be fished along the bottom so the marabou tail entices or challenges a 23-pound Chinook at a mid-stream redd. During the period of my greatest frustration I eventually learned that my worst possible enemy was impatience. When the element of patience was in short supply, I felt harried and an inch or two shy of total desperation. I neglected or obfuscated the beauty of October foliage and was blind to the fact that this was only fishing. Though I wasn’t in position then to see that Time was offering the use of its corrective hand, with time I did join the ranks of those who could shout ‘Fish On!’
“I once gave the Fish On! yell because of an unusual circumstance. I’d been standing in knee-deep water when a salmon shot by me only inches from my feet. I perceived it just long enough to know the fish was dressed in an array of artificial flies and was dragging off somebody’s fly line. I reached down to grab the speeding line then felt the tightening weight of salmon. ‘Fish On!’ I shouted to a group of anglers standing about a hundred feet downstream. My hand-controlled salmon leapt into the air right in front of them. For a moment I was like Lee Wulff at the apex of his stuntsmanship with wild Atlantics, but then the rocketing mass of flesh and muscle snapped the leader and escaped, leaving me to stand there like another ethically challenged dork declaring ‘Fish Off.’ Taking stock of my situation I could see that not only had some poor angler gotten spooled, but that his backing for the line was now wrapping all around my legs. Indeed, the lives of man and salmon were intertwined.”