In the pre-dawn chill, he put on his old black hoodie and went to work. Three hours of sleep had not been nearly enough to make him feel well, but he thought of his Big Year on the Streams– the year 2004, a full decade ago– and he wanted to celebrate the anniversary, as if this current year had made the Big Year all-important.
Rain had fallen overnight; the morning promised to be overcast and cool, perfect for the Trico spinners, the Blue-winged Olives, and even the beloved Slate Drakes. He felt an old excitement that 40-plus years of fishing had not erased.
It felt like the year 2004. The misting water of the stream pushed by at full-volume, slightly turbid and 59 degrees. Was he headed for a personal record on the waters this year? Would he tally a hundred-plus days of fishing, with close to a thousand trout and salmon captured and released?
No way. 2004 would surely remain untouched. Besides, he had long given up on writing detailed journal entries with statistics for each day he visited the stream.
“…But somehow I was seduced/ And my innocence reduced/ By a demon that became my own…” [from “Demons Dance Alone,” the Residents]
Rainy Day Tricos:
The expanse of foggy pools was dimpled by rising fish, wild trout that required an angler’s heron-like approach. He stepped forward, inch by careful inch, with long casts of a 6X tippet and a white-winged imitation.
He had been a coffee addict since his college days, and this morning’s caffeine worked his blood despite fatigue, helped him drive the fly line just above high grasses (for the most part), and helped him focus on the hatch– at first, a Sulphur here, a Cahill there, a few Slate Drakes…
And then it came in clouds of insect motion– vertical pulsations of Blue Quill spinners, and finally, the tiny Trico– the long-tailed pinpoints of a mayfly, thousands of them, aerial breeders, some of them with eggs, in a horizontal dance above his head.
All the brook trout were adult fish, wild and colorful, one of them measuring 10.5 inches against the smoothness of the small stream rod. A brown trout, massive, large enough to jolt him from the haze, swept out from beneath a fallen locust but stopped short of the drifting fly.
The next day he was far downstream, on the sprawling river where a decade ago, in the month of August, the fishing was unusually fine. That summer, like the present season, had been cool and rainy, excellent for trout. A change had to be expected, but why so dramatically different?
He’d brought along his ten year-old “Superfine,” the fly rod that was new in the summer of ‘o4. He brought along his vision of the Slate Drakes, the large gray mayfly that had hatched magnificently all through the afternoons and evenings of that magical time; he’d brought his memory of the large browns rising through the day as if the river had been some Rocky Mountain paradise…
But the river had changed its bed. The haunted pools and deep cold riffles had largely been replaced by scoured flats and shallows. There were few trout rising; there was nothing but disappointment for a catch.
“… I had hoped to fill my years/ With more than melancholy tears/ But the demon makes me dance alone….”
He could go home and nap for a spell. He might even dream of a beautiful river he had missed. He might listen to a prudent angler who speaks to him directly, a ghost who says: “It’s true, you can’t go home anymore. You can’t go home, but at least you’re free.”
The following video, with an addicting song about addiction in its more nefarious manifestations, is one I often visit for a touch of haunting beauty. The Residents (quoted above) are a group of masked, anonymous musicians who have been around since the early 70s and who must surely rank among the most bizarre and creative performers of this age.