“It’s not a day for bamboo,” said Tim, as we loaded up our gear and shoved the graphite fly rods into the vehicle’s trunk. We were continuing our crazed tradition of fly-fishing on New Year’s Day, despite a forecast of temperature highs in only the 20s and with wind gusts up to 30 mph. We’d leave our usual weapons at home.
I didn’t relish the thought of ice clogging the guides on a split-cane rod, or a large streamer slamming into the grains of bamboo. On the other hand, if I broke an 8-weight graphite stick today, so be it. Plastic. I could say it was fate, in the hands of the wind-tossed waves of chilly Seneca Lake.
“The wind could be in our favor,” said Tim. The waves would churn up the bait-fish and maybe bring the lake trout or even a landlocked salmon close to shore. I’d never fished Seneca Lake before, or even seen this great Finger Lake fishery except from a distance. I was game for a new experience, and if anyone could put a fly in the mouth of a heavy laker on a day like this, my partner was the guy to do it.
En route, we pulled off the interstate and entered a small village where a cop sat in a vehicle near the downtown square. “Damn, I hope he’s not coming after me. I was doing 40 in a 30-zone,” said Tim. But flashing lights filled our rear-view mirrors.
“Do you know why I stopped you,” asked the trooper, a young female with attractive eyes. “Yes ma’am, I was doin’ 40. We were talking about fishing, which is what we’re planning to do, and I got carried away.”
“Are you a Marine veteran?” She had noticed the sticker on the back of Tim’s car. “Yes ma’am. Retired Marine Corps officer.”
Hot damn! No ticket. Might be a good year, after all. The first Zen practitioners found refuge in the forests and mountains of 6th-century A.D. China. Maybe we would find something similar today– on the chilled shores of a New York Finger Lake.
We passed winery after winery, vineyard after vineyard above the western shore. We even saw a flock of bluebirds winging over the fields where Canada geese still fattened on stubbled corn.
Seneca is the second largest, and the deepest, of the Finger Lakes. It’s roughly 38 miles long and nearly two miles wide. Private properties have tightly closed off a great proportion of the steep-sided lake but we eventually found a couple of sites in which to battle the elements and to cast our lines.
Severne Point is a state boat-launch site available for fishing. Situated at about the mid-point of the lake’s great length, we looked at some of its deepest water, and could only imagine what fish lurked between us and its depth of 618 feet.
Knee-deep in the wash, I was like a fish out of water but as close to understanding as I’d ever be. There was nothing out beyond us; everything was here: a duck hunter unloading his boat from a truck, a dead cormorant on the rocks, a fly rod pointing to the waves, a slug of holiday bourbon swallowed from a flask…
No fish, of course, though we gave it our best till nearly dusk.
Five hours of mindless casting, delving our attention into the pure, cold lake.
Insight found by interaction with the air.
Like hearing a song from a favorite Jethro Tull: “It was a new day yesterday/ But it’s an old day now.”