I’m almost alone, and I’m casting in an almost fishless river. That’s okay because… I really can’t waste my time while fishing.
All morning I’m fighting the idea that I’ve lost my interest in pursuing steelhead. What keeps me going, though, is the fact that steelhead have no interest in what I think or do, and thus lay out another path to mystery. I keep on casting, keep on walking toward a gorge two miles away.
It’s a cold morning with ice forming in my tiptop guide, but the temperature climbs slowly toward the 40s. It is early in the season. Steelhead shun the spawning move until the water reaches 42 degrees or more.
Two meat fishers pass me. One of them drags a standard two-foot male. “All spawned out,” he says. “There’s a few in here. They might be hold-overs.” He’s drags his steelhead over the rocks. By the time he gets back to his truck, the fish will be totally scaled.
My streamers look for a fish like that, combing the depths of the clay-colored stream. I would work the trout in and then release it, but the rainbow isn’t there. I’ve caught many nice steelhead in my life, but the last few years have been slow.
Perhaps they get less real; perhaps they’re turning mythical. I’d be saddened, of course, and wondering why.
Now and then the mind plays tricks on us. As one who majored in psychology in the 1970s, I recognize that what I’m saying could be misunderstood…
I enter the gorge with its gravel beds, a hotspot for migrating ‘bows. Access to these upstate waters is diminishing. A minority of anglers ruin it for the rest. The careless have driven onto private lands; they’ve trashed the banks and waters, so the posted signs have risen.
In the gorge, I cast straight toward the cliff, let the streamer sink and drift downstream. It swings across, and the rod is held above the point of dreams. I’m struggling with a voice that says I’m losing interest as when I lost my hunting interest as a young adult.
A favorite textbook of my college days was Carl Jung’s Man and his Symbols. The book wasn’t offered by the university. I bought it in a second-hand shop.
Certain notions have stayed with me forever. Although I don’t intend it, I know that entering and exiting a narrow gorge with a wavering rod might be considered…symbolic. If this was a dream from a century ago, Sigmund Freud might have had a field day with it. I’m not worried, though, and want to make it clear: this scenic winter gorge is not some wondrous tunnel of love.
It’s just coincidence that steelhead from Lake Erie come to its gravel bed to ensure a future generation. Or is it more? If I was a fish, I wouldn’t mind being here. It’s like an equivalent Saturday night rendezvous for moderns.
But really, the gorge in March is a cold, hard, rocky place. The midday sun barely has a chance to kiss those chandeliers of ice.
And that’s why I like the place. It’s why I turn around on my numbing toes– before I even see the waterfall that stops the run of steelhead at its base.
(In fact, the next evening will be so warm that I’ll hear the “peenting” of woodcock near my house at dusk. I’ll watch the spectacular aerial display of this newly arrived migrant. My pleasure at finding the bird again will be tempered by the fact that empty beer cans are also found nearby. Bud Lites have been tossed out recently by the winter spirits, and I’ll have to pick them up, but I digress…).
Indeed. The run of steelhead will begin at any hour.