Into the Gorge and Back

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 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAor 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.

I feel connected to the fish of the rivers, the way I feel connected to the birds and to the dream of flying. Yeah my hours grow late, but I hope the fish and birds remain good company.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 hook-up would turn the tide, perhaps. It just might cement the feeling of connection to the hard light of this day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

I leave the gorge, this wild location, and hike away home. I might return when the season is ripe; and with warm weather fast approaching, that could be soon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(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.

There’ll be no wasting of time while I fish.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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20 Responses to Into the Gorge and Back

  1. Brent says:

    It would be a shame to lose one’s passion, although many things can be rekindled with the return of warmth. I suppose the Bud Light cans aren’t helping the situation…

    • It would be a shame, but even in the unlikely case that this one aspect of a passion were diminished, there are numerous other aspects of the same to keep one going. And that’s what I like about fly-fishing and a lot of other elements in the world of nature. They keep growing. Thanks Brent.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    Here’s hoping a rise in temperatures restores a wavering rod…damn that cold, and damn the passage of time. As ever, reading this is time well spent, as was your fishing trip into the gorge, never mind the absence of fish (easy for a non-fisher to say!) I’m not a psychologist, and this won’t be much of an original thought, but I’ll wager that sometimes fishing is what we say we’re doing, when there’s a lot of other stuff happening.
    Anyway, here’s to you finding your good company out there for many, many more hours to come – thanks for this post, Walt.

    • You’ve got it, Plaid. Often, “fishing is what we say we’re doing, when there’s a lot of other stuff happening.” Walton and Thoreau knew it; we who love the big outdoors know it, and I guess change is the bedrock of it all. The good company will come, even with our concerns about climate change and habitat destruction. Thank you for your psychological reinforcement!

  3. Doug says:

    I would think the loss of passion, or interest would be totally temporary.

  4. Walt, I’ve had the same feelings myself, usually late-summer when the tourists are back home and the other people who would abuse my home have left for a time. I have always been renewed. Hoping you do as well.

  5. loydtruss says:

    Take heart spring and warmer weather is on the way—love that image of the bamboo and streamer—thanks for sharing

    • Am taking heart with the sudden warmth, Bill, even if it is a little disconcerting. Hope you’re not getting too wet with the current southern rains. As always, good to hear from you!

  6. Bob Stanton says:

    I’m hoping that passion, like energy, can neither be created or destroyed, but transferred elsewhere. I know what you mean, Walt. My enthusiasm for various pursuits or even aspects of said pursuit waxes and wanes. For example, I don’t fish streamers as much as I used to, but I’m more interested in becoming a better nymph fisherman. We’ll see what this spring holds I guess. Funny thing about those beer cans – the frost must heave them up every spring, because there’s sure enough ’em.

    • I like that, passion, as with energy, waxes and wanes and shifts from one area to another, assuming that we’re alive enough to have passion to begin with. It does seem true. Going from streamers to nymphs or vice-versa.
      Beer cans or old bottles and other crap seem to come out of the ground each spring like the frost, but in this case, I had to push along some drunks in a vehicle about a week earlier and then, a bit later, found their empties from all the so-called beer that they were drinking. Geezus. Some work never gets done.

  7. Bob Stanton says:

    Oh, congrats too, on breaking the 200 followers milestone. I think there were 18 or so when I “discovered” RR.

    • Bob, Yes again. Thanks for noticing this small but certain milestone! You’ve been a faithful supporter long enough to know that a blog like this has a pretty tough row to hoe. Non-commercial, off-beat but sincere, and very thankful for its readers and followers. Pretty good, too, since I don’t look to social media like FB for support. A forward cast!

  8. benmck90 says:

    Really like the streamer, good colour and peacock hurl is always a favourite material.

    • Thank you, Ben. Yeah the traditional Lt. Edson pattern isn’t generally considered for steelhead fishing, but I wanted to give it a shot in the cold clay-colored stream, hoping the colors caught what the little light there was, and giving it some fish appeal. Historically it’s a good brook trout pattern.

  9. Les Kish says:

    Can’t add much Walt other than it is a rather perplexing internal debate when one tries to decide whether they still enjoy a particular endeavor. Steelheading can most definitely stir that feeling, especially when its been a long time between pulls, and you’re frozen.

    Thanks for the post from “Refrigerator Canyon”.

    • Thanks for the new name, Les. I’m gonna start calling it Refrigerator Canyon, in your honor. In my head, it neatly balances out another named spot I have, a big, commonly fished pool I call the “Oven.” Because when it’s hot it’s hot, and when it’s not, it’s… winter. And I agree with your take on the steelheading doldrums.

  10. Kenov says:

    Very nice.

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