The trout fishing I love won’t open for a few months yet, I don’t go to tailwaters or large rivers that keep moving through the year, with unrelenting currents of people and bugs. No, my trout are small. And still under snow; just like the cabin. So come spring, I start itching for warmwater – for carp and bass and the odd crappie or two.
On a day when Jay and I both had nasty headcolds but the sun was shining and snow was melting in clods off the roof, puddling loudly in the stainless steel dog food dish out the back door, we couldn’t stay in. Call it cabin fever or shack nasties, or poor judgment from sinus pressure.
We head to lower ground. To spring, and warm(er) temps.
And halfway down the canyon the speech begins, like clockwork – the alarm set only on fishing days -- when we cross under the railroad bridge and there is still snow. Jay pounds the steering wheel, “We’re jumping the gun a bit….what the hell was I thinking?” he chides. We’re going to have to work hard for these fish. That’s always in The Speech somewhere, working hard – and that the conditions won’t be optimal. They never are. Like they never are for hanging out a load to dry in the mountains. It always rains. I’ve come to expect it.
And I know it’s never easy, it can’t be, but I wonder if we don’t like making it more so --- like young women and boyfriends….they like the drama. And just like fishermen, they hash and re-hash it – waffle maker for Valentines Day 1998, or the Blue Winged Olives on the Arkansas, Mothers Day, 2004. They boil down to the same thing at a simmer.
I smile at the familiarity of it all, looking out my window at the elk, muzzling away snow from the new green shoots of fieldgrass, leaving the flats pocked like the moon. The Speech means the season has started, and it’s been a long winter. Not in measurable snow so much as measurable time, and words piled up like cordwood: reversal of the decreasing pile out by the shed, with files and folders growing and being named. Mine, with increasingly incoherent silliness. Imagine the delusions of nearing the end of a long race.
It has been a long winter in a chore done. And chores feel especially satisfying when you’ve had to get a little dirty in the process.
“The water’ll be cold,” Jay breaks in, predicting, “but we’ll have a decent chance for crappie and yellow perch….they’re active early.”
The warnings continue down highway 93 -- the game plan – for you see, we’re always on a mission. And there are always old army hand signals involved, too. I’m getting better at understanding them – and if not what they mean, then what I should do as a result.
“There might be some bass in close, too…they move in before staging to spawn.”
I nod. Prepared.
Perhaps I should be taking notes.
A calm surface often belies interior movement – but just like a human, it’s findable when you know where to look, when you know the ticks and troughs. That’s one of the addictions to stillwater, you just never know; and that’s the fly fisher’s eternal cry, isn’t it, one last cast, because you have to see how it all turns out – a hard thing, usually, to know the last page without The Brothers Grimm’s convenient The Ends. We depend upon stories, long after they don’t get read to us at bedtime anymore.
But that’s why we keep going. To get to the page where it’s a surprise.
She looks much the same after seven months, the gestation of a black bear. Although it feels like I’m visiting a sick friend, and am unsure whether she’ll remember me or not. Whether she’ll babble on about Phillip (who I apparently know) or peas in tea. Or how cilantro tastes like soap and that there’s an alien in the knotty pine.
Jay sticks a fist in the water as soon as we reach the bank, cool, but not too cold. Code for possibilities. And so we split up, scouting the perimeter, making long casts out deep with heavy flies. Banjo runs back and forth between us, like a calf released from Malachi’s proverbial stall. Pure joy.
And sometimes, even when conditions aren’t optimal: even when you’ve jumped the gun a bit, or even when the wind is hauling ass like it’s nine and a t-ball coach is yelling “hustle,” (and you do, because you want to round the bases to get to that generic-Coke filled cooler). Things still work out okay. Better than, really, because you weren’t expecting it.
Just as I wasn’t expecting the largemouths that latched on and fought hard, even still pale from lack of sun. Just like me. But that will change; I’ll redden and peel and they’ll darken and stripe.
And so it turns out, the pond, she’s very healthy indeed. Sane -- and remembers us well.
On the walk out, a lone meadowlark sits on a barbed wire fence; separated from its flock of winter, calling for the season to begin.
And he’s beautiful, even if a little late.
For it already has.
I don’t think he was expecting that…