Sunday, November 16, 2008

Solitude with Leaves

On Saturday, in a drizzle, I went alone to the old favorite on the Rocky River. It was the first outing since spending 10 days in London, and it followed a very busy week at work -- trying to make up for missed time. Vacations are that way -- they offer invaluable mental breaks, but require more work upon return, making one wonder whether the time away was worth it.

So the combination of a grueling week and a little bit of lingering jet lag made a few hours on the river seem very appealing. Of course, things don't always work out as planned when it comes to fishing.

The flow was perfect, about 200 cfs and the water temperature was just right, too, about 48 degrees. The water was stained by decaying leaves and the leaves were everywhere. Oaks seemed to be the leaf of the day. The edge of the pool was lined with leaves and many more tumbled downstream in the current. Although the conditions seemed perfect, the leaves made getting a good drift challenging and the fish were nowhere to be found. The rain picked up, but the flow did not so I kept at it thinking that eventually I had to find the fish.

I walked downstream, where the river narrows as it rushes against the far, 100-foot-high shale wall. The new chutes carved out by the summer floods looked promising, but offered up no fish. I walked downstream a little farther, where the river turns right away from the wall just a little bit and tumbles over a gravel run and into a deep slot. The slot varies from year to year based on the floods, and so far this fall it's looking very promising. Much of the river's flow is directed into the slot, rather than spread across the whole river bed. So the slot is deep and has a strong flow with a clear seam separating the faster water from the slower water.

A simple roll cast into the gravel run allows the fly to sink before it drifts into the run. On the third cast the float paused and the tell-tale head shake quickly followed the hook set. The steelhead rolled out of the water -- it was a smallish, 2o-inch or so steelhead. She ran upstream fast. I tried to adjust the drag to give me a little more control of the fish, but I spun the drag too tight and as the steelhead charged away from me and snapped the line. Chalk it up to being out of practice, overanxious or whatever you want. Of course this was the only steelhead to be offered up by the river gods on this day. Sometimes there is only one shot at landing a steelhead. And if you're not able to take advantage, all one can do is replay what went wrong while watching the float drift downstream unmolested.

The rain kept falling. The gray sky made it clear the weather wasn't going to change and by the end of the day the river would be blown out. But for now, it was just me and the leaves. It wasn't exactly what I had planned for, but it's just what I needed. Lots of quiet and a reminder that things don't always work out.

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