Sunday, December 5, 2010

Parking Lot Whine

The gray clouds pressed down on the barren tree tops and snow flakes blew in the wind. Temperatures hovered at the freezing mark. The dreary weather was being reinforced by the parking lot whine.

"I've been fishing these rivers for thirty years and I've never seen the numbers so low," one angler assured another. "Didn't see a single fish; slow water or fast water," complained another. My wife has observed that stream fishermen complain a lot -- the water is too high or it's too low. Or the hatch is over or it hasn't started yet. We'll say anything really to explain our failure to outsmart the fish with a pea-sized brain. And the whine was flowing about as strong as Elk Creek itself on Saturday at mid-day.

We anglers whine because it is easier than remembering the wisdom of Judge John Voelker, who told us that trout "respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience." If there is no crying in baseball, there should be no whining in fishing for trout.

And I certainly had no right to whine. We were on our way to Buffalo to pick up the Global One, and my wife agreed to humor me with a brief detour to the river. She stood on the bank and shivered as I checked out a few holes near the parking lot. As I searched the water I thought that perhaps the whiners might be partially right. Although, I had hooked into more than a dozen fish the previous week, they had been found way upstream. Many fishermen don't appreciate how steelhead move in waves and one stretch could be barren, while the next run could be full of fish. I haven't fished Elk enough this year to know whether the numbers are down, but I suspect the parking lot anglers were short on endless patience. In search of quietude, I decided my best bet was to avoid fishing the long slow pools -- where winter steelhead (and the humans that chase them) often hang out. Instead, I chose to explore the loud, fast water that most fishermen walk on past.

The water rushed over boulders and broken shale just upstream of a slow stretch that apparently held more anglers than fish. Winter steelhead generally avoid whitewater and fast runs, but this run included a handful of pockets deep enough for fish to hide in. I figured that a few fish that were likely pushed out of the pool down below by the day's parade of anglers might be hiding among the boulders.

I added a second split shot to make sure the fly would get to the bottom of the deeper parts of the run, and I promptly hooked into a solid buck. The run would quickly yield two more fish before the buzzer sounded and it was time to head back to the car to resume the drive to Buffalo. As I hiked back to the parking lot, I thought of the whine I had heard an hour earlier. My only whine was that I wouldn't have more time to enjoy the wonders of Elk Creek on a gray December day.

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