Thursday, October 29, 2009

Persistence Yields Success

It was Thursday morning.   The previous three long days of hard fishing combined with a slight hangover due to copious quantities of whiskey and beer the night before left me in a mental and physical haze as I sat and pondered the situation. Due to the lack of rain in the Fraser River valley the past week of fishing had been slow.  The fish just weren’t up in the rivers in big numbers yet so you really had to work to get a hookup let alone a fair mouth hook.  With the water low and clear finding the fish wasn’t the problem; getting them to take a fly in the mouth was.  A 40” king salmon is about as easy to spot as a battleship on a farm pond, but for all of their size they were still unbelievably agile so presenting a fly to fish that has no interest in biting ANYTHING was lesson in futility.  Such was the case I was currently presented with.  The dozen or so fish in the runs in front of me were all closed mouthed and would avoid my presentation.

Looking to the left I see a nice pea-sized gravel bed that would make a nice spot for a little snooze to sleep off my hangover and recover some energy.  Looking to the right I see the river bend out of sight to waters unknown that if luck would have it contain biting fish. Resisting the urge to sleep I go right and down river.  I don’t need sleep right now anyway.  I can sleep when I get home, but I can’t catch monster king salmon at home!  I will have to wait (at the earliest) a whole year until the next BC trip.  Trudging downriver the pink salmon scatter as I enter and cross the river.  The pink salmon are so numerous right now (another sign the king run is late) that you can actually use a net to catch them, a feat which Phil actually achieved on Monday night.  A breeze blows the not-so-refreshing smell of rotting pink salmon carcasses in my face as I continue my trek all the while keeping an eye on the river for prospective holding water and of course battleships.  Eventually, I come to a perfect stretch of water containing a redd on the upper end and some holding water below that.  Sitting in that holding water is the battleship I have been looking for surrounded by a numerous smaller gunships, but I didn’t travel hundreds of miles and walk my tired ass down this river to just catch the smaller ones.  I want the big grumpy hook jawed mack-daddy!

Realizing that I will only get a couple shots (at best) at a fish this size, I carefully and quietly wade to within short casting distance.  Just in case my presence has been detected I patiently take my time and discreetly check my knots and adjust my setup for the water depth.  No alarms have gone off, so I strip off a bit of line, and cast.  Drift.  Cast, drift.  Cast, drift.  Cast, drift, my line stops so I pull back on the rod with the intent to break his neck.  As my rod bends, I feel the heavy repetitive pull that can only be a king shaking his head trying to free the hook.  FISH ON!!!  Now is a good time to mention that hooked kings usually fight in one of two methods: One, “I am getting the hell out of here!”, and Two,” I don’t care that I am hooked I am staying right HERE!”  The former are almost impossible to land, while the latter give you at least chance to land them.  Fortunately, my fish falls into the latter category and after bouncing around the hole a bit settles into a pulling match right around his hole.  We fight for about 5 minutes, me retrieving line whenever I can and him taking it whenever he wants to.  Slowly he tires and I am able to nose him between a couple of slick rocks for a few precarious moments while I grab his massive tail preventing him from bolting again.  I enjoy our connection for a few precious seconds before I grant his freedom along with my best wishes for the successful procreation of his progeny.  As he will die in a few short days or weeks regardless, the best I can hope for is his reproduction and that of his offspring.  I still have fishing to look forward in the next couple years, don’t I? (The picture above shows a battleship class Chinook.)

I take a couple minutes to catch my breath and enjoy the moment before I resume my dutiful fishing.  Had I not put forth the effort to walk down here, I would not have found this fish let alone hooked and landed him.  While I may not have been as weary had I taken a nap, I definitely would not have been as spiritually refreshed as I was now.  This fish was mine and mine alone for a few seconds and there was not another fisherman around to know the better. [Maybe now I can understand why my two year old son always wants to do things by himself.  There is a greater sense of accomplishment when you and you alone take on a challenge and conquer it. ]  The more I fish, the more I realize that the most important skill a fisherman can possess is persistence.  Persistence will cause a fisherman to make extra casts when the day is almost over, cause him to wade out in current that might be too swift when there is a nice run on the other side, or cause him walk a half mile down river instead of taking a nap.  Persistence is what makes a good fishing day a GREAT fishing day and more importantly what turns a tough day of fishing into a rewarding day.

Persistence does not necessarily guarantee success, but it is much harder to be successful without it.  I have had all too many long walks down stream that produced no fish.  But on almost every jaunt I learn something be it a new piece of water, which rocks not to step on, or some exceptionally awesome way to spook a fish.  If the jaunt fails my fallback excuse is at least I am getting some exercise.  I have also found that persistence has an equally important impact in other phases of life.  For example, I don't know how many thousands of balls I had to hit this season in BP and off of a batting tee to get the hitch out of my swing, but eventually the persistence paid off and I started raking the ball.  Anyhow, I digress.

Satisfied, I began the long haul back up river to see if I could spread my good karma with the rest of the guys.   Habitually, I kept an eye on the river as I progressed and what did I find not 100 yards above the previous hole but another good sized king.  It definitely was not another battleship class fish, but a fish worthy of trying to hook nonetheless.  I channeled my inner great blue heron and approached him as stealthily as I could muster given my big clumsy feet and slime covered rocks.  This time I was able to get even closer to the fish without spooking him than I was the last one.  Through the gin clear water I could see every flick of his fins as he comfortably held in the seam behind a beefy boulder.  As my egg pattern drifted by his nose a third time I saw his snout twitch just the tiniest bit and out of instinct I struck.  FISH ON!!!

I did eventually find my way back up river to meet back up with the boys. Things were looking a bit stagnant as they had been fishing the same spots as when I left them.  As the day wore on the focus of the day began to gradually shift (as it always inevitably did) from fishing to taking generous nips of whiskey.  At this point I was happy to have found my own fresh(er) fish so I was mostly content to challenge the whiskey level while the others kept fishing the honey hole.  I couldn't help myself though, my eyes kept going to the water watching for deep submarines and could help notice a few fish pushing up through the riffle and resting above.

So there I sat pondering my situation.   Should I continue to investigate my friendship with Jack Daniels (potentially crushing a few pieces of pepperoni along the way) or do I get off my ass, cross the river and tease a few of these resting fish?  I can drink later tonight, but I can't catch kings from my stool at the pub!  The first fish was an "I'm getting the hell out of here" fish and exploded upstream before breaking off.  Two minutes later a 2nd fish surged under my rod.  Somewhere between the 3rd and 4th fish I looked across the river and saw 4 blank stares from my fishing crew that said, "you persistent son of a bitch!" I took it as a compliment.