Sunday, October 01, 2006

Dodged by the Silver Bullet

early fall steelhead

This past week, Mother Nature has wept into our rivers and streams a significant amount precipitation, which precipitated me to take a couple days off in search of my first Steelhead of the season.

After 2 days of logging extensive numbers on the odometer and pedometer in exploration of 4 different rivers, my reconnaissance mission yielded many Kings (albeit very fresh-from-the-lake and aggressive), and a few ghostly shadows of Steelhead moving through; however, it did not accomplish what I had set out to do. The season has been a strange one so far. Kings were in the rivers in big numbers by Labour Day weekend, and Coho were right behind them. I had hoped that this peculiarity would continue by urging a big Steelhead push into our north shore Lake Ontario rivers before October. I guess I'll just have to wait a little longer.

Last week, Tom Chandler from Trout Underground had asked what drives the avid Steelheader to such lengths and bodily abuse by nature's unmerciful winter rath in search of this fish.

". . .while I steelhead from time to time . . . I'm still curious as to what drives the people that do it all the time (besides hard liquor, of course)".

Seeing that I am left with nothing to do but wait for the first significant arrival of early Steelhead, I'll take this opportunity to try to put the answer to this question into words.

It's a frigid mid-December morning, and the warmth of a down duvet and the comfort of bed is the only sane place to be. Yet here I stand, at the riverbank on top of frozen earth, and a light dusting of snow that crunches and squeaks with each step. The only sound around me is the gentle meandering of the emerald green water. There are no sounds of life anywhere except my steamy breaths, and the repositioning of my feet, as any sane creature is in their abode sheltered from all of which I have voluntarily exposed myself to - my hands white, and fingers stiff barely able to tie a knot; my lips chapped, and eyelashes frozen; the biting cold wind finding every weakness in my multi-layered outfit.

I stand before a deep dark pool - its glass surface disturbed only by my 4 gram balsa float following the seam's path near the far bank. I give my centrepin reel a spin, and it silently pulls my line from the end of the drift, and I lay it again gently at the top of the pool. The float is once again en route to following the same path, when suddenly, it is pulled below the surface by something from the river's mysterious depths and surface tension quickly fills the void where the float once was. I lift the rod with deliberation, and the once glass surface erupts in explosive headshakes. The creature quickly dives deep into the depths of emerald, turns and accelerates; this time clearing the water's surface that separates her world from mine. She makes her first appearance in the terrestrial world in astounding fashion, as she somersaults and blindingly reflects the sunlight unlike anything else around me. The colourless world of the leafless trees and snow covered earth is suddenly complemented with iridescentt hues of pink, purple, gun-metal, and dime bright silver. She does this again, and again, each one nonetheless extraordinary than the one preceding it. My fingers pressed against the spool of my centrepin innately adjust their pressure on it, with each twist, turn, run, and leap. Strangely, I am cold no more. The stars must have been aligned in a favourable way, as I'm lucky enough to stay connected to this one; many have left me sitting on the cold bank weeping.

She has had quite a journey to meet me here at this spot on this day. As a young fry, she frolicked and played in this very stream, feeding on invertebrates and dodging creatures wanting to predate her. As she grew older, she began feeding on larger forage sources and she became predator. She outgrew her natal home, smolted and made her way to the great expansive Lake Ontario where she traveled great distances and great depths in search of food and comfort. 3 years later, her focus changes and on a wet fall day, she makes her way back to the stream where she was born to repeat the circle of life.

And here we meet. This creature has been places I'll never be and has seen things I'll never see. To touch something so wild, so determined, so beautiful. . . is simply divine.


Blogger Mik said...

That certainly does answer the question. Great post.

I've never fished for stealhead but I think it would be my kind of thing. The nearest I get is fishing for grayling in the winter. In many ways the manner you describe stealheading seems quite close, at least until you hook the fish..! We have some really nice grayling here in Scotland, and catching a good one in the middle of winter is fantastic. Steelhead, however, seem like a different kettle of fish altogther.

5:18 AM  
Blogger BCM said...

Thanks mik! We're certainly blessed with a fantastic fishery here in the Great Lakes region, but unfortunately we are without Grayling. Although Lake Michigan once had a thriving population, they are now extirpated due to a changing lake environment.

I have never caught one but would love to. Their fan-like dorsal fins are spectacular.

3:54 PM  

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