JULY 10 2009 – Great Grab

North Umpqua.  Three evenings and three mornings to poke around and fish a Muddler.

I’ve just finished tying up ten or so dozen of these silly flies.  Time to fish the dang things.  Whoa!  Forecast says partly cloudy for the next few days, so off I go.  Simplify, my friend Rob tells me.  Take a few flies and fish them well.

I am moving slowly on this trip.  I often must stop walking on the trail because my chest hurts and I can’t breathe.  But the feelings go away when I stand and cast. So on I fish.

Three evenings and two mornings without a grab, a boil, or a tug.

It’s my final morning and I am really tired.  I fish a few of the places I have visited the last three days.  I fish with anticipation and deliberation.  I am so tired that I don’t move around much.  I don’t wade much.

About 9 AM, I’m fishing a piece of rough bubbly water.  I’ve heard that this a good place to fish and remember hooking a one-salt here long, long ago.

Thirty minutes covering the same piece of water.  Long casts.  Short casts.  Slow swing.  Short, choppy chugs.  I stand in one place at the water’s edge.  It’s about all the energy I have.  At least my Snap-T is looking good.  The AirFlo Scandi Compact makes me look way better than I am.

I’m distracted.  I’m exhausted.  I’m ready to go home now.  I make a short cast, let my Muddler start to swing and see the shadow.  There it is again.  Oh my God!  A steelhead.  An honest-to-goodness steelhead.  And a big one too.  The fish takes a swipe at my fly and misses.  I twitch, the fish romps me, and everyone disappears in the foam.  I feel nothing.  I wait.  Still nothing.  I pull back and there’s the fish.  Slack-lined but connected.

The fish promptly exits the hole downriver and just as promptly dashes back upriver to leap at my feet.  I’m elated.

I slide the fish to the water’s edge and pull out my camera.  The piece of technological crap won’t turn on.  I slip my barbless hook free and she bolts back into the pool.  Twelve pounds, I think.  Nah, twenty.  Hell, claim she’s a thirty-pounder.  Who cares?  Might have just been eight or nine.  I laugh.  I smile and smile and smile some more.

I sit there on the gravel bar, crying and crying – big sobs of joy.

Still sitting there, I cut off my leader and fly, wind a neat coil, put them in my shirt pocket, and walk back to my truck.

Less than two weeks later, I nearly suffered a fatal heart attack.  Turns out that dry fly, wild, North Umpqua summer steelhead was a gift of life on more than one level.

Today, I can see that steelhead dash my Muddler.  I can see her laying in the water, me kneeling on big cobbles as I slide the hook out.  I can see the huge spots on her back.  I can see spots on her adipose fin, a faint rosy hint along her side.  Deep and clean.

Today, too, I can see the evening that Lisa and Jackson drove me to the emergency room.  “I’m fine,” I said.  “Just take me home,” I said.  “No Dada,” my son said, “Mama’s taking you to the Emergency Room.”

Thanks, Lord.

JN

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