Morning comes early for the fly fisherman. Everything has been laid out the night before: chest waders, boots, vest, stripping basket, Sage fly rod, net, Islander reel. His boxes of flies, leaders, and tippet materials are packed into the vest pockets. Even the little lycra finger sock is packed. It will protect his index finger against line cuts from continuous abrasion as he retrieves the fishing line repeatedly.
He tucks a small waterproof camera into his vest and fastens the band for his headlamp. It comes in handy for lighting his way along the riverbank on days he prefers to fish the river mouth. He must truly love fly-fishing to risk running into black bears who compete for salmon there.
On one occasion he surprised two of the bruins who, fortunately for him, lumbered off into the woods at his approach, the one with a silvery salmon in his jaws throwing him a resentful look over his shoulder.
But today the headlamp helps him find his skiff at the beach just before dawn. He’ll take a run towards the opening of the inlet that reaches inland from the Pacific.
He anchors the skiff near the shore and steps into the water, hoping he hasn’t misjudged the depth. It wouldn’t be the first time his chest waders have taken on water when he has stepped into a hole or slipped on a rock.
In the early morning light, everything is a shade of blue or green. He takes a deep breath. The tiniest hint of outboard motor gas will soon dissipate leaving only clean fresh sea air with a tang of salt and iodine from the beach. The firs from shore exude their pitchy scent as the sun warms them, while the earthy aroma of moist moss wafts out from the forest floor.
The fisherman is not the only one watching for the first splashes of jumpers. A bald eagle perched overhead also waits for a fishing opportunity.
With the incoming tide, the salmon move in. The calm surface of the water ripples here and there as fish fins break the surface. Then things become lively with splashes that at times make the water seem to be boiling. A flurry of action and then nothing. Jumpers appear a little farther out and then go quiet.
Carefully, the fisherman steps into the deeper water. He has spotted some activity farther along, and out from the beach. He loads his line in smooth arm motions, careful to take his time and not jerk the line as he whips it back and forth. When he has control of a good length of line in the air he leans forward to let it shoot straight along the fly rod. The fly he tied last night alights on the surface of the water without a ripple. Beside the line to his left, a fish jumps up to thumb its nose at him.
Quickly as he can without disturbing the water, he retrieves his line to redirect it towards the jumper.
The fly lands, sits there for two seconds, and is sucked under the surface with a zing that jolts the fisherman into action. Keeping the tip of his fly rod up he thrills to the buzz and pull of the line peeling off his reel. The coho he has caught is protesting vigorously. The fish is all muscle as he strains against the pull of the flyline in his effort to reach the safety of deeper water.
If the coho is lucky, he’ll wriggle and jump until he spits the hook, or snaps the line with a wrap around a rock or an underwater log. If he’s less lucky, he’ll have to wait until he is reeled in and the fisherman unhooks and releases him.
When the fall coho run is nearly over, there may still be the odd salmon in the ocean closer to home. The addicted fly fisherman hurries to throw on a jacket over his waders. It’s a miserable day but the fish are still out there calling to him.
He needs to get out as far as possible for the line to reach the jumpers, but maybe today it’s just a wee bit too rough and he should give the fish a break.
Those of us who do not fly-fish may find it hard to understand the logic behind catching a fish just to let it go. Only an avid fly fisherman can know the rush brought on by the instant surge of energy that travels from the hooked fish to his hand in the seconds after the fish hits the fly. It’s oft been said, “A tug is a drug,” and this is why he will go to extreme efforts to find that thrill again and again. As far as I know, there is no rehabilitation.
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