Friday, September 11, 2009
North To Alaska... Small Things
The rising sun had to worry its way through heavy, laden clouds this morning. It never really broke through. The light would brighten, then dim depending on the density of the clouds. We were kind of lazy around camp, and mid-morning were surprised to hear the distant hum of an engine slowly increasing in volume. A bush pilot dropped through the dense cloud cover and landed deep in the bay, much nearer to the mainland. He and a companion offloaded gear and set up their camp beyond the treeline on the beach. This cut us off from several tributaries we wanted to explore. There went the neighborhood!
Todo and I canoed to the same stream we had explored yesterday. I shucked my backpack and, using it as a pillow, stretched out on the bank, watching Todo through hooded eyes. With infinite patience, he cast repeatedly into the churning water. There were thousands of fish, but he never got a strike. A fine mist settled in, and water trickled off our ponchos and the brims of our caps. I dozed briefly, then sat up and stretched. An idea had formed. Protected by chest waders, I slowly eased into the water. Going out until it was knee deep, I turned and faced upstream. Resting my elbows on my knees, I looked into the water and waited.
Within a few seconds, a large bull silver salmon surged between my legs. I grabbed it just ahead of its tail, straightened up and threw it at Todo's feet. "Knock him in the head with a rock, would you, pard? I'll get another one," I coaxed. By the time Todo found a rock and dispatched the fish, I had thrown another at his feet and stood there grinning proudly. He frowned, staring at me, then looked at the rod and reel in his hand. After a couple of seconds, he glanced up at me, smiling around the cigar clamped in his teeth. He tossed the rod backward over his shoulder. Laughing out loud, he joined me in the stream. That's how we fished from then on.
We returned to camp with two good fish each. They were quickly filleted and fried up on the camp stove. Larry and his dad had stayed in camp to rest up from yesterday. Our joints and muscles were in revolt from what we had put them through the day before. The smell of the frying fish was intoxicating. It woke Larry, who came staggering out of his tent. He was a sight, with reddened eyes, tousled hair and knotted fists digging into the small of his aching back. Being extremely fatigued, his morning hunt started a bit late--around three o'clock that afternoon, as I recall.
Rain had settled in around nine that morning. It would come hard, then lighten up. It would not stop for the next 28 hours. Nothing stayed dry. Realizing rain was a constant companion, we returned to the mainland mid-afternoon. Todo and I worked our way once again up our stream. We stayed near the water and worked along the banks, zig-zagging from side to side using dead falls as natural bridges. We crossed back and forth across the water several times.
At one point we rested on the edge of a high-walled crossing spanned by a huge dead fall. An eddy had formed beside a large boulder in the churning rush below. Within that small, perfect pool of clarity, suspended and motionless, was the largest rainbow trout I had ever seen. Briefly, sunlight filtered through the prism of water and reflected a dazzling array of color from his scales beneath the surface. His tail undulated slowly from side to side.
Todo rested a hand on my shoulder and indicated with a whisper he was going to try to catch him. He inched down the bank and eased into the water a short distance upstream. I had never seen him show such patience. Ever so slowly, he approached the eddy. He seemed to become one with the rocks and the water. He eased forward and approached the fish an inch at a time. The depth hovered just above his waist. Almost too slowly to see, his right hand rose in the water. The palm faced up and was cupped slightly. He ever so lightly stroked the underside of that trout, sliding his hand gently back along its length. Then, his fingers locked around the trunk just before reaching the tail. Water exploded around and over him. Lifting the huge fish high over his head, he laughed aloud in delight, almost falling. For an instant, he transcended humanity and almost became a god of the forest. Larger than life, he had briefly touched perfection and rejoiced in it.
You know, he never did catch a fish with the $40 reel he purchased at the 'Hook, Line & Sinker' back in Valdez.
* This posting is dedicated to the 2,819 innocents murdered on this date in 2001 in a senseless act of madness.