Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Fishing Days: Fall River
The first time I went fishing on Fall River, I thoroughly embarrassed myself. It was June of 1984, and I had been trying fly fishing for only two years. Linda and I went out with a guide named Carl Jaeger, and it probably wasn’t very long before he realized he would be earning his money that day.
To call Fall River a difficult stream would be understating the case, and a novice angler who’s all thumbs has no chance. After an unproductive morning (despite a good insect hatch and plenty of rising fish), Carl tactfully suggested that we take a long lunch break and do a bit of practice casting. In a short time, he pinpointed my critical problems, and that was the beginning of my path to becoming reasonably competent at the sport.
Over the next few years, I went out with Carl several times, generally with respectable results. But five years later, in the spring of 1989, I finally had my breakout day.
You Could Look It Up
At the beginning of the year, I had become editor of the newspaper, and had been working at an insanely intense level for four months. I knew from the outset that that would be the case, so early in the year, I blocked out a week of vacation to go fishing at Hat Creek, with a day on Fall River with Carl. That day was Wednesday May 17, 1989.
Weather in that country at that time of year can be a crapshoot, so I was holding my breath. It could be wintry, summery, changeable, or something between the three. It ended up being a wonderfully sunny day — not too hot, and with no wind to speak of. Sometimes, on a bluebird day like that, the fish go to the bottom and refuse to feed. Not so on this day. They were hungry all day long, and there was rarely more than a brief interval (30-45 minutes) that we weren’t getting action.
A couple of hours into the day, I sensed that this might be something special. I hadn’t brought a camera, so I have no pictures, but I began keeping track in my head, and at the end of the day, before driving off, I wrote down a list of fish caught in a notebook I kept in the VW camper. That yellowed piece of paper was still in my desk when I looked just now.
Knowing When to Quit
It shows that we landed 21 trout that day, 15 of which were 14 inches or longer (and they were fat and scrappy). And for every one we landed and released, there were probably two that got away. It was the kind of day you always imagine you’re going to have when you set out on a fishing trip — before reality intrudes.
A little after six o’clock, Carl took me to a place he called “The Office,” where there were usually a few large fish feeding along the bank in a tight current. It took a near-perfect cast to have a chance of catching one, but he thought I might be able to make it. I did, and hooked and landed a 17-inch rainbow. (A slightly fictionalized version of that fish appears in my mystery novel, Wash Her Guilt Away.)
After taking the hook out and letting the fish go, Carl turned to me and said, “You probably won’t make a better cast or catch a better fish. What do you say we call it a day and head back?” And though there was at least an hour and a half of fishing light left, I agreed. In doing that, I learned a valuable lesson. A good fisherman, like a good athlete, has to know when it’s time to quit, and because I stopped then, I’ll remember that last fish to my final breath.