Sunday, December 19, 2010

Muddy Monday's Messiah

Luke 2: 12 And this shall be a sign unto you;Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

The Monday after Thanksgiving I rushed to do my chores and catch up after spending the holidays with family. After a two-week hiatus, the dam was shut down and I was anxious to fish. Just as I finished my work, however, the rain began. For about ten minutes, it poured buckets and gobs; but finally stopped in time for me to gear up, grab my old rain jacket and mount my trusty four-wheeler.
Several weeks before, I had changed to a different access point, as the steps on my neighbor’s property had fallen into the gully. Another gracious summer-home owner had cleared off a spot next to the river and encouraged me to enter there. Much steeper than my other spot, it required some caution descending until I could reach a small knoll and approach the water.
On this rainy day, I inched my way down, careful to watch my feet and use my wading staff as a mud-detector. Just as I passed the knoll, however, my left boot took a mighty slide and I flopped on my back side. Pausing to catch my breath, I found no wounds except a tiny bit of ruptured pride; then consoled myself with the idea that I could wash off my muddy backside by wading out a bit further than I normally do.
The second gully I needed to cross was swifter than I had hoped. Not feeling confident at this point, I nevertheless tried twice but had to turn back on the second try as my cell phone rang. I couldn’t maneuver and answer before the caller disconnected.
I eyeballed the ditch, chose a different point and made it across. Two weeks before, I had caught twenty-five fish per day during three days of fishing soft hackles fifteen yards below the end of the gravel bar. Today the same spot with the same flies produced nothing.
I trudged upriver to my favorite riffle. A thin mist kissed the river. Silence comforted me with no boat motors or chain saws to interrupt my enjoyment. My cast flew smooth and true with no wind gusts to tangle my line. My favorite Sims waterproof hat with the chin flaps kept me dry. Droplets waltzed quietly from the brim.
I changed from my Orange and Partridge to a larger soft hackle similar to a Green Butt. Casting below the rock piles, I allowed it to drift before beginning to strip the line. In a split second a large fish struck on the fly’s upward move; and in my excitement I missed the take. I tried all the other runs with no results.
The day was too perfect to quit, so I walked further upriver almost to the end of the gravel bar where the ’08 floods had gouged a deeper cut. Changing flies again, I chose another soft hackle I had never used, a yellow color not quite the same as an Anna K.
Remembering my earlier mistake, I cast and waited until the fly began to ascend again. A fish struck and missed. I didn’t move but corralled my beating heart and waited. The second time he didn’t miss and neither did I. When I lifted the rod, he took off for deeper water. Since I stood on the precipice of the run, I carefully cranked with the proper rod tension and waded toward shallower water.
I glimpsed golden color when the fish heaved and twisted and knew I had a Brown. When I captured him in my net, I reveled in his perfect color and his attempts to throw the hook. Only about 15”, nevertheless he had put up a worthy battle. I quickly laid him down, snapped a picture and released him.
Within seconds, I threw into the same spot and reaped the reward of another Brown whose courage surpassed the first. Believing he was larger, I exercised even more caution until I’d duplicated my earlier efforts and scooped him into the net. Pausing, I again admired his vibrant colors, reversed the net and freed him.
I decided to quit for the day. Upon beginning my ascent up the hill, I reminded myself of my earlier debacle. I had almost reached the crest and safety when both boots slipped at the same time throwing me down on one arm and elbow. I wheezed out a strangled cry; and for a moment thought I’d fall to the bottom. Somehow I made it to my knees and finished the climb in that position; then stood to assess the state of my equipment. Mud smeared both sleeves of the blue rain jacket as well as my gloves. Sticks and copper-colored pine needles coated my waders and grit covered my reel.
As I staggered back to my four-wheeler, I focused on the day’s events through the perspective of a Christmas journey. As we prepare our hearts for the coming season, are we stymied by a non-producing spirit of despair? Do we stumble through the rocks and gullies losing sight of the stable we seek? Do we miss the vibrant colors and breath-taking sight of that starry night so long ago? Are we afraid to wade the muck to the stable and look in the tiny infant’s eyes? One courageous step up the path is all it takes.
He is waiting.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reference the Rock

Psalms 18:2
The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.

Ask any fly fisher about her fishing outing and she’ll usually tell you two things: where she fished and what fly she used. For instance you might hear someone say she caught them at Roundhouse Shoals on the far side of the island with a zebra midge. In mid-August, the water was shut off but hadn’t dropped out in our part of the river. So I decided to fish my other favorite spot, The Narrows
Low water had been a scarce commodity this summer and I was anxious to go. When I arrived at my preferred rock pile, I located two square rocks. In between these unusually shaped landmarks, there is a tiny waterfall that pitches into a deep drop-off. I love sailing my line out into swift water and watching it travel back into this select spot. I attached my favorite Partridge and Orange and began to fish. At first, takes were slow. I landed two below-average stockers.
After about thirty minutes, however, I received a stout tug on my line and a remarkable Brown surged out into deeper water. After a short tussle I captured him in my net. I was anxious to try out my brand new camera, an Olympus Tough 8000. Luckily I had it strung around my neck. I hurriedly took two shots of the fish in the net; then quickly positioned Mr. Brown on one of the square rocks, where I laid my rod next to him. He cooperated for a few seconds and I scooped him back into the net and released him. I continued to fish the somewhat bedraggled Partridge and Orange for a few more minutes without a single take. When I reeled in to check the fly, however, I saw why. It was gone! What a relief that the fly had come off after and not before.
I decided to switch to a green Caddis sparkler. Within a few minutes a larger Brown tail-danced for me; and, like its brother, broke ranks for swifter water. My 4 wt. Albright rod and Galvin reel were a match for his prowess, however; and my sharply bent rod made my pulse thrum faster. I kept the pole at the proper angle, didn’t rush, kept focus on the fish and eventually detained him. His large hooked jaw and gold splotched body made a striking image, one I needed to capture before he stressed and died. I rushed to a nearby grassy knoll on shore, laid him next to my rod where for several heart-stopping seconds, he refused to oblige. Finally, with the picture done, I splashed back into the water to release him into a shallow spot. Too late I realized there wasn’t enough water to get him revived. I’m sure the sight of this stooped woman herding a fish into the depths with her net provided many stories for the other fly fishers that evening. Finally, the tired fish rested in a deeper place, turned over once, causing my blood pressure to rise; then righted himself and plunged back into deep water.
This time I had the presence of mind to check my fly. As I felt down the hook, the point came off in my hand! Another near miss on a big fish. My brain turned to oatmeal as I contemplated the possible loss of this great creature.
Having no more of the same flies in my box, I decided to try a grasshopper. The week before I’d read in John Berry’s column as well as Jimmy Traylor’s blog about tying a midge to the bend of the hook below a grasshopper. I’d struggled to accomplish this task and had yet to reap any results. With my morning’s success spurring me on, however, I tied on the rig and held my breath, knowing how easy it was to wrap the entire mess around my rod tip if I didn’t exercise care with my backcast. The “hopper-dropper” settled back into calm water and lingered there a few seconds. Suddenly the yellow grasshopper lurched sideways. Was this it? Did it function like a strike indicator? Sure enough I lifted the rod to find a feisty Rainbow on the other end. A few seconds later, I caught another with the same set-up.
I checked my watch and knew the predicted generation was close at hand and decided to call it a day. As I slogged to my car, I realized all the lessons I’d learned today: always check my fly after catching a big fish, keep more than one type of successful fly in my box, and listen to my fishing mentors.
Spiritual tutorials abound in today’s fishing event. Since the Lord is the corner stone of my salvation, do I cite him enough throughout my daily existence? Each moment in my spiritual life needs a reality check to assure that my feet are on the right path. One method isn’t necessarily the only way to reach those around me and I must listen to my faith advisors. When all these elements are combined with a strong blend of prayer and scripture, then and only then have I built my life on The Rock and not the rock pile.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Backward Blessing

And his fulness have we all received, and grace for grace.
John 1:16

Anxious to re-visit the new narrows access on the White River during low water, I pulled on waders, boots and vest; then set out across the gravel bar to the main channel. A kind flyfisher shouted, “There’s a Caddis hatch on.” I thanked him and wondered if the Orange Partridge fly I’d attached would work.
I slogged my way upriver from him to one of the rock piles from which I’d pulled some good fish last fall. After wading in, I sipped the glories of a late Spring day: trees now green and fresh, an imposing bluff guarding the river, and sky so blue it dazzled. No fish grabbed my fly in this pool; so I moved up to the next spot.
Here I tied on a Green Butt, a successful fly on the Norfork River the week before. No takers on this one either. Golden teardrops of Caddis continued to fall. The trout feasted, smacked, jumped, and guzzled. All around me, they cavorted and consumed copious quantities of the small moths, but still refused my fly. I resisted letting them ruin my day, but I admitted to growing irritation.
Finally in desperation, I tied on a tiny Zebra Midge. We had ordered a different variety, this one having black fluff near the top of the hook. I walked up to yet another part of the river where I cast downstream and let the fly drift out of the current into a calm place only a few feet from the bank. Suddenly a giant fish hurled its body out of the water in front of me. Just as suddenly, I realized the trout was attached to my line; and came to my senses soon enough to keep the slack out and watch enthralled as she flung herself once more into the air.
“Please don’t let me lose this one,” I muttered. She headed for her comfort zone, deeper swifter water; and I exhorted myself to be patient and careful to keep tension on the line, not reel too fast and wait until she tired.
I tried to steer her toward me and at the same time to back up into shallow water. This was hampered by my wading staff, now loose from the pile of gravel where I’d stuck it. I couldn’t step over it and lose my balance and I certainly couldn’t lose focus on the fish. I stumbled once in the loose rock and attempted to slow my pounding heart.
At one point, she stopped just long enough for me to see how large she actually was and I knew this was no mere stocker. Once more she plunged out into deeper water. I remembered a trout show, On the Rise, where the guide lectured the stubborn client to let go of the reel handle. So I patiently let the drag do its work. The reel sang a lively tune a couple more times, until Ms. Brown began to tire. I methodically cranked in a steady rhythm and then wondered how I’d get her into the net.
Remembering another lesson learned from my friend and casting coach, Lori Sloas, I steered the fish up into shallow water, until I could scoop her into the net. Not wanting to create a scene … fly fishers are notoriously humble on the river … I only gave a minor squeal as I tromped up the bank to quickly measure her with the only thing at my disposal, my rod. Mentally marking that she came to the first notch after the butt, I clumsily attempted a picture with my cell phone camera to no avail. I longed for a way to measure her girth, but there was nothing. Worried at the amount of time she’d been out of the water, I released her and waited till I was assured she swam away before I breathed a sigh of relief.
Not only had I conquered my lack of finesse with midges, but I had managed to land the largest German Brown trout I’d ever caught.
I marveled at the number of flies I’d tried and my disillusionment and frustration. Isn’t this often how God works in our lives? We search for ways to prove our worthiness to him by changing our approaches to his goodness, hoping to land that whopping amount of grace by all our efforts. And then, when we least expect it, along comes a giant measure of it, a backward blessing … unexpected, not requested, simply given like salvation, complete and blessedly free.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Birthday Bonus

For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Isaiah 55: 12

Low water for my special day would make the perfect gift. The night before my birthday I checked the generation prediction number. My brain screamed yahoo, when I learned Norfork River would be wadable until 11:00 a.m.
For safety’s sake, I called the dam generation number the next morning, learned that the prediction was true and hurriedly loaded my gear into my car. Skipping breakfast, I remembered to pack a small chest with drinks and throw in a packet of cheese crackers. Breakfast could wait!
When I arrived at Ackerman Access on the Norfork River, I saw a packed parking lot with a small spot remaining just the right size for my tiny car. I quickly parked, tugged on waders and boots; and then began to string my rod. My friend Bob, who was preparing to leave, told me he’d caught and released only two. His suggestion was a Zebra Midge. This is a favorite fly at Norfork, but unfortunately I rarely have good luck with it. It takes a finesse I haven’t acquired yet. Instead I attached an Orange Partridge, a success from my last trip here. Before I entered the water, I scanned both up and downstream. As usual, people stood near each other in a long string like bulbs on a Christmas tree. I marveled once again why fishers choose such close proximity and still hope to catch fish.
Instead, I decided to hike up to the first island where it appeared there were few of the same energized individuals. After the flood of 2008 and high water last year, the island now has a break where water gushes from a small pool to the main channel. Always on the look-out for a fast riffle where trout might be waiting for a ready supply of food, I cast into the run
and let the Partridge drift into the quieter waters below. Within a few casts I was into fish and landed a small stocker whose silver body shimmered in the warm April sunshine. I continued to catch a few more of the same stature until I felt a harder tug and knew this one was better. Like those nature shows, where the big ol’ gator thrashes and rolls over, this Bad Boy tried the same maneuver. Wondering if I’d lost him early-on, I kept the line tense and brought him almost to the net before he strained once more and spit out the hook.
Refusing to be disappointed, I relaxed and continued to fish enjoying the delights of my special day: the call of a Kingfisher as he flew over the water, the antics of a large heron as he patiently stalked the minnows in the shallows, and an abundance of sunshine after a long dreary winter. My attention returned to my fly and another sharp yank brought a larger Rainbow to my net. This was the best of the morning and simply the frosting on an already glorious day.
Eventually, two men from downriver wandered into the lower part of my area and immediately began catching fish. Unfortunately this interrupted my lucky streak. Since time for dam generation was close, I decided to call it a day aided by my now-mewling stomach.
Since it was my birthday, I decided I was worthy of extra calories and stopped by Shady Grove Grocery, the best kept secret of the Ozarks. What appears to be an ordinary convenience store at the crossroads of Highway 201 South and Shipps Ferry Road, contains some of the best made-from-scratch food you’ll ever eat. Guaranteed to make even your grandma swoon!
Since the morning chill had settled into my cold feet, I asked what they had hot. The reply made my taste buds do the Happy Birthday Dance: grilled cheese sandwich on jalapeno bread and loaded baked potato soup. I waited patiently and read my book, beginning to relax and feel my feet again. Soon the food was delivered by the young server and I dug in, enjoyed my book and resisted licking the bowl of the last droplet of soup. Of course, since calories were not measurable today, I inquired about dessert options. The wonderful chef at this establishment had just finished fried pies in my choice of blackberry, blueberry, or cherry. I chose blueberry, still warm, with a crust more like a light scone than a fried pie and ribbed with feathery white icing. I found myself making small comfort-food noises and quickly looked around lest someone think I was crazy.
Somehow I waddled to the counter, paid my bill, shouted congrats to the chef and drove unhurriedly back down Buford Cut-Off toward home. On the way, I spied a small boy jumping on a trampoline in his back yard. He leaped with joyful abandon apparently unencumbered by worldly worries. On this perfect day, I understood!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

River Rehearsal

I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving. Psalm 69:30

The famous philosopher Camus wrote, “In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” After spending the Christmas holidays with family in Oklahoma during the state’s worst blizzard in history, I could relate to the depth of winter part. Arriving home, I received only a brief reprieve before we received our own “after-Christmas-gift” of snow, leaving the roads a frozen mess after a day of record-breaking low temps.
Stepping out on my back porch to empty trash in our big barrel, I heard a heavenly melody from one of our resident Cardinals. Balancing on one of the suet cakes swaying from the edge of the porch guttering, he puffed out his tiny red chest and sang as though his small heart would burst from the joy of it. The freezing winter wind ruffled his top-knot and still he continued.
I stopped a moment and observed our fluffy landscape through new sight: the coiled-up water hose, now unhooked, where I’d normally rinse off waders and boots after a morning on the water; the bamboo-like river cane, forever green, silently keeping time to the bird’s symphony; and the hole in the large tree at the edge of the campground steps where squirrels nestled each night, sleeping part of the winter away. There was peace and contentment in that observation.
Waiting another moment, I watched the river churn below me off the edge of our campground. The rushing water created its own composition more like a moving gospel piece than a waltz. The White River is considered a tailwater and therefore at the mercy of the Bull Shoals Dam generation schedule. For the past several weeks, there have been large numbers of units generated round the clock with no wadable water; but the magnificence of these high flows was not lost on me either. In about ten more days when the measurement is back to power pool, there will be low water and giant trout ready to garner my fly into their strong lips, providing delight inexpressible to other types of fisher folk. With the plethora of food provided, fish will have grown plump and feisty and assault anything that moves. There is hopefulness in that vision.
I daydream of four-wheeler rides downriver to my neighbor’s back yard where I will park and tip-toe gingerly down his homemade rock steps across the deep gully. Then I will trek across the large gravel bar to my favorite riffle. My mind wanders to the new narrows access above Wildcat Shoals where I’ve only fished twice; but found to be a paradise truly worthy of those who make the effort to walk across two islands to arrive there.
And I retreat to my cozy kitchen and gaze out my bay window at the birds. Now I understand the songbird’s message. In the sunny days to come, there will be a great thawing. Spring will bring new hope and enjoyment of the sport I love ….
And I too will sing.