So why are we out there? I know folks who enjoy the social aspect of sport though there are likely as many who appreciate the anti-social dimensions. Others come for the buzz; nicotine, caffeine, and all the varieties of ethanol that smooth the rough edges of life's dreariness. But in the quiet moments I bet many find the muse. On a flat chasing bones or in one of those beautiful, quiet places where trout lurk the magnificence provides an opportunity for her to whisper in one's ear. It's the poetry of the moment, in the scatter of light and the micro and macro details that comprise the landscape, that can make the trip alone worthwhile.
There are, however, fishy places the muse shuns. Lake Ontario steelhead streams generally run through landscapes seized early by the Industrial Revolution. As the Revolution matured and sought warmer climes it discarded these places leaving them lonely and barren. The masses that once served her machinations now inhabit tired towns that seem to defy their own efforts to raise themselves up. Agriculture is about all that's left which, ironically, is where they started.
These places, despite the abandonment of industry, are crowded. There's no solitude to be found on the region’s streams and the detritus of generations past is littered with the trash of the previous day's frustrated angling masses. Beer cans, coffee cups, and yards and yards of fluorescent mono assault the eye. The only beauty and peace to be found is when lake effect snows blow in. Like a city street during an overnight snow, the masses flee indoors and the landscape is temporarily cleansed.
Lacking other things, steelhead fishing in this region is about the rawest version of angling that we have. One doesn't give a crap about the scenery and it's too cold to be social. All that is left is the tug; the catching is everything. I don't care how it comes, swung fly, chuck and duck, on the dangle, as long as it comes.
A couple of weeks ago, I partnered up with a friend, Matt, for my latest outing in Pulaski. It was a one of those trips where you had almost as many hours in the car as you did on the river. The weather gods provided the full monty; frigid temperatures and a dumping snow greeted me as I drove through Syracuse. By the time I got to Pulaski the partially plowed highway had an inch of of snow on it and the side roads closer to three inches. I was grateful for the new snow tires. The flows on the river were a bit higher than I had previously fished by I managed to get into familiar spots. Sadly, the fish didn't do their part in our dance. That afternoon, I managed two takes but they were lackluster. I was slow on the set and the fish were quickly off.
The next day Matt joined me. I was going to get on the water early but more snow overnight and an early conference call kept me at the cabin. We fished a spot that was recommended. We nymphed and egged. We put on Skagit heads and swung all manner of fly to temp the steel. Despite hiking and fishing over a mile of river these locales resisted our efforts. We saw several fish hooked and one caught, though the angler readily admitted it was foul hooked. That was the extent of the catching.
One tries to find some rationale for such days. A weather system was moving in so perhaps that was our undoing. The flows were higher but steady. Prognosticators like to talk about how rising or falling or stable flows can both prompt and suppress successful angling. Regardless it didn't happen and I added hundreds of casts to my attempts to reconnect with a chrome beast; attempts were all I had accumulated.
In the morning the forecast that previously foretold snow in inches was now estimating the measure in feet. Light snow was already falling from Pulaski all the way to the Connecticut shoreline. The reservoir was dumping water and the river was bank full. I did roll through Altmar just to take a peek at conditions. While a handful of troubled souls were fishing from the bank it seemed that those who retained their sanity stayed home. And so I turned homeward.
A skunking on the steelhead stream stings more than one gained elsewhere. The catching is all you have and denied that you're left with empty hours staring at slate gray waters. I still feel the wounds as if they were gained yesterday. Eventually they will scar over joining the blemishes from past trips. I will plot again for a trip north even though the season is waning. I suppose it's a desire to make all this effort worth something. To be able to hoist a beast from the water, to bear its weight despite the scars, and to chant to the muses one's verse of battle and triumph.
|Matt suffering the skunking with dignity.|