Wednesday, November 23, 2011
High water marks towering above my head score the canyon walls. Ominous log jams packed with trees ripped from the river's edge serve as a stern reminder that big water shoves back with a vengeance, and with very little regard for your well-being.
Death-grip on the guide boat, standing in a push of heavy current, teetering on a boulder I cannot see, praying it stays anchored beneath my feet while I struggle to establish a stable purchase. Water rushes in around my mid section forming a hydrolic downstream of me that consumes my free running fly line. In that anxious moment, I imagine that's what I'll look like if I lose my footing and get sucked under. "Pay attention," I think to myself.
Once stable, I release the boat, untethered to its safety and the confidence of my guide, left to my own competence and self-doubt. Standing alone in a vast run in the middle braid of the river, leaning heavily toward the headwaters, the river fingers me like a bully. My senses are tuned, my mind flooded with anxiety, exhilaration and a healthy appetite for adventure as I prepare to cast in torrent chaos.
Black water tipped with silver highlights swirling on the surface surrounds me as I groove down a run. Strip, cast, mend, step, and swing, the metronome of Steelhead fishing. Bouncing along on the slick subsurface, the current relentless to see me come unhinged; "fishing by braille," I call it. And I love the sensation. Will my next step be two feet deeper? Where exactly was I told to move toward shore? Don't turn my feet and face downstream! Can I jump to that next rock? Will it be steady? Be careful not to lodge my foot between boulders. Was that a tug? All the while, fatigue and forty-one degree water punishes my joints. Kicked to the curb, I inch back toward shore in submission, surrendering to deep water, the river unimpressed with my campaign.