Monday, October 10, 2011

Snake River: The Trouble with Wisdom

Garden Variety Hoback River Cutthroat
The trouble with wisdom is the occasional nagging detection that from time to time you find yourself wanting.  A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity and privilege to spend a guided day on the Snake River with Bruce Smithhamer, contributing writer for Mouthful of Feathers and Buster Wants to Fish, and guide for High Country Flies in Jackson, WY.  Chalk one up for the Bucket List of ten people I want to fish with before I shine this life on for better waters!

An icky work schedule required an early morning launch and was further complicated by unusually cool temperatures, deflating my enthusiasm for a dry fly extravaganza I had hoped for on this historic stretch of water.  On the way to Astoria, our put in, I was bouncing along in the guide mobile alongside a characteristic inventory of flies I've never seen before decorating its interior, an organized collection of boat bags, fly boxes, safety equipment, and rods.   After getting acquainted, I hesitantly suggest we probably wouldn't get much dry fly action with these temperatures. "Not exactly," Bruce immediately responded.  He goes on to describe a peculiar September stone fly, Classinea Subulosa, that hatches in the pre-dawn hours this time of year.  This hatch kicks into high gear during September, but sometime starts in late August, and can last into early October.  The females can fly, but the males have much shorter wings and are flightless, skittering around the banks until mid-day or so.  Confidently, Bruce lets me know that we'll be moving #4-6 tan/brown Chernobyls, Chubbies and Snake River Water Walkers to draw fish to the surface.  Relieved, I'm back in candy store mode.

Over the course of the next few hours, I enjoyed the company of an expert, slipping through one perfect piece of water after another, effortlessly breaking down a large river into manageable pieces of juicy holding water.  In between targets, I'm calmed by what I can only describe as profound depth, knowledge that bubbles to the surface, easily recalled from years of experience in dealing with all manner of guest.  One story after another, perfectly placed to fill the space between fish, but always aware of what's just beyond the next log jam, riffle ledge or eddy.

We take a few fish.  I miss a few more.  We pull over to rest for a few minutes on the insistence that I should take some time to look up.  The richness and color of this place at this time of year is brilliantly intoxicating.  The cadence of the river is in step with my cast.  Quietly, my skill is appraised, and then the boat unknowingly adjusted to please my ability.  My pace is slowed, concentration corralled, yet Bruce is always thinking just ahead, fabricating in his mind the next string of casts.

Wisdom is defined as the power of judging rightly and then being able to follow the correct course of action based upon knowledge, experience, skill, and understanding.  I define it in terms of deep awareness and the gentle ability to quietly insist that others around you take a moment to look up from time to time and soak in what's really important ..... oh, and perhaps a subtle reminder to not forget my camera before stepping into the boat.

For more information on fishing the September Stone Hatch on the Snake River, WestFly has some more detail here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sage Grouse: Living on Borrowed Time

At 3:00 a.m. there are very few things I am enthusiastically rolling out of bed for.  The opener of Sage Grouse season is among them though.  A special blend of preparation, anticipation and exhaustion are brought together in a sparkling cocktail of bird hunting elation.

It's 6:00 a.m. and I've arrived at my hunting grounds well before sunrise, no longer lamenting the long drive, lack of sleep or trepidation with having a hood altering moment with a mule deer, elk or moose wandering too close to the roadside in the predawn hours.  I'm singularly focused on enjoying the experience as if it could be my last.  My senses are tuned to an environment of vast expanse, the kind that affords me the opportunity to walk in any direction as far as I'm physically able, my hopes high that I will raise a covey of airplanes.

I stare into the blackness through my windshield.  There, I can see the topography only in my mind, that which comes from familiarity of haunting this stretch of ground every year.  I poor a cup of coffee while I wait for my friend to arrive, the truck jiggling back and forth from the anticipation of kenneled dogs anxious to hit the ground running.

My window is rolled down so I can catch the fleeting sounds of nature in the last act of darkness before the stage lights come up.  It's fall.  There is a rich presence of loam, fog and sage in the air stirring my senses, giving me hope for the prospects of good scenting conditions.  After forty-five minutes or so the sun peeks out behind me from some distant peak, reeling in the darkness and giving shape to the landscape.  It's just as I remember it.  As I sit here quietly waiting to get started, an annoying question keeps running through my head, will this be the last year I will have the privilege to pursue these monarchs of the sage?  These birds are in trouble.

If the day ended here, I would be grateful.  But it didn't.  It improved significantly.  The rest I'll lend to your imagination.