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SIREN'S SONG

“It is natural to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes to that siren until she allures us to our death.” - Patrick Henry


If you fish long enough you have a river. That particular river is your river. It has a completely different set of rules and expectations than any other river or body of water that you fish. In some ways it is intertwined with you taking on some of your own personality and traits. You know the moods of this river throughout the year, being able to predict the outcome on any given day with decent accuracy. Unlike a destination river, or some exotic fishing trip that will require OCD-induced planning for weeks, or even months in advance, there is a specific rod rigged up with a small selection of flies/leaders just for my river, ready to go. This gear either travels in my car or is in the front corner of my closet that I simply grab and go. Like most long-term relationships, I have a tenuous arrangement with my river. The minute that I begin to take my river for granted, I am usually humbled and reminded that no matter how long we've known each other, these relationships require a lot of work.


Speaking of long-term relationships that should not be taken for granted, my life partner/wife is one of those very important silent characters in my fishing world. She is perfect in so many ways. After all these years, she wouldn’t insult me by pretending to be interested in fishing or entertain the idea of taking up fly fishing. Yet, she graciously gives me the freedom to fish when I want, not being one of those nagging partners that holds it against me or uses my fishing time as a tool to get her way on something. She knows how important fishing is to my sanity and the long-term sustainability of our relationship. It has worked this way now for more than three decades. In fact, she can tell when my life is getting out of balance. If either work or personal issues are starting to weigh me down, tipping the three-legged stool, she will even suggest that I need to go fishing. It was time to grab my old golden retriever, head off to those waters in search of the sirens. 


It needs to be stated that over the years, my river has transformed from being the Rodney Dangerfield of western Montana rivers into Taylor Swift. This increased interest and fishing pressure have been a source of anxiety for about twenty years now as more people continue to show up every year. To deal with this and buy myself some more time, I’ve learned to zig when everyone else zags. Systematically I have completely reinvented, how I approach my river. These days, during its peak months when its waters are littered with guide boats, I am off fishing someplace else. Still the first fifteen years that I fished my river, it felt like I had it to myself. I suppose this was our blissful honeymoon period in which my memories are backlit in this soft golden hue. "All Things Must Pass."


You may be thinking that this sounds extreme or even territorial. You are not completely wrong in this assessment. It is well known that as anglers grow old, they all become old curmudgeons. While I am not completely immune to this evolution, I figure that I can either complain about it and nothing would change or I can change my approach. I do believe that this natural progression into this cranky, troll-like river keeper can be directly attributed to the fact that most fly fishers are conservationist and they are engrained to protect these delicate river systems. The only flaw in this thinking is that they inevitably eliminate themselves from the equation. Still the fact that the general public has access to these rivers at this stage is something to be thankful for. I don't know what our kids and grandkids will have, but time will tell.


It was a calm and beautiful late winter day with the promise of spring in the air. I was walking down the trail with my trusted side kick, Kilbey, aka K-Dog, when we passed a bro-dude. Like most bro-dudes, he had his music playing loudly off of his phone, cutting through the peaceful silence. I've often wondered if bro-dudes do this to scare away bears or people? Anyway, this "twenty something" was carrying an energy drink in one hand and holding his fly rod in his other hand like a dirty diaper. The odd thing was that he was by himself. The reason this is odd, is that I've observed that most bro-dudes travel in small packs of three or four, sometimes carrying a six pack of energy drinks. I guess one can call him a “lone dude.” Still, he gave me a “Yo-Dude!” as we passed each other, so I nodded and acknowledged him back.


Before we got to the river, there was a partially eaten rat perfectly placed off to one side of the trail and an eagle flying directly over my head. I paused for a second, thinking that this choreographed scene felt like something out of a Tom Robbins' book, where some shaman on peyote was going to jump out from behind a tree or something. I consciously try to take the act of fly fishing and for that matter, life in general with this same twisted sense of humor, humility, and a dash of surrealism, rather than being too serious and sounding all uptight or uppity, which still happens anyway from time to time.


We got to the bank. The river was low, with water temperatures around 35 degrees F. This was less than ideal, but certainly not impossible. The power and dynamics of the river are like an open electrical current. When you feel the rhythm and sync yourself to its energy, the experience becomes hypnotic and meditative. The sirens began to sing their song. You don't think about the mechanics of your cast, you have a soft focus on everything around you, and all you can picture is the path of your fly as it swings through the current. You sink into that deep soft trance. 


The grabs were not hard today. It might have been the water temperature, it might have been the depth of water, but shockingly the fish were just "there" holding my streamer like a ghost without so much as a tap or a nudge. It was maddening as I missed the first few fish on these subtle takes. I was either a second too late or setting the hook a second too soon. Of course, my incompetence would solicit harsh judgement from K-Dog. With each missed attempt I would splash a fish but not land it. Kilbey would express his disappointment. Then I started to vary the retrieve actively twitching the fly through its arc, moving it off its trajectory. This seemed to work as I instantly started getting positive hook ups and K-Dog went from boredom and disgust to being totally jazzed. My late friend Gary LaFontaine always used to tell me that his dog, Chester was the smartest fishing dog. I wouldn't have argued with him, as Chester was in fact very special and had that instinct. Fast forward more than twenty-five years and I would swear that Chester has been reincarnated as K-Dog, Kilbey has to be one of the fishiest souls on the river, having better instincts then the average bro-dude. 


As the afternoon went on, the code to hooking the trout had been cracked. The siren's song began to fade. Today was one of those days that was more than just catching fish. My river had washed away the stress like a baptism washes away your sin. Rather than trying for one last fish in a greedy attempt, I would gladly accept what my river, generously had to offer us this day. We would abruptly end our session and hike back to the car in the afterglow, feeling a sense of enchantment for the time being.












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