South Fork Clearwater River
Do you ever have those days when you go fishing and it seems as though nothing you do makes any difference in the outcome—that no amount of effort put forth is going to change the fact that on this particular day you are simply not going to catch a fish? Days like this can make you feel so ineffective that you may as well be nothing more than a cardboard standup: a single dimensional likeness of yourself that lacks any ability to do more than just be present. I recently had such a trip that made me feel like this. Truth be told I felt like dead weight being carted around all day.
It all started on a recent journey to chase some steelhead on the South Fork of the Clearwater River in Idaho. You may recall that a couple of months earlier I fished the main stem of the Clearwater with a group of old college buddies. On that day, we used spinning gear and either synthetic or real eggs or some combination of the two. That felt fairly dynamic to me as I branched out beyond the fly fishing barriers I had erected over time. But this most recent trip was a fly fishing trip, and on this trip I felt like anything but a dynamic angler.
How I got there is a curious and somewhat hazy recollection. Normally I would drive south and east across the state of Washington, entering into Idaho just before the town of Lewiston, then proceeding up the Clearwater from there. However, such was not quite the case this time. I really have no vivid memory of the drive itself, other than being crammed face down onto the dashboard of a pickup truck under the cloak of darkness in the wee hours of the morning, emerging only when we had arrived at our destination.
When it was light enough to make out the faces of my compadres, I didn’t recognize a single one of them. They consisted of a couple ladies and one guy, none of whom I’d met before in person though I had shared some correspondence via the internet with the two female anglers: Rebecca, of the Outdooress blog and Co-Dictator of the Outdoor Blogger Network; and Emily, of the River Damsel blog. I didn’t then and still don’t know who the dude was. All I know is that he had a video camera in front of his face for a good part of the day and I was never able to get a good enough look at him to even tell you what he looked like. It didn’t really matter who my fishing companions were. I was “Just Happy to be Here,” or so I was told.
We fished the South Fork of the Clearwater near Grangeville for a few hours, but it was running a bit high which made fly presentation somewhat challenging. I felt particularly inept on this day. Rebecca, who is known for her affinity for all things whitefish, did not disappoint in that regard. I must have said something to piss her off because she literally grabbed that little Rocky Mountain Bonefish and rubbed it in my face. There wasn’t anything I could do about it – I felt rather helpless, and for the remainder of the day I smelled like whitefish (which may smell worse than a skunk). After this demoralizing escapade we cut our losses and sought out some skinnier water on the Little Salmon. This diminutive river was more my size, and although I still couldn’t muster a cast to save my life, before too long Rebecca hooked up with a respectable steelhead. When she set the hook it was as if I became a second class citizen. I was literally cast aside and knocked to the ground where I lay amongst the cold, wet rocks on the river bank. From there I managed to witness her land what turned out to be a decent fish. A little dark, and it wasn’t as big as the steelhead I like to catch, but at least it was a steelhead. Not bad for a girl, I suppose.
At the end of the day I felt bent, bruised, tattered and a little soggy. I hadn’t managed to catch a fish, and quite frankly I felt like I’d done little more than be dragged around by my fishing companions like some sort of inanimate object. But I was “Just Happy to be Here” so I didn’t worry too much about my feelings of inadequacy or lack of dynamic presence. Back at the truck I was once again tossed onto the dash like a piece of cardboard for the ride home (at least the defroster dried me out and warmed me up). I must have nodded off because the drive home was a blur, and when I awoke the next morning it was as if I’d spent a fitful night dreaming strange dreams. I felt not unlike Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz (or at least a cardboard version of her): I’d been on a very strange journey, or in this case, a very strange fishing trip.