Almost There

By Roger Emile Stouff

April 8, 2009


Last weekend was one of those in a fisherman’s life when the need to fish gets the better of any common sense the angler might possess.
   Certainly after a long winter, that interim period of kinda-time but really-too-soon-time gets the better of many of us. The year Suzie and I were first together, we took off in the boat in February. I knew better, but the kinda-time got ahead of my knows-better. It wasn’t too bad, bundled up in the boat against the wind, until this big, red, sparkly bassboat came around a bend in the canal at 50 miles an hour and threw water all over us. She was a trooper about it, more so than I was!
   But yeah, it gets to you. Too many months cooped up in the house staring at the walls and reading fishing stories and fishing reports from the southern hemisphere, where it is of course summer, and they like to rub it in to those of us north of the equator. We get into this half-sleep state, right as we go to bed, you know, when you have these kinda half-dreams that are so real. I dream I’m casting and wake myself up because I’m flailing my right arm back and forth in a perfect casting stroke I couldn’t possibly perform in real life.

   But Saturday morning, Bogie and I headed out to a pond I know of. I let the dog run and play while I fished. It was slow. Real slow. I did hook into three fish, and all three threw the fly, resulting in a frustrated jumping-up-and-down conniption fit that I’m glad only the dog witnessed.
   The rest of the day was spent at home while a windstorm raged. I took a long nap, in which I dreamed I was on the Roaring Fork in Tennessee, hopping boulders and casting at giant brown trout. I woke up with my shoulder aching and reminded myself to tuck my elbow against my side when I cast to avoid the pain, awake or not.
   I hauled the pirogue out and cleaned it up. I was never satisfied with the way the bow rose so high when I sat on the back seat, figuring it was a design flaw and not the critical mass in the stern. I installed a center seat on a whim, hoping it would distribute the design flaw more evenly and keep her level in the water.
   So Sunday morning I headed off to a buddy’s pond at daybreak. It was nice and clear, just a little hazy, on the Rez, by by the time I hit Franklin a fog thicker than pea soup hung in the air. I stopped for gas and waited a little until it cleared, then hauled off again. I got to the pond right at 7:30, unloaded the pirogue from the truck and was in the water by 7:40.
   Thus began three hours of near fruitless fishing. The wind was down, but there was a breeze, and I had to paddle to the far end of the pond to fish relatively at ease. I was throwing a big bass popper, but got nary a rise to it except for a couple of the most humungous bream I ever laid eyes on. Took a bass popper, so you can imagine. Folks have various names for perch this size: Barn-doors. Thick as a bible. Stump-knockers. Slabs. Saucer-sized. Things like that.
   “Do you practice catch and release?” someone asked me once.
   “Yes!” I said. “I catch fish, and release them into a skillet of hot grease!”
   That’s not entirely true. I don’t keep bass anymore, but I do keep my share of bream and bluegill and goggle-eye and sac-a-lait for supper.
   There was a documentary called “Trout Grass” on the making of bamboo fly rods. David James Duncan, a fly fishing writer, traveled to the little bay in China where Tonkin cane grows, the only place in the entire world this species of bamboo can be found and it will grow nowhere else. And no other bamboo can be used to build fly rods.
   The locals there harvest the cane sustainably, and much of it is sold for other purposes, like landscaping, flooring, tiki torch stands and so forth. Duncan showed how rodmaker buyers carefully select the stalks for shipment back to the U.S. The stalks must be over two inches in diameter.
   The Chinese villagers are amazed at all this fanfare. They say, “You must have really big fish in America to need bamboo so big,” they say. The villagers typically fish with immature bamboo stalks five or six feet long and maybe three-quarters of an inch in diameter.
   Duncan explained how the bamboo would be dried, split into tiny strips, planed by hand into triangular shape, tapered, then glued back together into a fly rod.
   “My,” the villagers wondered. “You must have really amazing fish in America to go through all that trouble to catch them!”
   “Not only that,” Duncan said. “But these rods made from your bamboo will cost a thousand or two thousand dollars!”
   “My!” the Chinese exclaimed. “You must have the most wonderful, beautiful, tasty fish in all of the world in America!”
   Duncan said he didn’t have the heart to tell them about catch and release, so he left it at that.
   But it’s the not-quite-time, and my feet are all jittery and my mind keeps wandering off somewhere with water. The so-dang-near-it-time is excruciating and uplifting all at once. Any day now, the weather will straighten out, the wind will lay down, there’ll be no more cold fronts. My pecan tree has budded, and so despite this week’s drop in temperatures, the old folks assure me there’ll be no more freezes, as the pecan trees always know such things.
   Spring! Ah, the wonder of it. Magical, it is, nearly as much as October, the most magical month of all. My yard is full of oxalis, little purple flowers, and blue spider wort and more. There is false garlic, wild onion and irises at the bayou. Though I am forced to cut the lawn but this ridiculous culture I was born into, I leave the thickest clumps of wildflowers untouched, to finish their cycles and enjoy their vibrancy. I stand in the yard sometimes looking menacing, and defy anyone to tell me squat about it, too. A yard without wildflowers might just as well be Astroturfed.
   So here we are, the in-between-time. The almost-there-but-not-quite period. I can take solace, at least, that the whole year stretches out before me. Most of it is blunt, dulled by countless hours at work, toiling through the hum-drum and the ho-hum. Nick Lyons wrote for decades about his life in New York and his fishing. Nick’s incredible stories were punctuated by the city he had to live in. The Mafia who cut up bodies of enemies and distributed the pieces in trash cans at every address down a street; the two drivers who beat each other’s vehicles with baseball bat and sledge hammer into so much broken glass and crumpled metal during a traffic jam. The dark, the stink, the gloom of the big city. And then, Nick Lyons would escape to a spring creek, or a Montana river, or the Catskills he so loved, and suddenly, without an explanation that would make sense on any city street, all was right with the world again.
   Almost there.