Essay by David West Beale
The boulders are green and moss covered and span the rushing river like a giant’s stepping stones. Just a bit too widely spaced to travel across without a small leap of faith. Jumping from one to another, the boulders give me the chance to work my way to the middle of the channel and cover a different drift.
The water is deep and fast but it’s a managed risk – I am quite safe here. Safe from the pressures of design deadlines, sales targets and tricky clients. Safe from the everyday worries that might elsewhere crowd in, demanding my attention. Here, the healing music of the stream just washes them all away. It washes my kebari away too, plucking the fly out from the slack water and flinging it downstream like an unwanted plaything. But I resist the temptation of tying on a weighted fly.
Instead I’m looking for a down-welling current to pull my kebari deep and keep it drifting there. A solid tap on the line and a head shake precedes an ejected hook, but now I know I’m on a good line. Another drift and this time I’m rewarded by the prettiest of wild brown trout. It’s still amazing to me to search a place like this and find such jewels.
Another day and another stream. Where yesterday’s water was deep and moody and shaded, today’s stream is light and bright and shallow. And very small – everything is scaled right down here – the stream, the fish and hence the tackle, and you have to make yourself small too to stand a chance. It’s not a water for waders. It’s a water for creeping along the shoreline, casting upstream to micro pockets and pools.
I spend a long time keeping low and sneaking into position but I’m rewarded on my first cast with an emphatic take, as soon as the kebari touches down. A virtuoso performance of trout ballet follows as my fish goes airborne not once, but four times. Unlike the deeper river yesterday, here there are no depths to run to, so these fish love to leap. Often it’s a head shake and game over as the hook comes free, but I’m content enough with this long range catch and release.
Today though I’m blessed and my fish comes to hand. There’s a steeliness to these little trout and I wonder if it’s because the surging Atlantic Ocean is just six hundred yards downstream. Comparing my photos I see how finely the trout can change colour to blend with their environment. The peat stained water and butterscotch trout of yesterday are replaced today by little metallic rockets that are all but invisible in this riffle and foam.
Two streams, two very different populations of wild trout and I’m hoping today on my third river to compare and contrast the fish here too. But try as I might, on what is usually the easier river of the three, there is not so much as a rise or even a spooked fish to betray the presence of a trout population. Today, a visitor could be excused for thinking that this stream holds no fish at all. From earlier visits and catch reports, I know better, but it’s still a mystery to me where the fish go to sometimes.
The mood of this place is slightly unnerving and the absence of fish seems to underline my feeling of not being entirely welcome here. My favourite streams energize and uplift me. This stream seems today to drain away my resolve so that as I fish I begin to feel a homesick longing to to be elsewhere. There is a break in the rain clouds and briefly the sun shines through, painting different hues around. My spirits lift and I push on, working back downstream now, always searching for trout. As I reach the ancient stone bridge where I first entered the river at last I see some trout skittering around on the edge of the flow. The sun seems to have lifted their spirits too.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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