Essay by Brittany Aäe
I just didn’t have the heart to take fish today and I don’t know why.
Water, pen, notebook, pocket knife, film canister full of flies and tippet, windshirt, tenkara rod, and a landjäger all had to fit inside my running backpack so I worked the puzzle of gear at a dusty trailhead wishing I was already running. On this dark-of-dawn midsummer day the temperatures promised to soar far above my comfort zone, so I had to find an excuse to get above the valley haze and linger in alpine lake water. At last finding the correct configuration to both fit and secure my strange array of gear from flapping or dropping behind me on the trail, I was off.
Blithely traveling through stands of avalanche-scoured ponderosa and elderberry I noted the song of waking birds, the lapis flash of a mountain bluebird darting from grasses to bush, penstemon raging purple alongside paintbrush’s vermillion. Soon this underbelly of forest gave way to lodgepole, orange granite, and the mist thrown from a stream rushing in its trough – almost there. Arriving at the lake in the tender hours I found a rose blush growing on the eastern horizon which fell away to the hot valley from which I’d escaped. The disintegrating granite battlements surrounding the lake projected whatever hues sunrise chose and the outflow of the lake framed this northern-most aspect of sunrise. The turquoise waters were the texture of iridescent leaded glass windowpanes in the old houses I love so much in Fremont and West Seattle, suddenly rippled by waking trout.
First, one silvery nose broke the surface and I thought how glorious it is to witness the mysterious rise of these ancient, infinite cutthroat. Then another followed by another as though gossip of my fly tapping the glassy surface had spread to the depths of this little jewel-box of a lake waking all the hungry trout to feast on my feathers and barbless steel. A light breeze, without origin as it was, expanded in a radial pattern out from the center of the water in a no-pattern pattern with scalloped edges and scaled texture which excited the trout so much they flashed their beautiful tail feathers skyward, their precious metal bellies catching the quickly-intensifying sun’s glare. Soon, I was the sole audience to an impressive display of arabesques arcing against a golden shaft of light that snuck through the trees and cast itself on the lake.
Usually on the shores of this very same lake I must think like a bug to get a single bite. I habitually make circuitous paths to my fishing perch of choice so the shadow of my pole or my body does not fall on the lake, tipping off its slippery inhabitants to my true identity (not a bug). I usually test all manner of intuitive flicking, stripping, dancing, drifting, sinking maneuvers with my line.
I often leave without a single bite, but this time is entirely different. Every hand-sized cutty seems to be on the prowl for breakfast and on every alternate cast I have a fighter on the line. I allowed them to move for a minute or two, observing how they darted and feeling their outsized strength bend my feeble rod then in hand I gained a certain urgency: either crack the fish and swiftly make him dinner for two or remove the hook and let him swim again.
Today I let them all swim then ran back to my car, settling for a morning bowl of granola from my cooler instead.
Brittany Aäe is an endurance coach and creative based in unceded Mətxʷú and Sinixt territory. When she’s not running, climbing, or skiing, you can find her making flies dance at the fishing hole near her little cabin in the woods. Web: Magnetic North
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Tenkara Angler Magazine.
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