Category Archives: Tenkara

The Post In Which the Author Compares Fish To People

I nearly turned back when I realized I forgot my sunglasses, then when I saw I was low on gas, then when I saw the river was packed with anglers. But I kept driving. I drove until I saw no one, then I drove another mile.

This is my favorite time to fish. Late summer, early fall. After Labor Day, before Halloween. Just when it’s getting cooler, but far from cold. I put in downstream from a beaver pond that didn’t exist a month ago. The cows had done their best to rid the hills of vegetation, but the grass that was left appeared golden. Willows and scrub oaks guarded the river on both sides. Everything smelled dusty. There wasn’t a visible hatch, but the water rippled with takes. Around this time, it seems that fish feel some desperation.

Within a few casts, I had my first fish. A small cutthroat who’s cuts glowed hunter orange. The cutties seemed to have brightened up like the scrub oak that lines the river. The fish appeared shiftless, too, especially the young ones. They dart from hole to hole and used much more energy than needed to take bugs off the surface. My next fish came out of the water for my Adams. His mouth anchored to the fly, and his tail wheeled around like the hands of a clock and splashed into the still water.

I’ve had days when I couldn’t keep little brookies off the hook, and, once, a day when I couldn’t keep off little browns. This was the first time that I couldn’t keep off cutts. The other days didn’t feel that satisfying. But the cutthroat day? It was the best fishing I had all year.

It’s because I like cutthroats the best. Partly because they’re native. The ancestors of the fish I caught were here long before my ancestors, and I don’t mean my great-great grandpa, or even white guys. I mean humans. More than that,  they’re just my favorite.

Rainbows remind me of the Californians that came into my hometown and bought up land where I once moved irrigation pipes in alfalfa fields. They built garish mansions decorated with stuff from LL Bean and Pottery Barn. They’re charming and nice–you almost believe they belong.

You can trace your finger on the maps on the backs of brookies and they somehow lead you east. I imagine even their kids talk with Boston accents even though they’ve been west for generations.

The browns clog the once quiet trails with their ATVs. As they fly by in a cloud of dust, they throw off Mountain Dew cans and cigarette boxes.

But not cutthroats. They’re a handsome fish, with their almost bronze coloring and muddy splotches. They’re just good folk with clean, calloused hands. If a cutthroat was to date your daughter, he’d have her home on time and call you sir or ma’am.

On the way home, I pulled over and watched three older anglers wet wade. They held onto each others shoulders for stability. Their rods moved back and forth slowly. Their loops unfolded like quilts being shook out for summer storage. I waited for one of them to catch a fish, but it didn’t happen.

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It is a very small stream

Photo for the post "It is a Very Small Stream."When Mama Java sees me in my fishing get-up she says, “Well, look at you. Fisherman.”

I shrug.

“Did you sleep okay last night?”

“Yeah, it was great.”

This is a lie.

“Oh, good. Cuz those bunkbeds can be—iffy.”


“So, how do I get to this creek?”

“It’s just down the hill,” she says, pointing. “Go past the cabins and down the logging road until it ends. Then keep going.”

“Any idea what the fishing’s like?”

“Nah. It’s pretty small. Very small, actually. But I know there’s fish in it.”

Bleached-out slash and deadfall bar the way at the end of the logging road. I scrabble over, careful not to snag my waders. Then the going is easy. Gravity pulls me down the drainage until I find a trail. There I encounter a hiker who doesn’t notice me until I’m close enough to poke him with my rod. He flinches and emits a girlish squeak.

“God. Thought you were a bear or something.”

I consider attacking him so he won’t feel as embarrassed. He sidesteps me and continues up the trail.Photo for the post "It is a Very Small Stream."

Soon I hear the water and quicken my pace. My rod tip waggles like a divining rod.

Getting to the water is tougher. Undergrowth and fallen timber guard its every bend. I collapse my rod and push through.

A sun-speckled riffle encompassed by tall pines hurries past. Boulders and logs cradle the water to form quiet falls and stepped pools. There is little space for casting. Definitely didn’t need the waders.

Just as Mama Java told me, it is a very small stream.

That the trout are also small is no surprise, then.

Nor are they a disappointment.

Photo for post "It is a very small stream"

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