Monday, September 21, 2009


A twenty-fish day on the Trinity; swinging wet flies. This would be an epic fish tale if it weren't for the fact the average length of those twenty fish was probably six inches. Palm-of-the-hand fish, I thought to myself, admiring the parr marks on the next generation of steelhead. Maybe, a palm-of-the-hand story.

A palm-of-the-hand story is a literary form developed by the Japanese novelist, and Nobel Prize winner, Yasunari Kawabata. Throughout his life, Kawabata wrote short short stories that many consider the novelist's equivalent of the haiku: rich in content yet extremely compressed. Kawabata said of his stories: "Many writers, in their youth, write poetry: I, instead of writing poetry, wrote the palm-of-the-hand stories."

My Trinity River fishing story began in Roseville at a steelhead clinic taught by John Fachetti; with the gracious gift of a steelhead fly, tied by John himself; and a tip to swing it through the run behind the Del Loma RV Park. It was at the Del Loma that I met Patrick and Michelle, the park's owners, and learned more about the fly John gave me. Patrick told me that more than one generation of John Fachettis have fished the Trinity and the fly the youngest Fachetti gave me is a local favorite. John actually learned to tie the fly at the Del Loma when he was boy, from an older gentleman who nurtured his interest.

The fly was effective. It worked on the run behind the Del Loma, and in every run I swung the day my wife and I floated the river with Patrick. While other fisherman pulled twenty inch salmon out of the deep holes using crawdads and sardines for bait, I plucked little fish from the seams, one after another. My heart jumped during the first five or ten grabs and, for a long while, at least, I enjoyed the opportunities to observe the wild fish closely.

I'd come armed for an adult Trinity River steelhead, though, with my seven weight, 13'9" spey rod. As such, I didn't know there was a fish on half the time. To prevent sending one of the little guys on the single-spey ride of his young life, I lifted my rod tip carefully before initiating each new cast to check for a fish on the line.

And so my days went. Each palm-of-the-hand fish an exercise in both patience and persistence. They were preparing me, I told myself, for larger fish to come. The way Kawabata's palm-of-the-hand stories prepared him to write his great novels.

Eventually, a great fish did take that fly. But not on the Trinity. I connected with a sea-bright steelhead my first morning back in Sacramento. At first light, I swung through a run on the American that lower flows had made accessible. The silver fish smashed John's fly and ran and jumped and dove and jumped again, and again. Then he was off the line and gone.

Part of me wished I'd landed him. Okay, most of me. But after bringing so many little fish to hand the previous days, I have a new appreciation for the cliche: "the one that got away." I'm still thinking about that fish today.