Monday, January 31, 2011


The river is finally fishable. Flows are steady at around 2,500 cfs. It's steelhead season, the season of morning fog and a metal travel mug filled with hot coffee tucked inside my waders' bib.

This winter, thanks to an intervention by my friend Adrian and my wife, I'm wearing waders that don't leak and boots with traction. My feet are enjoying the luxury of wool-lined booties. I'm warmer and drier than I was at this time last year. And a year older, I'm reminded, as my birthday falls in January.

A year older, I am better outfitted and a better spey caster. I am not any better, though, at connecting with steelhead. Or at keeping my mind from rambling when I'm feeling skunked. This morning, my mind rambled to a haiku Issa wrote on his fiftieth birthday:

From now on,
it's all clear profit,
every sky.

I suppose I feel that way. I want to. Raymond Carver called Issa's "clear profit" by another word. He called it "gravy."


No other word will do. For that's what it was. Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. "Don't weep for me,"
he said to his friends. "I'm a lucky man.
I've had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure gravy. And don't forget it."

Maybe I'm imagining things, but the fog seems to be colder this year, clings longer to the day. This year, though, the merganzers and mallards seem more comfortable with my presence. I move slowly and deliberately downstream between casts. Even my casting stroke is slower. Maybe the ducks are more comfortable with my presence this year because ...

Another of Issa's haiku comes to mind, written after looking at a portrait of himself.

Even considered
in the most favorable light,
he looks cold.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


The premiere issues of Rise Forms: Fly Fishing's Literary Voice is up and running on the web and I highly recommend you visit the site.

This "magazine for anglers" provides a perfectly balanced offering of fly-fishing-inspired arts: fiction by Dave Moats; narrative by Sydney Lea; three poems, one each by Cameron Scott, Anthony Naples, and myself; Justin Cober-Lake reviews Savage Gods, Silver Ghosts: In the Wild with Ted Hughes by Ehor Boyanowsky (the poet, Ted Hughes, was a fly fisherman!); and an especially-interesting interview with painter Rod Crossman that includes a slideshow of his work.

In his Editor's Note, Editor-in-Chief Scott Carles writes about his aspirations for Rise Forms. While there are a substantial number of on-line and print publications that focus on gear, travel, photography, and methods ... well, he says it best himself:

"Fly fishing has a long history, and a long and rich literary history as well. Although it has spanned changes in publishing methods, from illuminated texts to the digital age, what hasn’t changed is the passion with which anglers write about their piscatorial pursuits. And because sometimes it’s not just about what is said, but rather how it is said, that Rise Forms exists."

Take a minute and give Rise Forms a look; check out the menu. If you're like me, that minute will turn into an hour, as each offering makes the reader hungry for the next. Which brings me to something else I really like about this magazine. It is just the right size. The entire magazine can be enjoyed in one leisurely sitting.

I consider it a real honor that the editors chose to publish one of my poems in their premiere issue. It's nice to find myself among such good company.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


There were days I wondered if the river was going to swallow the footbridge below the Sunrise crossing.

Downstream, closer to home, my river-height benchmark, Duckshit Island, was completely submerged.

In the mornings, though, when I'd step out onto the porch to fetch the paper, the air was cold and wet in the way that says: The steelhead are back; grab your spey rod.

Since my home waters were blown out and unfishable, I turned to The River Never Sleeps for consolation. I listened to Roderick L. Haig-Brown talk to me again about fly fishing for winter steelhead on his home waters.

“And now, if all goes well and the Campbell, on whose bank I live, does not rise in full freshet, I know January for the best of all winter steelhead months. The fish have come in in good numbers by that time, but they are still fresh and silver and clean. There may be snow on the ground, two feet of it or more; and if so, the river will be flowing darkly and slowly, the running water below freezing but not ice, just flowing more slowly, as though it meant to thicken into ice--which it never does. steelhead fishing can be good then, and there is a strange satisfaction in the life of the river flowing through the quiet, dead world. On the bank the maples and alders are stark and bare, drawn into themselves against the cold. The swamp robin moves among them, tame and almost bold for once, and perhaps an arctic owl hunts through them in heavy flight whose softness presses the air until the ear almost feels it. On the open water of the river are mergansers and mallards, bluebills, butterballs, perhaps even geese and teal. Under it and under the gravel, the eggs of the salmon are eyed now; the earliest of the cutthroat trout are beginning their spawning, and the lives of a thousand other creatures--May flies, stone flies, deer flies, dragonflies, sedges, gnats, water snails and all the myriad forms of plankton--are slowly stirring and growing and multiplying. But the steelhead, with the brightness of the sea still on him, is livest of all the river’s life. When you have made your cast for him, you are no longer a careless observer. As you mend the cast and work your fly well down to him through the cold water, your whole mind is with it, picturing its drift, guiding its swing, holding where you know he will be. And when the shock of his take jars through to your forearms and you lift the rod to its bend, you know that in a moment the strength of his leaping body will shatter the water to brilliance, however dark the day.”

I've heard poetry described as a conversation with the past, the present, and the future; between the living and the dead. So, too, the conversation among steelhead flyfishers.