For January the QE Journal offers a poignant work by Michigan river gypsy Shawn Chalker.
In second-person narration Shawn writes of the bitter hardships and sweet rewards
of steelhead fishing on the cold, often lonely rivers of Michigan.
It is a cold gray winter morning as you awaken. You run to the kitchen to start up the morning coffee. Then go and flip on the tube to get your nations weather report. It isn't looking good for you today. But this is the only day you have time to go fishing. You sit around awhile drinking your coffee, watching the birds at your feeders and wonder how does a bird that small eat three pounds of food a day. Your mind is wandering a million miles a minute, although this could stem from the caffeine induced jolt your body just took. You then jump into a scalding hot shower to loosen up the muscles that aren't quite awake yet. Then proceed to dress in way too many layers of clothing to keep warm while you're out on the river.
Arriving at the river you notice that nobody else is around. Too cold for the rookies you guess. Only a madman would try and go fishing on a day like today anyway. The snow is three feet deep, the water is running a bit high but clear, the wind is blowing out of the north which you estimate at around 40 mph, and you are casting straight into it no matter where you stand. You are now hoping to catch the most beautiful of fish species – a steelhead.
"Only a madman would try and go fishing on a day like today."
This is a fish that can drive anyone into sheer ecstasy. A silver bullet of a fish powered by pure adrenaline with magnificent crimson stripes running down its sides. You rig up your rod "indy" style, proceeding to fish a dead-drift presentation. Your fingers go numb tying knots, putting split-shot on the line and then open your fly box to put on a fly of choice. You think today that they will like a yellowish-pink yarn egg. After rigging up your rod you reach into your pack and pour yourself some more coffee to get the blood running back into your cold, hard veins. After you have finished, you walk and pick out that little piece of pocket water that you're sure will hold a fish. You make the first step into the water and a shiver of cold runs up your spine and your feet go instantly numb. The water temperature is a mere 38 degrees according to your thermometer. You begin to roll-cast your presentation to the fish with precision mending then stack mending on top through your drift. No take. Working the water thoroughly for a while you pick a new spot and move on.
"There is weight at the other end of your rod as it pulsates back and forth."
On your first cast in this new section and halfway through your drift your indicator slightly dimples the waters surface and you set the hook. There is weight at the other end of your rod as it pulsates back and forth. The fish is lethargic at first because it doesn't realize that someone at this point is pulling back causing tension. The fish soon wakes up and breaks the surface bull-dogging its way up river. You let the fish take some line being careful not to break the six-pound tippet – the only link between you and the fish.
After a brief but tough battle you have the fish whipped and soon into your net. You remove the hook from its upper jaw and say a prayer of thanks to him as he slowly swims back into the depths of the river. Sitting there a moment catching your breath you begin to look around to see if anyone has noticed you.
But it's just you and nature.
Your secret is safe for that moment.
You feel alone and head back home.
Shawn Chalker is a religiously devout fly fisherman and fly tyer who calls Royal Oak, Michigan, his home base although he has fished all over, across, and in every part of the United States.
This is Shawn's first contribution to The QE Journal.