modes of participation in a migratory fishery as identity: a screed

Steelhead. Chasing chrome. Unicorns. An addiction, the most extreme form of freshwater fly fishing, a polemical and political minefield, where angling etiquette goes to die. The swing is the thing, strike indicators are for pussies, why don’t you want to actually catch a fish, it’s not as good as it used to be, this is our river you Fucking Illinois Bastards.

The rhetoric of steelheading as identity gets a tad exhausting. Can’t everybody be cool? It should be enough that they’re here, and we’re here, and that they’re miraculously ascending their natal system again before their cometlike peregrinations take them back beyond our ken, and that we’re casting flies at them instead of sitting at a desk or commuting or filing our taxes or any of the other muddy gray things that cast no light on the stony road of the inevitable. Why do so many of us have to be so loud and 21st century about it?

Hey, swinger. I get it, you’re a cowboy. Keep stepping down the run, John Wayne.

And you, with the strike indicators … don’t listen to them. You can be proud or ashamed, just keep doing your thing, but wait your turn. This isn’t Thunderdome.

And you, with the bait … you’re going do what you’re going to do, and you’re never ever going to read this anyway.

And all of you pick the hell up after yourselves and stay the fuck off the gravel. This isn’t your garage, and just cause it’s a self-sustaining population doesn’t mean we can’t still fuck it up.

Spring Branch, August 2012

Home water: it’s not glamorous, it’s not the lifetime trip destination river, it’s not necessarily action water, going there doesn’t even need to be about fishing.

The stuff of this aquifer flooded my cells for the earliest years of my life. Bubbling up from the rocks beneath where my grandparents lived and my mom escaped a bull through a split rail fence and my dad coached high school softball, down coulees as sudden and hidden as a Himalayan valley, draining into the aqueous highway below the Harpers Ferry lock and dam where generations of my family drowned worms in a blue Lund and listened to whippoorwills and the Soo Line at night all summer long.

My daughter is as much of a tourist here as I now am. We throw pellets to trout in concrete impoundments and watch them swirl and thrash and swim towards us and away from the rightness of their instinct. The fences around the spring-fed races are electrified at night to keep herons off the product. We’re all transfixed for different reasons.

There’s a pool downstream of the pens where the diverted water rejoins the branch. In the last days of this dry summer a mixed pod of wild browns and specs seems to hold in clear air alongside the cerise stripes of hatchery rainbows thousands of miles and generations from their mountain home. We watch from the high bank, rod unstrung. The Monster drops leaves on their heads and watches only the streamborn fish scatter.