Harold rapped on the screen door. A raspy voice came from inside.
Faye was sitting at the table smoking a crudely built cigarette. He was gazing out the window over the icy fields into the yellowed distance.
You’re not fishing, Harold said, relieved. No hurry in the cold mornings. Water needs to warm up some.
Not today it doesn’t, said Harold, surprised he still had enough energy to get excited. The Cottonwoods is full of steelhead and they’re frisky.
They’re rolling around on the top like a bunch of seals.
Faye looked away from the window and straight at Harold for the first time since his old friend had walked through the door. With a leisurely flick, he swept the ash that had fallen onto his lap onto the floor.
Yeah, rolling. That’s right. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Coho, Faye said as if he were admonishing his companion.
Not coho. They’re steelhead. I know a steelhead when I spot one, Harold said defensively.
Why didn’t you cover them then?
This was all Harold had to say. Faye understood all the implications of the word in that context. He scratched the grizzled stubble on his chin then stabbed his cigarette into an empty sockeye salmon tin. Faye leaned onto the upholstered back of the ratty old chair he was sitting in. He looked up at the ceiling as if he was looking off into the distance. His thin lips formed into a faint smile.
We’d better go fish those fish, then, he said at last, before someone else does.
For the first since their conversation started, Harold detected a tinge of excitement in Faye’s voice.
You’re damn right we should, you old bugger, he thought, then he said, you bet we should.
Over the years Faye had reduced his equipment to a minimum, and, like Harold’s, was always at hand. In moments he’d pulled on his waders and buttoned the solitary strap holding them up. Together they walked back across the field to the car, sharing a quiet, growing excitement.
The inexpensive digital wristwatch Harold kept pinned to the inside of his fishing vest was at 9:03:58 when they got out of the car. Harold was surprised there was still nobody else on the river.
He found a rock large enough to make a comfortable seat and afford him a view of the proceedings. Faye was already at the head of the run. He yelled something that was lost in the sound of the river. Harold strained but couldn’t hear him. He waved and nodded his head as if he had.
Faye hunched over, his rod resting against his shoulder, and searched through his leather fly wallet. He found the appropriate pattern, knotted it to his leader, and sent out across the water with the economy of motion only men who have made thousands and thousands of casts over thousands of fish are capable.
The fly landed with the kind of force that would have made a trout fisherman shudder, but Harold knew it was a function of Faye’s craft: a technique designed to carry compact flies to the cold places where late-returning steelhead lie.
Faye guided his fly through its first drift as Harold watched intently, anticipating a pull – fishing with his old pal from a distance.
Another cast, another drift, again nothing. Faye took a few short steps downstream and repeated the motions exactly. The line hesitated. Faye struck. Harold’s arm twitched in painful sympathy. Faye pulled again. He pulled once more. Harold sagged. Faye was fastened to the bottom.
At least he’s near the bottom, he said as if there was someone standing next to him.
Faye managed to free the hook. He reeled in and checked it then gave it a cursory stroke with the file, then picked up the rhythm again. As he repeated the motions, Harold noticed there were almost imperceptible changes to the routine each time. Sometimes the mends were smaller, sometimes a little later in the drift, sometimes a little more line was held back on the forward stroke and later fed into the flow at different times during the swing. Periodically, Faye gave the rod tip a twitch so quick Harold would have missed it had he not been following the performance with such care.
…..continued next week….