T he more closely Harold watched Faye fish the Cottonwoods Run, the more convinced he became of the deliberation and design in Ira’s craft. Every movement was precise and rooted in necessity. Thin and bent and accurate, Faye looked like a giant wading bird prowling the margin of the stream.
Harold had fished beside Ira many times before, but never so close to him as he was now. From his rock he could appreciate a performance so fine that he couldn’t help but become part of it.
Faye lifted his arm. The rod bent deeply. Seconds later there was a boil at the line’s end.
Harold saw a large tail. He whooped and jumped up, but Faye said nothing. His concentration shifted seamlessly from the drift of the line to the fighting fish.
The fish did not jump. Instead it ran hard and deep. Ira palmed the reel and shifted his left hand up the rod. He began to work the fish again deliberately and with practised accuracy. The fish responded with a purposefulness of its own.
I’ll bet it’s a big buck, Harold thought.
I bet it’s a big old buck, he called out as Faye, who hadn’t heard him, pulled the large male ashore, stumbled slowly across the rocky beach, squatted awkwardly, then fumbled with the fish for an agonizingly long time before he pried the hook out of the creature, and pushed it into the water.
After pausing for a moment, Faye resumed the hunt where he had left off – exactly where he had left off, it seemed to Harold.
Harold was just getting caught up in Faye’s art once more when the rod doubled again. This fish mirrored the first, but though it was smaller, Harold noted that Faye took longer to bring it to shore. After they released it – Faye up close, Harold from afar – Harold breathed more quickly. The cold air showed Faye was too.
Take a break, said Harold under his breath, take a breather you old coot.
A pickup truck rumbled past – Harold could tell it was a truck by the rattle of the box against the frame. He looked toward the road, then back upstream to Faye who was playing the third fish for the morning. My god, another one, he thought, another one. Unbelievable fishing for this time of year.
This fish was the best of the trio. It ran far downstream, so far that it threatened to leave the run. Faye clamped down on his reel and held his ground.
Right, thought Harold, dead right. If you chase him, he’ll leave the glide, go over and down. He’ll keep going and you’ll lose him in the rapids above the bridge.
Faye pumped the rod. The fish grudgingly came back, only to turn and run down river again. Three more times the steelhead ran, each run a little shorter than the one that preceded it. After what seemed a very long time, Faye wrestled it to shore. Harold thought his partner looked like a man walking down an ice covered trail as he walked over the rocky beach to release the fish. This time Faye stopped after two steps to catch his breath. He stopped once more when he reached his quarry, took another breath, then knelt down gingerly. The hook had come free on its own. Faye pushed the brute back into the river and stayed on all fours for a while before slowly straightening up and slowly making his way back to his rod.
That’s more than you can expect from this pool this late in season, Harold barked.
Faye was still breathing hard. He stumbled once more, steadied himself, and sent out another cast. Harold couldn’t be sure his partner had heard him.
Harold’s arthritic joints had stopped throbbing. He had forgotten about them momentarily. As Faye resumed fishing and Harold began fishing with him vicariously, the pain returned.
Harold made a tunnel with his hands and held it to his mouth.
You can stop now, he yelled.
Faye looked toward Harold. It was obvious he hadn’t got the message. Harold held his hand up again and bellowed.
I said, you can stop.
Faye shook his head from side to side. He’d heard, but he wasn’t about to stop.
Harold was prone to worry, but he worried more, now that he’d reached his eighth decade, than he used to. More than a few of his friends had succumbed to heart attacks, others had fallen and never recovered from a broken hip or a broken leg. A man his age was so much more vulnerable. You just had to take care. Harold didn’t know Faye’s age exactly, but he knew that if Faye was younger than he was, it wasn’t by much.
….continued next week…