October 21, 2011
Dark king salmon funnel into farm country. They're still there. Forgotten now. Slipping through a misty woodlot, appearing by the river. Nobody there. Listen for it. Ruckus. The tempest of beasts too large in a stream too small, fighting for position, fighting to survive where survival cannot be. Too warm, these farm-country streams. The eggs will hatch, but the progeny will die in the smallmouth regime, in the long, hot days of summer. Once upon a time, salmon may have reproduced here. Before the axes fell, and before the warning influence of farms sprawled across the land, many of these streams held trout that ran to the big water. Speckled ones. Already forgotten before you were born.
Fly box. Any streamer with a green back this year. Stout hook. Stout, 17-pound leader. An 8W rod. Maybe a 10, if the flies are large. Look for her. The brightest one. The males are all pain and scars. They mill about your feet, dark shadows of themselves. The silver rulers of the Big Lake, brought to this place, where bright orange oak leaves swirl on the currents. They will never feed in the aquamarine shadows of swells again.
Something spooks them. The water boils as they bang painfully into your shins and knees. They settle. Circle. Reposition. You wait.
There! A bright flash. A white belly turns up. A powerful tail throws gravel. Three feet below her a male closes his kype around the peduncle of a precocious king, snaps his head and flings the intruder through the air. No country for young kings.
She makes her bed. The suitors jostle for position. The fly is placed 10 feet upstream and a few feet beyond the new redd. It swings past a couple feet short. Perfect. Strip 6 inches. Punch another cast. She'll take it on the 4th drift. Maybe the fifth. Ok, sixth. A powerful surge. Panic reigns in the shallow kingdom. A maelstrom of kings, fleeing in all directions.
Stumble on a rock. Rod rises into a maple. She shreds it out. Leaves fall on the receding line. Backing appears. But she can't last. Her best days are behind her. She'll tire soon. Stuffed into my waders, I find a plastic bag. Here she comes. Haul her to the long, sweeping, sweetgrass draped in the flow and slide her long torso up, onto the bank. A quick massage and the eggs fly into the waiting plastic. Orange gold. Enough for half a winter. One more and leave them alone. Their efforts wasted on procreation, but appreciated none the less. Long shadows in the yellow wood. Ruckus in the lonely, darkening stream. The machinations of forgotten kings.