Readers Cast

SWAN SONG (fiction)

Neil M Travis - Nov 5, 2012

"You sure you're up to this? You know that it's quite a hike back into the lake. We could just toss the boat in the river and float for the day."

"Nope, I want to fish the lake today. The big caddis should be hatching and I know how those big old cutthroats love those big old caddis. I have a hankering to tie into one of those big old cutts."

Without another word he shouldered his pack, picked up his fly rod and started up the trail. His companion fell in behind him. It was a good hike up the old logging road to the faint trail that lead through the timber to a scree slope that tumbled down from the side of the big rocky mountain where, in a treeless basin, a deep blue lake sat like a jewel among the gray rocks. The two anglers picked their way through the rocky rubble along a faint trail that lead down to the lake.

Once at the lake they stood looking out over the calm surface of the high mountain lake. The lake was nearly circular, set in a cirque surrounded by mountain peaks that rose two thousand feet above the lake surface. The lake itself was at nearly eight thousand feet, and over two thousand feet above the valley below. At the eastern end a talus slide from the flank of the mountain reached down to the very edge of the lake, and Pikas could often be seen running over the rocky surface gathering the sparse grasses into small hay stacks; food for the long winter months. On the southern end a small stream tumbled down from the snow fields that persisted throughout the summer months, and on the western side of the lake the small outlet stream tumbled down a narrow canyon toward the valley far below. The water was as clear as fine crystal and you could easily see the bottom at nearly 30 feet. Both anglers knew that it was the residence of some bragging sized native cutthroat trout. They dropped their packs and began to inflate their float tubes.

Although it was late morning by the time the anglers reached the lake the sun had yet to completely fill the cirque with light. As the sun moved slowly across the surface of the water the first caddis appeared. From experience the anglers knew that when those large caddis popped to the surface they would run along the surface toward the shore. The cutthroat would cruise along the edge of the drop-off and smash the big caddis as they made their run for the shore. By kicking along the shore line and casting a large caddis imitation out toward the drop-off and quickly stripping it back on the surface was nearly guaranteed to result in a spectacular rise from one of the resident trout.

The key to hooking one of those bruisers was to let the trout hook itself. The rises were always violent, and if you reacted to the rise you would usually pull the fly out of the mouth of the fish or just hook it in the front of the jaw where it would frequently pull loose during the ensuing battle. If you could resist the urge to set the hook the fish would strike the fly and turn down with the fly in its mouth and it would lodge in the corner of the jaw. Once the fish had turned down the angler simply had to tightend up on the line and the fish would be well hooked. Then it was simply a matter of hanging on and let the fish fight the bend of the rod and the resistant of the drag of the reel.

The older angler was the first one to slip his tube into the water and kick slowly away from shore. The younger angler stood watching him begin to strip line from his reel and seemingly effortlessly send a sixty foot cast out toward the center of the lake. He thought to himself that he hoped that he was as fit as that old man when he was his age. Before he could get his tube into the water he heard the shrill whine of a reel and he saw that his partner had struck first blood for the day. He kicked out toward him and arrived just in time to see him net a fat twenty inch cutthroat. Quickly he slipped the hook from the corner of his jaw and allowed him to shoot back into the depths of the lake. He looked up and a broad smile spread across his face.

The sun marched across the sky scribing an arch from east to west in its daily trek from sunrise to sunset. The caddis hatched sporadically but the fish responded vigorously to any real or imitation that came to their attention. The fish were strong and fat from feeding on the fresh water shrimp and isopods that inhabit the lake, and each hooked fish fought long and hard before coming to the net. Most of the day one of them was fighting a fish, and on several occasions both of them were doing battle simultaneously.

The sun was heading for the western horizon as the two anglers kicked slowly back toward the shore. After they deflated their float tubes, they shouldered their packs and began the climb back to top of the cirque. Once at the top the older angler stood looking back over the lake now shrouded in the creeping darkness of night. The younger angler thought that he stood there an inordinate amount of time since they had a good hike ahead of them before they got back to the trailhead. When he turned back toward the trail the younger angler thought he detected a tear slowly rolling down his cheek.

The sun broke through the clouds as they pulled the casket from the back of the hearse. The wind sent the last of the autumn leaves rattling off the now nearly barren trees; sending a shower of golden and yellow leaves whirling around the mourners. As the younger angler helped carry the casket to the gravesite he couldn't help but think about their last fishing trip just a few weeks before. He never let on that cancer was filling his lungs and that the doctors had told him that there was nothing that could be done to stop its spread. Now he understood why he stood so long looking out over the lake, and now he understood the tear. As they lower the casket onto the bier over the open grave a skein of swans flew low over the cemetery. The old angler had gone home.

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