Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Steelheading on dry land

John Gierach's latest in Gray's ("The Velvet Handshake", March/April 2014) about steelheading paints a picture that, oddly enough, lessens the sting of a slow bird season. The only steelhead in South Carolina are hanging on walls in offices and living rooms, but it's not difficult to understand both the allure and the long stretches of nothingness that shape the experience.  Gierach doesn't moan so much as explain that not catching steelhead is as much a part of the business as catching.

When times are poor the rule of thumb is there's nowhere to go but up, so when they actually get a bit worse it's enough to cause panic or, in the worst scenario, a compound case of seasonal affective disorder. Day after day it teeters between maddening and soul-crushing and yet the thought of quitting, of putting away the gear or selling it and leaving it behind for good never emerges.

On the other hand, dry spells do seem to breed a dangerous excess of contemplation on all matters personal, public or otherwise. According to Zen ideology the mind isn't supposed to wander. Stay in the moment, focus on the present, be here now. According the bird hunter the mind does, in fact, wander. Wanna re-think your career, your relationships, the way you're raising your kids or the future of the country? Grab the dog and go look for quail.

The arc carved by a fly line on a perfect two-handed cast is not much different than one carved through grass by a fire-breathing pointer. Things such as these fill the void and bring the mind back to the here and now.

If you find three or four or even eight coveys, you remember the day. If you find one covey and shoot one bird you remember the bird. Either way you're bagging memories, which is really all you have left after the meat is gone.

And if the dog never catches a zephyr of scent? There are reasons you head back out in the face of long odds, and it's better if you don't try to justify them.

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