As typical, the wind picked up in the early evening with a whiff of burnt grass and unseen smoke. The smell of distant fire was a foreshadowing of what tomorrow may bring. Two ranch hands on horseback moved an ornery herd, quilted in black and brown, through steep sage on native lands river left. The audible encouragement from the saddle was frequently drowned by the rumbling of bovine hooves replacing the bison thunder of the past. My hope for tranquil air is echoed by arcing swallows, being pushed about by unpredictable gusts, while bombing the water’s surface.
As my moving waders thread through the brush to the water’s edge, the low horizon darkens with an eruption of tan snowfall in mountain winds. I keep my mouth closed and breathe carefully to keep caddis from getting too deep. Occasionally I fail, and like those below, I taste what they’ve anticipated through the clue of diminishing light. Squinting to keep the living cloud from my eyes, I think this must be quite a comfortable home for finned residents. Continual meals, rapids adjacent to a boiling back eddy, and a bottomless abyss to relax….if I had gills this is where I’d live.
The summer circle of life, playing out on a diurnal cycle, appears on cue. Redside trout begin to anticipate twilight through enthusiastic takes of deep dead drifts. The largest forego their typical aerial show in replacement of aggressive headshakes and blistering runs that rip line from the calmness near shore, towards the deep high speed volume of the main run. Whitefish, who have been content with their small piece of territory near the bottom, become overwhelmed with the influx of their more colorful and spotted salmonid cousins. Although they share the abundance of what’s coming, whitey has a fondness for the deep while the reds find opportunity more readily and begin rising for new bounty.
As their takes move closer to the surface, trying to match the top water diversity is useless. Black, brown, tan, small, medium, and large caddis bust from the water in an overlapping symphony, that in unison with the breaking waves, sounds a bit like Copeland to me. Surface feeding comes in steady waves of increasing intensity separated by periods of complete silence of the surface film.
It’s coming. Stay calm. Position yourself and focus on your plan. I watch an apple take its 40 second lap of the back eddy as I tie on a third emerger. Dries seem useless in the buffet options and numbers that are uncountable. It starts, not with a slow build up, but like a locomotive busting from an over stoked coal furnace. I cannot quite comprehend what my eyes understand. Caddis erupt from the surface film and beat me in a blizzard of tan that looks like a sandstorm and feels like wind driven winter grapel. The pelting on my bare forearms of newly winged adults is hypnotic. Momentarily paralyzed I stop swinging, laugh with a closed mouth, and stare at the surface cacophony that eclipse’s my view of the water. What is the ultimate hatch? Could this be it and will I ever see this again? Just how many were there, a 100,000, a million? No idea, but I had to sit down before my mind exploded contemplating this playing out for hundreds of Deschutes miles through the heat of summer.
The opportunistic time to add mass brought every local Redside to the surface. Rolling dorsal fins that remained hidden until now reminds me how often life teems in places that appear dead just hours before. My emergers, swung in short quick succession, was all about statistical probability. The feeding was so intense, with a lack of any true discrimination, that it was all about mixing in with the piranha fever as many times as possible. It worked. Over and over. As the pool turned calm, so was I. My eyes stared at the moon while my mind stared at my connection with insects, fish and moving water.
I reflect on the details often over looked. The bond to other living things seen through my reflection in their eyes before release, the veiny patterns in tiny wings, and how hatches numbering in thousands are made up of individuals. The details matter. The nuances of presentation, the durable tail of a freshly tied pattern, or the pink hue in the collar behind the bead….it all matters. But the beauty of it all is I will never know completely what matters when. The focus is then on everything, the minutia of matching petite wings, when swallows begin getting restless, and the timing of moonlight on random attractors swung through a feverous seam. Noticing the smallest of things ultimately ushers in answers to the biggest questions.
As my senses lose the power of sight in the blackness, my mind focuses on what I believe is distant hooves interrupted by swaying grass in a diminishing wind. Contented, I savor a reward IPA from my pack hoping to find my way back to the truck. I stumble over the unseen with not a care in the world except rattlers and stray cattle.