Friday, June 1, 2012

The One that Got Away

About a year ago, the Mrs. and I dropped our little jon boat into Calligan lake.  This is one of my favorite places to fish - it is a 300 acre mountain lake, just on the border of the beautiful Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  On this morning, the sun darted in and out of the clouds and a slight, wind pushed our little boat eastward as started casting our fly-lines back toward shore.

We approached a familiar shoal.  “Be ready, I always get fish here” I told her, and sure enough, we each caught a fish; her’s was a cutthroat and mine, a brook trout.  The wind kept pushing us eastward at a nice pace, so we rarely had to adjust with the motor.  The fish became very cooperative and we caught a mix of all three types of trout in Calligan.  

She and I fell into the happy trance of anticipation, excitement, reward, and then peace that is fly-fishing when you do it right.

It felt like all the tension between us was slipping away with each fish caught.  After just 2 hours on the lake, we were a team again; our fly-lines never tangled each other as we silently and unconsciously alternated our casts.  We celebrated each other’s catches.  We talked about the trout and the scenery but mostly we just fished.

Eventually the action died away and we found ourselves bobbing in the middle of the lake.  We were both facing the peaks that border the Wilderness next door.  We sat for a while in silence, just soaking up the peace and solitude.

“Let’s not do this.  Let’s not get divorced.” she said.  Her voice was low and clear but there was a pain in it.

I kept looking at the snow-capped peaks far away.

The world seemed to stop.  The wind disappeared and the water became calm.  The sun and clouds froze in place.  The future of our lives, and that of our son, depended on this moment.  

I couldn’t look at her.  I knew that she would be too beautiful.  And, I was afraid that the pain in her voice would be showing in her eyes.  The words came out of my mouth, surprising me, I wasn’t really sure what decision I had made.

“It’s too late.” I said.  “We can’t turn back now.”

I re-engaged the motor and turned the us toward the boat launch.  I could hear her weeping softly, making those sniffling sounds one makes when they are trying to stop.  

Something about the moment made it clear that she would not offer this again, and she hasn’t. Fly-fishing had temporarily brought us close enough back together that we could have bridged the distance.  She had reached out to me and I turned away.

Now I wake up alone every day.  Life gets smaller and smaller as I give away my last few things.  Soon I will have nothing and when the house sells, no home either.  She and the boy live in another state now, they seem happy and prosperous.

Life stopped for me at that moment.  When the sun and clouds and wind stopped its almost like they never started moving again.

I constantly relive that moment on the water and each time my face gets tight and hot.

I should have looked at her.

I had everything and in that moment I let it slip away.

In better days - the one that got away

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lake Rotorua, New Zealand

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If you had read the "Saddest Fishing Report of All Time" then you might have been wondering what happened to me.  Let me catch you up.

I closed out "Act I" of my life in Washington by saying goodbye to everyone, selling my house, giving away my Jaguar and moving to Colorado to be near my son.  I took a new job (actually the greatest job, ever) as a Technical Marketing Manager with my company.  It requires that I travel about 20-30% of the time. That's fine, it means that "Act II" is starting out with something of a World Tour.
Lake Rotorua

I'm on one of those trips right now to Australia and New Zealand.  Unlike previous trips to Tel Aviv or New York, I was able to get some fishing in on this trip. I had arranged customer engagements in Sydney and Melbourne (both beautiful, modern cities) and then a day of engagements in Auckland, New Zealand.  I asked the sales guy in Melbourne "How long does it take to get to Auckland?"  He replied "Its about 3 hours and 20 years back in time."

View from the F5 office in Auckland
New Zealand is nothing like Australia.  Okay, the language is kind of the same, but the people are more laid back and the sales guy was right in that you feel like you are stepping backward in time.  In Sydney and Melbourne its all tailored suits and fancy, trendy fusion restaurants.  In Auckland its T-Shirts and flip-flops.

After finishing my business for the week, I rented a car and nervously drove the "wrong" side of the road down from Auckland for about 3 hours to Lake Rotorua, a large inland lake on the North Island with a beautiful geyser-based tourist town on the south side of the lake.  Checked into a local resort motel - everything on that side of the lake smells sulfuric from all the geysers.

Lake Rotorua is in the crater of a volcano (hence the sulfuric geysers everywhere).  As you probably know, Trout were unknown to this country before the European settlers brought them here.  Trout have done very well in New Zealand as a super-predator.  Lake Rotorua is lousy with rainbows and brown trout.  Ten pound browns are common here, and everyone who fishes here locally catches one sooner or later, sometimes from shore.

Guide Ernest Skudder picked me at 7 in the morning and minutes later we were launching into the lake.  Throughout the day we trolled (or harled, as they call it here) two flies on sinking lines on different parts of the lake.  We caught a fish or two every hour, all rainbow trout ranging from 1-4 lbs.  In the States I would say "ranging between 15-23 inches" but they never talk about fish in length here, its always pounds even though they are on the metric system.  Ernie said fishing was slow, but at the end of 8 hours we had caught about a dozen and kept eight of them.

Um, yeah, we're keeping this one
Keeping them?  In the States I'm a Catch and Release fisherman, but according to Ernie, we're encouraged to harvest them here to keep the population down.  You see, on a busy day there might be 3 boats on this large lake (80 sq km) and there are so many, many trout.  So we kept these and let an equal number free.

I'm a real tourist now

I kept two of these fish for myself, and Ernie gave the rest to some family and friends.  I shook Ernie's hand, thanked him for a great day, and took my two fish over to the local Amazing Thai restaurant.  I offered one to the chef as a gift and they cooked up the other one for me in a Panang Curry.  He ended up lookin' (and tastin') pretty good I think.

Panang Curry Trout
The next day I went exploring to some other nearby lakes that Ernie had recommended I visit.  The water was high and too calm for fishing, so I ended up going on a hike around one of them (Lake Okaro).  It is summer-time here; hot and humid.  Very different from the freezing, blizzard-like conditions of my new home in Colorado.

On that second day by myself, I only caught one small fish and lost one good one.  I wished I had brought my little Trail Boat.  Next time!

If you're a serious fly fisherman you may have imagined tromping through high mountain valleys in search of elusive ten pound browns in remote trout streams.  From what I understand, that kind of fishing is at the south end of the South Island of New Zealand, and I was nowhere near there.  However, getting to New Zealand was easier than I thought it would be, and I can tell this is someplace I'll be coming back to, maybe next year.

Black swan

If I decide to visit Lake Rotorua, well, it has an "international airport" right next to the lake.  Ernie says you that on Tuesdays and Saturdays you can take a 737 from Sydney directly to Lake Rotorua, and if you arrange it with him, he'll pick you up on shore, right next to the airport.  How cool is that!