MAY 08, 2007

The opening of fishing season has none of the resonance here as in some places. Salmon and steelhead begin their run early and trout may not be taken until later. There are rules about these weighty matters. The dams on the Russian River remain down this time of year but the steelhead have finished their business, so there is little point going out there. The main show here is trout and always has been. Among trout in California, you may encounter brook trout or golden trout. The increasingly rare and hard to find brown trout is not to be trifled with.

We don't have walleyes here, but a few have proposed importing a few against significant objections.

The golden trout are thought to originate from Lake Martha, main source of the Joaquin River. Lake Martha is way up there around 12,000 feet and surrounded by a gravel basin they call Wotan's Parking Lot. We have stood there and it is quite a desolate place. The fish are found throughout the High Country but seldom on the plate in restaurants and never in groceries, for they are rare creatures with a bright yellow belly and a red streak along the body. They are colorful on the string but fade rapidly after gutting.

Brookies are multi-hued, like rainbows in their diversified colors, and will leap a great distance when hooked in a stream. They argue strenuously about coming to shore and often will shake loose right there on the bank only to flop back into the water, pausing momentarily as if to say, "this is what you could have had, were you only more worthy". Then they dart off with another "the one I almost had" story.

They, too, appear to be an argument for the existence of god while alive in all vibrant color, but fade quickly after death as do most of us.

In the High Country, where we at Island Life do the fishing, we do not encounter the bass, of any size of mouth. Bass do not inhabit regions above 11,000 feet, for that elevation is considered bass-verboten.

Jim and Mike went out to Bear Lake, fishing while Agnus and Susan remained on shore, hiking and talking about football, pro wrestling and rebuilding carburetors - girl stuff, you know. Eugene went with them, the boys in the boat that is, and he caught a nice two pounder right away. Pretty soon he caught another, but neither Jim nor Mike got so much as a nibble. Pretty soon Eugene had caught his limit but he kept right on fishing and every time he caught another, he threw it back.

Meanwhile Jim and Mike sat there in the boat with Eugene catching one fish after another. Might as well have been tossing a string to the cat in the livingroom.

Mike's curses drifted across the surface of the placid lake to Agnus on shore, who wondered about these things. Eugene had caught yet another fish.

Along with Mike's invective, a gentle breeze blew across the lake. Spring had come to California some weeks ago, and after the initial hot spell, the weather had settled into morning fog along the coast and a moody archapelago of clouds further inland.

Eventually the boys headed back to shore where they cleaned Eugene's fish and had some of them for dinner. Susan wanted to know why there were so few, but they had rice to go along with it. At the end of the trip Jim and Mike had caught a crappie a piece, but Eugene's luck remained with him and so he drove back in his pickup with an ice chest full of trout.

While they were driving back in the van, Jim felt something crawling up his leg inside his trousers, so he pulled over. Sue asked him what was the matter and Jim cursed.

Wood tick.

Of course Sue wanted to know where it was. Jim pulled the van over onto an old unpaved logging road. He got out and unfastened his belt. The wood tick was on the inside of his left thigh, rather high up.

Well, said Sue. Let me see about it.

So Jim dropped his pants there while Sue got some matches, vaseline and tweezers while images of horrible gangrene and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever ran through his mind.

Owww! Keep those matches away from me, he said. I won't have any fire anyplace around there.

Don't be a baby, she said.

No matches, he insisted.

(This had not been a good fishing trip.)

As Jim looked down the sun glanced off of Sue's hair and he noticed the flecks of gray -- they had been together some eighteen years. He noticed that she had kept herself well for those years -- must be the dance lessons. Then, of course the inevitable happened and Sue commented, do wood ticks and vaseline always have this effect on you?

Golden poppies nodded, smiling, in the warm breeze beside the logging road in the dappled sunlight. It was Spring after all.

Eugene got back home and smoked some of the trout, and fried up the rest. Mike and Agnus got back in good time and went out to the Island Grill for dinner and there they enjoyed a fair to middling sea bass (which is really Argentinian Toothfish, sea bass being nearly extinct).

Jim and Sue did not get back until very late, and besides flecks of grey, there were leaves and twigs in her hair.

The wood tick died.

That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.