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Angling and Some Acts of God
Thomas McGuane
August 09, 1971
Delayed by a poisonous prawn and torrential rains suggesting disinterest—if not anger—from above, the fishermen finally found their British Columbia rainbows
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August 09, 1971

Angling And Some Acts Of God

Delayed by a poisonous prawn and torrential rains suggesting disinterest—if not anger—from above, the fishermen finally found their British Columbia rainbows

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It had rained enough that our simple cabin with its Air-tight heater acquired a special and luxurious glamour. When we got good and cold, usually the result of running the boat in one direction while the wind took the rain in another, we would head for the cabin, put some wood in the heater, douse it with coal oil and throw in the magic match that made everything all better. This was the romance of the heater. We played with the flue, adjusted the draft, and while the logs rumbled and roared inside we tuned the thing like a violin. One afternoon when a view through any of the windows would have suggested that the cabin was Captain Nemo's vessel and that we were at the bottom of the sea, Frank leapt to his feet with an expensive Japanese camera in his hands and began to take picture after picture of the tin heater rumbling peacefully with our wet laundry hanging around it in homage. You could say it was our little darling.

One of the exhilarations of fishing new places lies in rendering advice into some kind of obtained reality. Cast the fly, you are told, right along the bank and the trout will rise to it. So you cast and you cast until presently you are blue in the face and the appealing syllogism you started with is not always finished. When it does not work, you bring your vanquished person back to the dock where there is no way to weigh or measure the long face you have brought instead of fish. At the first whisky, you announce that it has been a trying day. Then someone else says that it is nice just to get out. Irrationally, you wonder how you can get even for the remark.

But once, when the British Columbia sky made one of those spectacular partings we associate with the paintings of Turner or the handing down of stone tablets, we saw what had been described to us in the beginning.

Large fish, their fins showing above the water, were working schools of salmon fry: a setup. We started the engine and ran upwind of them, cut the engine and started to drift down. We had the goods on them. When in range I false-cast a few times, made a long cast beyond them and gently retrieved into their midst.

I hooked a fish instantly. It made a strong first run, then mysteriously flagged. I reeled. It came obediently to the boat where Frank netted it.

"What is that?" he asked. In the net was some kind of revolting giant minnow.

"It is Martha Raye," I said bitterly. "She has been drinking." Later we learned that it was a squawfish. No one ever caught one on purpose.

It was not until almost our last day that the river began to disclose itself. We made a drift past the Indian village where we were seeing occasional rises. The problem was that the river was so clouded that the fish were unable to see a fly. The condition was blamed on a stump desert left by nearby logging.

We began to drift, blind-casting large Wulff flies ahead of us, mending the line to keep the river from bellying it and dragging the fly. In very short order a bright band appeared beneath my fly, moved downstream with it and inhaled. I lifted and was solid to a very good fish, which was netted some minutes later. It bumped heavily in the bottom of the boat until I could get the fly out and release it.

We were startled. A short time later another came, boiling the fly under with a very positive, deep take—and was released. There were no rises to be seen any longer, though fish rose fairly well to our own flies until we had six. Then the whole factory shut down, and nothing would persuade a trout to rise again. While it had lasted, all of British Columbia that had existed had been the few square inches around my dry fly. With the rise over, the world began to reappear: trees, lake, river, village, wet clothes.

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