• Winter Dreaming

    I had gone beyond the narrow water. I worked my way around the alder thickets and fished from pool to pool until I reached the shallow flat water below the barrier thicket. In this place the stream was open to the sky and shallow but had rocks and seams on the bottom to shelter the trout, and there was a small run at the head that pushed into a low rock ledge. For the few fishermen that came this far, this was the climax pool of the day. This was the place that they fished carefully and successfully, and then they turned away from the barrier thicket and hiked through the forest and back to the road. I went around the barrier thicket. It was a hard way around. Above the thicket, the brush opened up to allow for careful casting again, and there were pools with trout in them, including one deep pool shaded by white pines.

    Above the deep pool the little stream came down from the left. It was a trickle more than a stream, a little spring water coming down from the low hills. The alders crossed their branches over the stream and crossed their branches over the banks. Three times I had to turn back and find another route. Twice I got to my hands and knees and crawled twenty or thirty yards where the alders were thickest.

    It was midsummer. It was hot, with a high blue-white sky. When I got to the low beaver dam I was muddy from crawling, and hot and tired. The water above the low dam was dark and still. It was fifteen feet wide, and several feet deep. I couldnít see the bottom. The fish should be there.

    After resting below the dam, I tied a small wet fly to my tippet and cast it out into the water. It sank slowly in the deep water, and I twitched it back to me. On the next casts I let the fly sink deeper toward the bottom, I tried faster and slower retrieves. I cast to the middle of the channel, and toward the left bank and then the right bank. There were no fish.

    I worked my way up the pool, past a clump of alders. The sharp swamp grass was waist high. My shoes were wet in the muddy wet channels between the clumps of swamp grass. Above the alder clump I studied the water again. I shook out my line and cast the fly upstream into the channel. The fly hit the water with a little splash and began to sink below the surface. Then the bow wave came.

    The bow wave broke from the opposite bank and just upstream from the little fly. I could see a long form undulating toward my fly. My heart stopped as I held onto the rod and waited for the strike from the biggest stream trout I had known. But there was no strike. The bow waved stopped at the fly, and the animal that made the wave sank deeper into the water. I started a fast, panicked retrieve, hoping the fish would rush up to the fly. The dark form turned downstream and passed me where I stood on the bank. It looked like it was three feet long. Then it came to the surface, turned on its back, pushed its head above the surface, and looked at me. An otter! A long, sleek, beautiful otter had been hunting through the beaver meadow, had turned at my fly, and now we watched each other, the wild otter and I. After a few seconds, the otter lowered his head, swiveled so his back broke the surface, he turned toward the bottom, and then he was gone.

    I woke up in bed. The house was quiet and dark. I was alert, remembering the details of the otter dream. The dream returned now, in the cold winter nights, once or twice a week. I remembered the long hike up the main stream, the hot sun on the back of my hands and on my neck, the sweat on my face and the mosquitoes that probed through my shirt and into my shoulders. I remembered the struggle around the barrier thicket, the cold water of the tributary, and the awkward crawl through the alders to reach the beaver meadow. I remembered that no fish came to my fly, and then the bow wave and the beautiful otter looking at me looking at him. He swam away, and this is where I wake up.

    This dream comes in late December every year, and as the sun turns again toward the north and the long nights fade into longer days, a dream that comes more and more often until the snow is gone from the fields. When the snow is gone, I start fishing the small streams, and the otter dream fades until the following winter.

    The otter dream is also a memory. I lived the otter dream more than forty years ago, and the details are as sharp now as if the otter and I met last week. This is a haunting, welcome dream, like the memory of a girl once known, or a first hunting dog now gone, or a childhood friend lost in the years.

    The otter dream is not the only dream.

    The dreams are fishing dreams. They are of small streams and small rivers. There are trout involved. The trout are not always large, but they are always there. As the winter wears on, I specialize in dreaming about brook trout in forest streams. None of the other dreams are as rich, none are as detailed as the otter dream, but I recognize the landscapes and the pools. Most of the dreams are of places I have fished and where I have done well.

    But several times in the last three winters I have wakened from dreams of places I have never seen. The small water is sliding over gravel and slowing in the pools, the fish are there, the sun comes through the trees, a breeze cools the side of my face. I donít know where I am. I cast into the stream and the fish strike the fly, I play them to the shallow water at the edge of the stream, and I release them. They sink in the water, rest on the bottom for a half a minute, then swim slowly toward the deep water.

    We moved to a new home. There are new streams to explore. In the summer I walk between the trees and stop at the small runs and pools. The wild brook trout live in these little streams. The fish are there and they strike at my fly. I play them to the bank, and release them back to their homes. When I think Iím ready to go back to the truck, I look up and I see the sky, the clouds, the trees, and the water of a dream. I know the day isnít over. Upstream I find the pool from the dream, the pool with the quick moving riffle breaking against a gray tree trunk, the shadow from the dream where the fish is holding over the gravel, there along the belly of the tree trunk. I cast the fly and it sinks in the water just as it sinks in the dream. The fish comes to the fly and I play it to my feet. In all the details of the dream, I hook the real fish and play it to the gravel, and then release it to its home.

    These experiences were unsettling at first. I have never seen these streams, except in the dream, but the riffle was there, breaking against the tree trunk, the shadow and the gravel and the trout were there, just as in the dream. I dreamed the stream in every detail, and then I lived the dream.

    This winter I am wakening from a new dream. I remember every detail, every riffle and rock. I drive to a stream I have never known. At the truck I choose my rod and flies, and walk across a meadow toward the water. The stream is shallow and wide, making wide curves through tall grass and clumps of alders and willows. The bank is level but firm, like a floodplain between the floods. A breeze blows across the grass, and the grass bows in the wind. The stream bottom is yellow sand, and the current carves designs in the sand. There are no fish here. I follow the water upstream. At the edge of the floodplain the land begins to rise, and the current is swifter. There are small trees near the banks. The water runs fast over round stones. The water is clear and cold. There are no fish. Further upstream the little valley is pinched between high wooded banks. Here the stream dashes back and forth through pools and undercuts. There are mature trees lining the stream, and there would be room to cast, but the water is full of down and tangled wood. Every pool and riffle has a log or a logjam across the stream, and casting would be futile. The valley is in shade, and the air is cool. I follow the stream further, looking for a reason to be there. Finally, I find a long narrow pool against the right bank. There is a dancing riffle at the head, and a slowing of current in the deep belly on the pool. The shallow tail is paved with small stones. I choose a sparsely tied wet fly that will sink quickly in the riffle. I am standing in the tail of the pool. I make a long cast to the riffle and the fly sinks out of sight. On the first drift I am stripping line and the fly stops in the deep water. I pull back, and the fish jerks forward, pulling the tip of my rod under the surface. I regain control of my rod as the fish turns downstream, swims down to within ten feet of me, and then turns and runs back up the pool. The fish is enormous for this little stream. The fish is the size of a salmon. The fish settles in at the foot of the current, in the deep water, and I lean back to try to pull the fish downstream. The heavy fish shakes its head and settles toward the bottom. I canít lift the fish. I can feel its broad slow swimming motions against the current. This is where I wake up from the dream.

    The house is dark and quiet. As I lie there, remembering the details of the stream, the cool air in the valley, remembering the choice of the fly, the long cast, and the strike and the strength of the fish. The furnace comes on, runs for a few minutes, and then shuts down again. I look at the clock. Itís 3:00 am. I go back to sleep.

    Iíve studied the maps of the county and the surrounding counties. There are three places with flat meadows with small streams, and upstream, narrow wooded valleys. The meadows are all long hikes from where I will park the truck. These are the places I will fish when summer comes. In one of these places an enormous trout will strike a sparsely tied wet fly, and settle in at the foot of the current, in the deep water, and shake its head against the pull of my rod.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Winter Dreaming started by Ernest View original post
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Ernest's Avatar
      Ernest -
      Thank you gentlemen for your kind comments.
    1. Mostyn's Avatar
      Mostyn -
      Ernest,

      I really enjoyed reading through your dreams; and I can relate to many of them myself! I once had a female Otter swim around me in just 2ft, of water on a small mountain stream; she hadn't realised that the obstacle in the stream was a Human; But, when she rose her head from the water, we looked at each other; I realised how beautiful these animals are, she turned and disapeared quickly, but remains forever in my memory as a wonderful meeting.
    1. heathcote's Avatar
      heathcote -
      I too dream, I would recognise the river if I am fortunate enough to ever find it but so far it has eluded me. However life it'self is but a dream and fishing is an ever part of life. Thank you for your very intuative writing, most enjoyable, please write more.