Thursday, June 19, 2008

Big Two-Hearted River 1

I first encountered “The Big Two-Hearted River” when I showed up for a class at university, where we were supposed to be reading Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan. But the prof, who had scant regard for such an arriviste writer, said that we would read Hemingway’s story instead. It was the real trout fishing in America story, he believed.

I have since read Brautigan’s little novel. His story is perhaps more suited to a blog humidified, as this one is, by sex. But on the subject of trout fishing, and speaking as an amateur of both literature and fly-fishing, the prof was right. More on that later.

In a couple of weeks, we will be drifting down our own Big Two-Hearted River: the west coast of Canada has a dozen world-class fishing rivers, and countless smaller ones. We will be fishing one of the best-known.

It has been a cold spring this year, which means the trout have been slow coming up the river, waiting for the snow to melt off the mountain tops. The snow is starting to melt, sending the fish their invitation to swim upstream as fast as they can to find the safety of the cool, deep lake.

Rainbow trout are strong and muscular, their colour is bright and noble. Cutthroat trout in the river will be more numerous - smaller, and darker but for the telltale orange fins below their gills, the slash of colour that gives them their name.

The section of river we will fish is fly-fishing only. I doubt if we will catch any we can keep. You are only allowed to keep hatchery fish here; all wild trout have to be returned to the river to preserve the strain. It is worth doing, as painstaking as it sounds. You can tell the hatchery fish because they have their adipose fin snipped off.

Women learn to fly fish more quickly than men. The still posture, and the limited action of the arm, so necessary, are not easy things to manage for most men, who are goaded on by experiences of sport where to do something better means you just have to move your body and arms harder and faster. Women don’t have that macho thing about being better than the next guy, or catching more fish, and proving themselves. They just pay attention and move their arms as instructed, and watch the fly gracefully drift out and land like a piece of dandelion floss on the surface. Men make much more of a mess of it. Yet most fly-fishers are men. That dogged hunter-gatherer competition, to receive the accolades of the tribe by feeding it, runs deep.

Somewhere, in the still waters of their souls, men believe their trophies are breeding plumage, inciting sexual heat in the females of the species.

1 comment:

Z said...

Men see it as a chance to compete, perhaps, and women prefer other ways of competing?