Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

April 5th, 2003

DUSK
By Roger Emile Stouff

Desperate for water, but aware that the Atchafalaya River Basin had yet to clear up its muddy flow, I grabbed a couple rods after work and headed to a pond.

A cold front had passed through over the weekend, but it only dipped temperatues down into the mid-forties. I thought perhaps there might still be a fish willing to strike, if I held my mouth just right. Upon arriving at the pond, I started setting up on the tailgate of the truck. I use an Okuma soft tackle back pack, which I simply adore, and I have managed to adapt it to carrying a couple of rod tubes by lowering the butts into the lower side-pocket and using the strap midway up the pack. It holds four plastic tackle boxes below, not true fly boxes but they work great for me. I can keep all my knotless leaders in little pouches, and there are multitudes of spots to tuck cleaning pads, bug spray, pliers and the like. I keep four reels in a shaving bag in the upper compartment of the Okuma pack.

I assembled my seven-weight nine-foot South Bend cane, realizing that March is a great time for the bigger bass, and I knew there were some lunkers in this little pond. While looping the leader to the fly line, a young fella pulled up on a four-wheeler, his chocolate lab huffing alongside.

"Going fishing?" he asked.

"Well, I'm going casting," I said with a smile, though I was hoping I didn't appear overly friendly. I had only about an hour of daylight left. "You never know, really."

"Oh," he said, clearly disappointed. "I was going to let the dog swim, but I'll find someplace else."

I found this show of courtesy refreshing. "It's big enough," I said. "You can let her swim on one side, I'll fish the other."

"No, really," he said. "I'll go find another spot. I don't want to mess you up. I brought a rod out here one day and every time I'd cast, she's go after it. I gave up pretty quick."

With a smile and a wave, he and the dog meandered down the road in search of other water. I wish everyone were as polite.

Rigged up now, I shouldered the back pack and put on my Stetson. South Bend in one hand, I walked the fifty yards to the pond. The wind was breezy, making me grateful I had rigged the big cane rod, though I had a six-and-a-half foot graphite four-weight in its tube in the back pack if things calmed down.

There are few things I enjoy more about fishing than casting a bamboo fly rod. I am no purist: I have graphites and canes. But I find I can cast farther and better with bamboo, and though the weight of a nine-footer wears on my casting arm after a while, it's pure delight for me. My cane rods are decidedly production vintage: Grangers, South Bends, better grade Montagues and Horrock-Ibottsons. All reworked with modern guides and spacings. If I break one on a big bass, well, I'll cry a little, but far less than if I broke a Leonard or a Thramer.

Over the winter, I had stocked up on flies through Ebay, since I don't tie. I have found that bass love flies not intended for their big mouths. In this particular case, I had on the leader an Atlantic salmon fly, I'm guessing size six, and on my third cast, a twitch of the line suddenly was followed by a giant pull. I lifted, the South Bend curved over, and I was sure I had a respectable bass on.

About a minute later, he broke the surface, and I saw it was a big, dark bluegill, a good one pounder. A one pound bass would not have fought nearly so well. Though he would have been a blast on the four-weight, the South Bend still gave me a thrill. After taking a couple pictures, I let him back into his pond. I'll always be amazed by the fight in a bluegill.

I worked my way around the pond, casting the salmon fly, which was adorned with mostly silvery feather and a splash of red and yellow. Dusk was nearing, and the world one moment was bright and washed out, the next golden and saturated, as if reanimated. Near the far side of the pond, the line twitched four times in rapid succession, and several minutes later a three-pound bass met my thumb. No Atlantic salmon, but then, Louisiana folks can't be choosy.

I caught three very small bass, all half as big as the bluegill, over the next few moments as the day faded across that westward horizon, splashing dragonfire across the scant few clouds. A half hour before dark, the pond was suddenly full of rising fish, and I quickly put a popper on, my all-time favorite, the Accardo "Spook," which brought in three more pound-and-a-half bass.

The temperature was dropping, and I was in short sleeves, the sun was so low now I could see my fly only barely. I dismantled the rod and dried it, put it in its sock and tube. I found a silver flask in the Okuma bag, sat down on the bank and watched the fish rising, unmolested by me, chocolate labs or fire-breathing dragons somewhere over the curvature of the earth to the west. Somewhere behind and to the north of me, Atlantic salmon would be rushing up cold rivers when the time comes, and somewhere else, anglers not so unlike myself are donning waders and chasing rainbows and browns in their favorite streams. To the south, battles with redfish and black drum are taking epic proportions in the retellings.

In the final moments of the day, before I made the walk back to the truck and home, I thought of my father again. Last chief of my people's nation, he was perhaps also the last of the rank of Chitimacha known as the Suns, the lineage from which the chief was chosen. I thought of all the things he had given me: Love, a safe and happy home, wisdom and boundless vision. But perhaps the thing which will follow me with the most devotion, until the end of my days, is this pursuit of fish with the rod, and this soft, solitary silence of distant fire at the end of the day.

Like many teens, we seldom agree on anything during my adolescent years. Time passed, as time is apt to do, and I quit fishing for more than a decade. Other things, things I deemed more important - though they weren't - occupied my spare time. Most of my tackle rusted and deteriorated. Pursuing fast cars, girls and keeping up with the Joneses, I spent more than ten years never wetting a line or taking a bream. Over that time, my best fishing pal moved away and was replaced by another, who moved away as well, and Dad retired.

I remember the day everything changed, everything came full circle. It was a golden dusk in late fall, before the grip of winter had come but the heat of summer had faded. I had gone over to my parents'house for something or another, and noticed Dad's car was absent, the boat shed was open and empty. Walking along the path to the bayou, through the natural arch between bright green junipers, browning cypress and evergreen oaks, I could see a silhouette in the last hours of the day blazing out in gossamer hues of reds and oranges. The sun conjured shimmering wraiths of bright white, unleashed silver magic, on the unmoving bayou surface. Glimmering light sketched the shape of that old bateau, tied off to a cypress beyond the edge of the bank; the old man, straw fishing hat, still-powerful shoulders and a handkerchief dangling from a back pocket; four fishing rods, thin black shadows, propped up on the gunwales, motionless. A halo of shipwrecked sunbeams fringed everything, but nothing moved. Not the boat, not the cypress needles, nor the old man, save for his head, which slowly panned from side to side, as he watched the dusk overtaking the day, a day spent as he wanted to spend it, in an old wooden boat on the water.

"Hi, pop," I said quietly, as if my voice would somehow shatter the vision, send it raining into pieces like a broken windowpane. The years I had not fished, and that he had spent fishing alone, accumulated in the tree limbs, scattered across the clouds and sank into the motionless water of the Teche.

The outline of the straw hat tilted, but he didn't look back, kept his gaze fixed on the rays fanning out from that brilliant eternal flame in the west. "Whatcha say, boy?" he answered kindly.

At the edge of the bayou at my feet, the water might just as well have been ice it was so still. "Caught anything?"

"A few cats and one little perch," he said. "Tide's not moving much."

"Slow day," I observed.

"Slow day," he agreed, but I knew, somehow, at some level I had until then forgotten, that though maybe the fishing was slow, a slow day was precisely what he wanted, what he watched fading across the horizon of cypress peaks down the bayou.

I sat on a stump and we didn't talk anymore, we just watched that slow day pass into night. Years and years of disconnection fell away like the leaves which autumn claims. I was aware that while the dusk was communal between us, the only thing separating us was my seat on dry land and his on the water. A chasm of years began to close along with that day. The edge of the sun dipped lower, finally vanished behind the tree line; orange, pink and billowy white brush strokes swept across the sky; tiny specks which were distant birds climbed high winds on their flight south, and I remembered the wonder of a slow day on the water and never forgot again. ~ Roger


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