A/N: This is my entry for the Twilight Round of The Canon Tour. Many thanks to LJ Summers, my beta extraordinaire. You've made me a better writer, and are an incredible friend. Thank you. As usual Stephenie owns Twilight, Billy Burke owns Charlie ;-D
Important info at the end. . . .
Cool grey light, diffused by the misty fog clinging to the tree tops, spread over the cold dawn.
Quiet. Silence. Solitude.
This is the best part of the day.
He paused his actions to watch the sky brighten.
He sighed and shook his head slightly before lifting the rod and casting upstream.
The line spun out, the float jig making a perfect arc in the air before dropping into the water at the very spot he'd intended. Carefully, he reeled the line in and then out again as the current carried the float downstream past him and into the holding water.
Tension. Careful with the tension.
The float bobbed in the current. He waited.
Nothing. Still nothing.
Hmmm. Sand shrimp maybe.
He reeled in the line. The bait was gone.
Well, shit. Crafty devil. Coffee. Think.
Sitting down and leaning against a tree, he cracked open his thermos and sipped at the hot, black, bitter drink.
We-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b. We-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b. Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat. The distinctive sounds of a pileated woodpecker filled the air.
Hello, old friend. Morning to you, too.
He raised his drink in acknowledgement before taking another sip. His eyes took in the pristine scene before him. Wide flowing stream. Cold, murky water. Old-growth, primeval forest. Fog turning into misty rain. Rocks and leaves, pine needles and cones. Moist, humid, green-dripping damp.
It was late February, and the native steelhead trout fishing was at its peak. The rivers surrounding Forks were dotted with heated drift boats holding experienced and novice fishermen alike, hoping for the holy grail of the 30 pound steelhead trophy catch.
Charlie snorted aloud just thinking about it. He was grateful for the tourism dollars these anglers brought to the town, especially since the timber industry had all but dried up. And while they might share a love of the same sport, these were weekenders or guys on their yearly trek. They were clumsy and awkward, tangling their lines, hooking the bottom, frequently losing their rigs. It just wasn't in their bones like it was in his.
The beauty of the perfect cast. The chess match of line, bobber, and bait. Feeling the bottom of the river with a drift rig or suspended from the surface with a float. The perfect presentation, one that even the smartest fish couldn't resist. Patience and sensitivity needed in rod and fingers to feel the slightest nibble.
He sighed. It was an art form he'd spent his entire life learning and the more he learned, the more he discovered how much more there was to learn. Early on, he'd been lucky and there were several trophies stuffed and mounted on his walls. The freezer was full of fish, and Bella was already struggling to find new recipes for the fresh filets he regularly brought home.
Yet, he still came. He'd come every day all day long if he could. There was no talking here. Silence and stealth were highly regarded. A man could breathe here. Stretch out his limbs. Just be. No phones, no radios, or sirens. No husbands arguing with their wives or bored teens getting themselves in trouble. No petty theft, car accidents, and – most of all – no paperwork.
Just trees and leaves and green. Rocks and brush. He watched an ant crawl across his knee and wondered if maybe he was the ant crawling on someone else's knee.
Shaking himself, he closed his thermos and rose. Lifting his face, he sniffed the air, breathing deeply and cataloging the scents he recognized. Carefully, he slipped to the water's edge and peered into its depths. Then he studied the far bank, checking the rise of the river, the height and depth.
Not going to hit here today.
He quietly packed up his tackle and headed upstream to another spot of holding water, one only he knew about – he knew Billy and Harry had their secret holes, too; all anglers did. Some they shared and some they didn't. It was an unspoken agreement, an unwritten rule.
Several places along his path, he slowed or paused to watch black-tailed deer, winter wrens, and Douglas squirrels chattering away and chasing each other. Once, he even pulled out his binoculars to check on a popular spotted owl nesting site. So many in town hated the birds, blaming them for the death of timbering, but Charlie had always had a soft spot for feathered creatures, and he was happy to see fresh activity; though, he didn't see the birds themselves.
This was a hunters' paradise, and Charlie used to love pursuing game, but the violence and death no longer sat comfortably on his shoulders. He fished and that was enough.
Reaching his honey hole, he inhaled a smooshed PB & J before unpacking his tackle. Again, he raised his face and sniffed the air. There was a slight breeze here, and the scents were slightly different, more conifer, less hardwood. He stealthily slipped to the river's edge downstream and studied the water carefully.
Flowing well and high. A little murk. Eggs and a Spin-n-Glo. Chartreuse, I think. Drift rig.
Returning to his box, he reached for a different rod and swiftly made the needed changes to his rig. He smiled in satisfaction and nodded his head once before rising and hiding himself in the brush.
Charlie squinted, studying the upstream water flow and current. He noted several new branch snarls he didn't want to get tangled in, as well as how they were diverting the water in a new way.
Should I switch to pencil lead?
He pondered this a moment continuing to study the river.
No. No, I'll stick with the slinky. Lotta rocks here. Can always change later.
His aim failed on his first cast, so he quickly reeled the line in.
Don't wanna spook 'em.
His second cast was a thing of beauty, arcing over the water perfectly before the lead plummeted below the surface. Again, he maintained tension in his line with care and attention, reeling in and out as needed. This set-up allowed him to feel the bottom of the river in his fingertips; the discernment of the differences between those vibrations and a fish strike had taken him many years to perfect.
Keeping the line off the surface of the water, he watched as it slowly worked its way downstream past him into the small pool of holding water to his right. As soon as the slinky dropped over the edge of a submerged boulder into the deeper water, a fish struck hard, almost ripping the pole from his hands. Instinctively, Charlie jerked up and back, setting the single-point barbless hook.
The line zinged out as the fish barreled upstream. Charlie thought he caught a silver flash in the water as the fish went by, but it was all happening so fast he couldn't be sure.
Quickly, he moved out of the brush and down into the river shallows as the line continued to play out.
C'mon, c'mon. Turn, stop, or slow down. I'm spooling out, here.
Not knowing what else to do, he opened his bail on the spinning reel, and hoped for the best. Cutting the line wasn't an option – he'd never forgive himself for leaving a hook and sinker with a long line sunk in a fish. It would eventually snag and hold the fish in place, killing it.
The zinging abruptly stopped, the line loose in his hand. He snapped the bail shut.
Did he. . . .
His thought was interrupted by a sharp tug on the line, the tip bending toward the water. With steady, unrelenting pressure, Charlie began to slowly reel the fish in. He had to play the line in and out carefully, ever drawing the fish closer without pulling too hard and breaking the line or tearing the hook free. The danger of the line snagging was great this high up on the river.
Feels like a big one.
As he battled the fish for supremacy, his focus narrowed. There was only the rod, reel and line in his hands, and the fish in the water at the other end. Everything else simply fell away. No cold. No damp. No sound but his breathing. No current pushing against his legs, no slippery rocks underfoot. Nothing but the two of them locked in a battle of wills and strength.
It was this, this rush, this primal battle that he loved. The mental game – the strategy and chess match of float and drift and plug and back-trolling – was a challenge, and he loved that, too, but that wasn't what drove him to rise long before dawn to be at the water's edge; that brought him back to the river time and again. Alone or with company. Fair weather or foul. No, it was the epic struggle of survival – the fish for its life, the man for food for his.
After 10 minutes or so of this back and forth fight, he finally got a his first good look at his opponent when the fish jumped and breached the surface of the water.
Holy mackerel! Might be the biggest I've ever seen.
The muscles in his arms began to vibrate with fatigue, his shoulders and upper back ached from the strain. Legs tense and braced, holding him in place against the forces against him.
Hope he gives out before I do.
The big fish jumped again, three times in quick succession, trying to free himself from the hook to no avail. Charlie could feel the pull against him lessen slightly, spurring him on and giving him a small energy boost.
A few more minutes, and the fish was suddenly before him in the water, finally docile, accepting its fate. Without removing the fish from the water, using a net, or even his hands, Charlie studied the fish that had almost bested him.
Never seen one this size. Heard stories, but. . . . Must top 30 pounds. Got the fin, so he's a wild one. What a beauty. Magnificent.
They continued to observe each other as Charlie reached around and scratched the back of his head.
Trophy fish for sure. Harry'll never believe me. Joe would love getting his hands on this one, even if just for stuffing and mounting. Publicity'd be good for tourism, big fish are always a draw.
His hand moved around and he scratched his cheek.
Would be good eating, too. Filets big and thick enough to cook out. Easy to gut and clean. Nothing like fresh wild steelhead.
Unconsciously, his thumb and forefinger smoothed his moustache.
Could just let him go. Pass on his genes and fish his sons and daughters, maybe catch him again next year.
He pursed his lips as he considered his options. Reluctantly, he reached under his waders for his de-hooker and pulled the fish toward him. Charlie wanted equally to keep him, to eat him, and to let him go.
Can't have it all.
It took several false starts and a near give-up before he finally slid the eye-hook down the line to the hook's bend and lifted up as he lowered the hand holding the line toward the water. The hook easily slipped free and Charlie sighed.
Go on big man. You're free now. Go make me some more just like you. Best fish battle ever.
The fish hovered in the water before Charlie, briefly unaware it was free of hook and line. Another steelhead, smaller, flashed by in the deeper rapids to their right, and the big fish in front of Charlie suddenly darted away and was gone.
Charlie stood there in the river for quite some time watching the water flow toward him over the rocks and limbs and debris. So peaceful, quiet here. The long, complicated song of the Pacific Wren wafting on the breeze.
A leaf floated by, a raft for a lady bug.
It was dry now, though still overcast, and he estimated it to be around two in the afternoon.
Pack it in or fish some more? Maybe some bass or brook trout?
He rubbed his hand over his face before finally wading onto the riverbank. His stomach growled loudly and that decided him. Meticulously, he cleaned and packed away his tackle and gear. Before hiking back to the cruiser, he quickly ate his second, even more smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich and finished the dregs of his coffee.
Wonder what Bells is making for dinner? Something hot and hearty I hope.
Turning his back on the river, he began the long trek through the forest. Rain began in earnest before he'd gone half a mile. It had been a cold, damp, grey day, the temperature hovering around 40 degrees.
The misty rain and fog softened and hid the edges of things. The only sounds were of the natural world around him, alive and vibrant with life, and now, the wind soughing in the trees.
The air was fresh and clean, but damp and humid, hard for some to breathe. The odors of rich, fertile soil, coniferous trees, moss, mold, and every damp thing hung in the air. Every thing was green, green, green as far as the eye could see.
For many, it was a damp, dreary place they were happy to visit but were grateful to leave, needing sunlight and warmth and dryness.
But this place, for Charlie, was home. He'd had one of the best days of his life today – and had been warmed by coffee, quiet, peaceful company, sunlight behind the clouds in the sky, and a worthy opponent. He didn't need blue skies and sunshine, crowds and culture and shopping.
He needed silence and solitude, space to move and room to breathe. Water and rocks and trees. Natural things. Slow things. Patient things. Yes, he'd missed his wife since the day she'd left, taking their daughter with her. Then he'd been unable to leave; needed here, he'd had to stay. But later, those responsibilities fulfilled, he could have left and followed Renée south, and as much as he'd wanted to, he knew he'd never be happy there just as Renée could never be happy here.
It was in his bones, his blood, and he could no more leave the rivers of Forks than he could stop breathing.
— + — + — + — + — + —
There is a vast array of resources online about fishing the waters of the Olympic peninsula. It is a major sport fishing area of the continental US, especially for salmon and steelhead. Here are the links I found most useful in writing this story:
http: / /www. allwaysfishing. com/
http: / /www. birdweb. org/birdweb/
http: / /www. olympic. national-park. com/camping. htm#fish
http: / /www. olympic. national-park. com/info. htm
http: / /www. steelheader. net/steelhead/driftfishing. htm
http: / /www. steelheader. net/steelhead/float_fishing. htm
http: / /www. steelheaduniversity. com/Ask_the_Pros. html
http: / /wdfw. wa. gov/fishing/
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In writing news, Alby Mangroves and I have ventured into a collaboration together. We're penning a story for Beyond the Pale 2 entitled A Crown of Asphodels. Our joint penname is Mal and Alby, and you can find our collab profile here. We're still writing, so put Mal and Alby on author alert — we don't want you to miss out on all the good stuff! Public voting runs from November 28 - December 12th.
Currently, I have an entry in the Season of Our Discontent Anonymous Angst Contest. Public voting runs from November 25 - December 10th. There are lots of wonderful angsty entries for your reading and voting delight!
Also, I will be entering each round of The Canon Tour. New Moon is coming up in December. Lots of good canon and slightly AU entries each time. I hope you read, vote, and enjoy!