Voices from the river: Medicine

TU's California Field Coordinator, Sam Sedillo, providing a dose of medicine.


By Sam Davidson

When a horse isn’t enthusiastic about being taken out for a ride, due to going too long without exercise or otherwise being disinclined to leave its stall or fellow pasture-mates, it’s called sour.

That’s how I feel when work, weather and intemperance of one sort or another conspire to deprive me of fishing time. Sour. I’m sure many of you (and perhaps even more so your spouses and significant others) know exactly what I mean. And there’s only one prescription that is completely effective for this malady.

However, other remedies can help relieve some of the symptoms of being fishing-sour. As atmospheric rivers and deep artic cold fronts have taken turns pummeling the West Coast over the past several weeks, churning steelheads streams into maelstroms of sediment and detritus and causing surf perch and striped bass to quit their usual haunts along the beaches, I have been relying heavily on these short-term nostrums.

(L) The Steelhead Whisperer dispensing feel-good meds.

One of these medicines can be taken liberally, although one must be mindful of over-dosing. That would be poring over photos of other people who have been fishing more than you, usually with a glorious slab of salmonid to show for it.

Social media makes it all too easy to acquire and consume this medicine. Sometimes other anglers suffering from the same contagion as you will try to ease their discomfort—or spread it around—by posting images from times past, often prefaced with the hashtag TBT. These are less remedially potent, in my opinion, than photos of more recent successful fishing endeavors.

A variant of this painkiller is to immerse yourself in fishing videos on You Tube or Vimeo. This is the functional equivalent of fentanyl, however, as likely to leave you wasted and willing to do anything to consume more as it is to get you through your little episode of sourness.

Steelhead Files - Catch and Release

TU's steelhead scientist, John McMillan, providing relief for fishing deprivation sourness.

A third and arguably healthier feel-good treatment is to forego the LCD screens and wander out to the riverbank or beach with your rod even if your expectations for actually finding fish or being able to execute a proper cast in the teeth of a gusty onshore wind are low.

I recently did this when my state of sourness began manifesting as epithets spat at no one in particular and a pathological fear of the phone ringing. As the train of storm systems took a break for a day, I used the lunch hour as an excuse to plow down a steep beach for a look at the trough at its foot that had been churning out dinner plate-sized barred surf perch and piglet striped bass.

I was convinced that I would get no grabs and so I didn’t immediately strip line into my stripping basket and fire off a cast into the very fishy-looking trough. Instead I watched the shorebirds, mostly sanderlings, skittering up and down the toe of the beach, probing for sand crabs and worms as the waves receded, paragons of industry and aesthetic motion.

That was like taking a happy pill.

(R) More medicine for the ailing angler.

At length I did take a few casts. I expected nothing and got nothing, moving slowly up the beach as the tide dropped. I was paying more attention to the birds than to my line in the water. And then, I got The Grab.

I strip-set. It felt like burying the hook in a log.

Over the next minute or so, the log allowed itself to be brought to the very edge of the beach, although I still couldn’t see it. No head shakes or explosive runs, just a heavy, sullen presence at the other end of the line. Then came a propitious wave. As it washed up the beach I leaned harder against the rod so that the log would be ferried up onto the sandy slope with the wave. And then, poof, it was off.

It was likely a hefty striper. Never saw the fish. I felt marvelous anyway. The sourness was gone.

Photos and videos of angling glory only go so far to relieve the ailment associated with lack of time on the water with a rod in hand. Their analgesic effects wear off quickly. Far better to medicate yourself with a visit to the streambank or beach, even if the conditions are blown out and all you do is watch, and listen.


Sam Davidson is TU’s communications director for California and Oregon. He recently lost his fishing mojo but is hopeful that he has begun to get it back.




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