Under the bluish light of the cloudy evening, the salmon flew in a multi-sided formation through the green water. They came up river on the incoming tide in groups of eight, or twelve, or twenty, moving harmoniously even as they moved individually, flaring their fins to correct their flight in the current. Swimming just above the darker, deepest water, they shone in the pale light as thick strands of jade belted with crystals, numerous tiny black spots covering their backs. Their jaws, heads, and gill plates gleamed like mother-of-pearl.
A group of eight swam easily into the first bend in the river. Ahead of them, a tiny bright speck descended crabwise toward them, and their forward motion and the falling trajectory of the unknown little thing put the front three salmon on a collision course. As the distance closed, the front fish saw the flashing light of the odd thing that seemed possibly alive, so the fish watched it for a second, curious. The pulsing pink-and-silver clot swung downward toward the nose of the lead fish.
The first fish swatted the fly with clenched jaws, sending it downward into a swirl underneath its body. The fly spun and then rode up and dragged across the jaw of the second lead fish, and a quick tug yanked the fly over the salmon’s nose. The coho buck snapped up the fly in its jaws to toss it aside and instead felt a nasty sting. In a bright sensory flash, the salmon tore away through the water.
Ben watched his orange line cut through the water, making a ripping sound he had never heard before. He gave a quick shout.
“You better move your ass, Ben,” Lynn said from where she stood behind him.
“Hey, Andrey,” he called, “coming down.”
Andrey, downstream, glanced quickly at Ben, and then turned back to battle the fish he had hooked as it leapt and tore over a pool too deep to wade.
Ben, dressed in green waders, a blue fishing jacket, and a black wool watch cap, scrambled over the bars of dark silt. The fish tore away more and more line, and was already in the pool where Andrey’s fish porpoised and thrashed.
A second of clumsiness helped Ben: He slipped on a long, flat slab of granite and rolled so he didn’t bash his rod as he crumpled on his hip, and the suddenly low-angled pull on the line turned the salmon’s head to its right, opening its flank to the current, and the water pushed it more sideways and the fish burrowed for slack water along the river’s edge. Ben didn’t see this, but both Andrey and Lynn, higher up and on their feet, cried out to Ben, “Keep that rod bent.”
Ben pulled the big black rod into a U-shape and reeled down, locking himself in place, and the coho locked itself in place. They braced against one another, forming a connection that seemed solid and unbreakable.
“Get on your feet and get some line,” Lynn yelled. She glanced down stream to where Sean coached Barbara on her cast and Foster flung line fairly well by himself. The last thing she wanted was a meeting of lines and klutzes if her most inept client let a speeding fish get away.
“Coming down,” Andrey yelled, as he hustled over the flat rocks above Ben, his salmon beginning a tail-lashing sprint across the surface of the water.
Both hooked fish thrashed through the same section of water, Ben’s to the inside. He had gained a good deal of line back and was close enough to his fish to see its back and the flash of its fins. Andrey’s fish moved in quick surges along the opposite bank, and Andrey kept his bowed rod low over the water, trying to guide his coho back into the current and then swing it into slower water.
Lynn kept behind both her clients, off to the left, upon the grass flat. Both of them being righthanders, she did not want to be on that side and behind them if they yanked the hook loose. She had earlier that month taken an epoxy fly in the chin and an egg-sucking leech in the back of the neck while she and Sean guided clients for sockeyes on Larsen Bay. As he massaged ointment into the dents and holes the errant fly-casters had put in her neck and shoulders, she wondered just how many scars, dents, and holes this profession might give her. Five years had given her plenty.
She looked at her wristwatch: six o’clock. The early autumn light was fading. Another half hour and they’d go back to camp. Darkness came faster and faster every night as the September days went by.
From Chimera River