Waiting for the sunrise in Palmer Lake near Atlin, B.C. PHOTO BY ANDREW CREMATA

Chasing Shadows


The evening sun hung low within a steel-colored sky. My shadow seemed to dance among the rocks and gravel of a fast flowing creek that emptied into a massive glacial lake. Just beyond, grayling took turns snatching insects from swirls and eddies that formed in places where waters mingled.
I cast a small brown fly toward one such spot, keeping my rod tip high to prevent the line from being swept up in the current. The fly sank a few inches before the silvery flash of a large grayling glinted in the yellow light. I set the hook before feeling the bite, fought the fish across the stream’s current and pulled it swiftly up onto the shore.
Throughout this season, I’ve been using an old fiberglass St. Croix spinning rod with a classic Mitchell reel. Each was likely manufactured in the late 1950s or early 1960s, based on the vintage font used to print each company’s name. Even though I own far newer rods and reels, I’ve enjoyed using this ancient gear. The reason is elusive, especially considering that the reel has some quirks that sometimes make it frustrating to use.
Both the rod and reel are in pristine condition, which makes me wonder why they sat alone in a garage for more than 50 years until coming into my possession. It’s doubtful the reel ever saw action. Perhaps it was an unwanted gift or its owner befell some tragedy. Without a story to tell, it’s just some thing – nothing more than a collection of parts.
There is another old reel in my collection that I purchased brand new when I was 17. For 20 of its 31 years, I used the Penn 750SS spinning reel almost exclusively. It’s caught enough fish to feed many small countries, including a 175-pound tarpon, a 300-pound lemon shark and a lake trout that was large enough to fill the bellies of 30 people at cookout.
The endless use and abuse eventually took a toll. The bail arm stopped working, the anti-reverse disengaged randomly and the line roller thwacked against the body every time it rotated around the spool. A few repairs made it functional, but far from reliable. My favorite reel is simply worn out. Skewed now, with crooked angles that make the entire apparatus unreliable.
Still, the worn finish and scored metal are a tapestry of battle wounds. They tell countless stories of timeless battles, which is what keeps me from throwing it away. It’s stored in my shed in a box with random fishing gear. A few times a year I go digging through the box and find it laying there. When I pick it up and hold it in my hand, it almost comes to life. In some faint, distant place the drag screams a tale spanning decades while line quickly vanishes from the spool.
The years have passed in much the same way. They’re like shadows growing longer in the afternoon light, slowly creeping up mountainsides that climb from opposing shores until the moment when everything is shadow. It’s easy to get caught up in nostalgia, clinging to lost memories collected in some tangible thing, even if it is just a broken old fishing reel.
By the time the grayling stopped biting the sky was a mix of pink and magenta. Hoping to find a large trout, I took out one of my newest rigs and tied on a large red and white spoon. The Fenwick rod is a classic modern design. Constructed of graphite, it’s lightweight yet stout, easy to cast yet strong enough to put pressure on any sized fish. The Shimano reel is made from all sorts of materials and mechanisms with names protected by registered trademarks. It’s smooth, perfectly balanced and the drag is almost silent when it engages.
I followed the hint of my shadow under a dimming sky, working the shoreline along a steep ledge just south of the creek. An hour went by without a bite. Then another. As the metronome of each cast and retrieve ticked off another cycle, my mind wandered into the past.
The memory was from a time when my Penn reel was brand new, just out of the box and filled with a full spool of 15-pound monofilament line. I was casting live bait toward a warm Florida rising sun, standing barefoot in knee-deep water. As the sand settled in between my toes, a large stingray glided by. Killfish minnows darted back and forth in the shallows, doing their best to avoid the great egret hiding stealthily in the tall grass.
My bait sat on the bottom of a deep hole where all sorts of fish liked to gather. A few minutes passed before the rod tip started to twitch, which likely meant the live bait was doing everything it could to escape some larger predator. After a minute or so of taps, the rod bent over double.
The fish ran straight to the surface and came completely out of the water. Sunlight flickered on its copper-colored flanks amid countless water droplets exploding in random orbits. The reel held firm and the drag ran smooth as the fish made an extended run toward the opposite shore. A few minutes later, the thick, 20-plus pound redfish was swimming around my legs. It was tiring out, so I worked it back to shore and dragged it onto the beach.
Somewhere within that memory, I decided to call it quits. I’d been dreaming over silhouettes of the past for so long that I failed to realize they were mere shadows.
Early the next morning, I grabbed my newest fishing rig and set out toward the lake. At the water’s edge, I turned east.
I figured if I kept the sun up ahead, there was little risk of chasing more shadows. I fought the first trout of the day into the shallows, a 34” beauty that was too big to keep. After a few more casts I kept on moving toward rising fish in the distance.
There may come a time when I decide yet again to break out that old gear, but for now I’m going to stick with my newest outfit and keep walking toward that glowing ball of morning light. I’ve seen enough sunsets to last a lifetime.