The additional weight of my eight months pregnant belly made the legs of my camp chair sink into the muddy bank of Anderson Ranch Reservoir, near Fall Creek. I shifted uncomfortably in the low-slung seat to see James, my husband, farther upstream at the sparkling clear mouth of the creek. His large frame hunched low over the stream, while he slid a fire engine red Kokanee back into its birth waters. Once the Kokanee flipped its tail and returned to the crowd, James looked my direction. I waved and smiled despite the growing pressure I felt in my belly. He waved back.
Spawning - Mature Kokanee
His best friends, Dick and Matt, slogged through the thick mud headed my direction, with their fishing poles. They’d apparently given up on trying to catch the hook-jawed spawners holding at the mouth of the creek, and were going to join me in search of the deepwater immature bluebacks. I leaned forward to look down the bank to check my stringer that lay in the coffee colored water of the little bay. Three blue-green backs struggled against the stringer and flailed in the water.
I reclined back in my seat, closed my eyes, and rested one hand against my pole that leaned against my chair and the other on my basketball belly, while I waited for a strike. The cool fall air felt refreshing on my face, but I just couldn’t wake up. The pressure in my back and belly had made sleeping the night before impossible. An osprey screamed overhead and roused me from my sleepy state. I watched him wheel about in the cloudless sky as brothers, Matt and Dick, approached.
High in the sky, the osprey resembled one of those poorly painted yard ornaments in silhouette, more like a kite than an actual animal. I couldn’t make out any details but I knew him to be an osprey by his loud and piercing voice, which echoed about the reservoir, repeating cheereek, cheereek. He soared high over the water searching for prey, riding the air currents, circling like a jet waiting for permission to land. Suddenly, his wings folded in against his body, and he rocketed toward the water. As he got lower, I could see his white-feathered legs extended under him, and talons flexed. With barely a splash his white talons pierced the surface, and retrieved his prey, a tiny silver blueback. Clutching his catch, he gave two enormous flaps with his four-foot wings, and made for a half dead ponderosa pine that leaned out over the reservoir. He lighted on a dead branch near the top, silently.
Meanwhile, Dick and Matt’s approach had stopped. The mud had accumulated so thick on their boots that they’d stopped to clean it off. As Dick scraped at his shoes, with a stick, he called out to me.
“Are you ever going to haul your butt out of that chair?” he asked.
“There are advantages to being hugely pregnant,” I replied, rubbing my taut stomach, “I’m allowed to be as lazy as I want.” I smiled and returned my focus to the osprey.
During my short discourse with Dick the little blueback disappeared becoming bird food. The bird sat atop the branch as still and lazy as I was trying to be. I imagined his stomach as full and round as my own. I locked my eyes on the majestic bird, and waited for movement. I took the opportunity to study the raptor. Osprey are every bit as majestic as eagles, and are similar physically in many ways, though the osprey is easily distinguished from a juvenile eagle by the dark mask across his eyes, and his black beak. I judged this bird to be a mature male, as it was a little on the small side, weighing perhaps two pounds, and standing only about eighteen to twenty inches tall. Also, its chest was completely white, there was no buff color present, which indicated maturity, and sex. Females often sport a dark band across their chest. My daughter squirmed in my belly, and I squirmed in my seat. The bird watched me wriggle in my chair, like a spawning Kokanee, with its great yellow eyes.
Osprey at rest.
My rod quivered in my hand. Matt and Dick had moved down the bank, and positioned themselves about twenty feet upstream from me, and I was concerned that our lines might tangle, as my fish ran around trying to escape the hook.
I yelled into the chilly autumn air. “Fish on,” as I jerked the tip of the pole skyward.
My line vibrated and hummed as the animal on the other end of the line worked to free itself. It pulled hard and raced into the swift current, which added stress on lightweight pole. My lazy pregnancy had taken its toll on my body, and I knew that my arms wouldn’t withstand the struggle for long. I slid the butt end of the rod, into the groove between my large belly and bony hip; with it there I felt more secure and began to horse the fish to shore. When the fish struggled I stopped reeling and let him run, and when he stopped to catch his breath I reeled for all I was worth. We battled.
I’m sure it didn’t take more than a few seconds, but it felt like minutes because I held my breath, as if the slightest breeze from my mouth would be too much for my pole or line to handle. Once I saw the head clear the water, I released the air from my aching lungs and inhaled. I kept reeling until I got him to the muddy shoreline, but to avoid the thick black goo of the bank, I kept the line tight and began walking backwards, dragging the fish along behind me. Dick slogged his way down the bank, my stringer in tow, ready to receive my latest catch.
I slowly knelt down on one knee, in the mud, laid my pole down on the ground, and placed my hand over the silvery squirming blueback, to remove the hook. My lower back screamed in agony. The fish thrashed under my administrations. His gills worked furiously gasping for breath. I gasped from the force in my back. I swiftly removed the hook from its lower jaw, grasped the fish in one hand and used the other to push myself to my feet. The pressure seemed to ease. Dick handed me the stringer, and I slid another blueback down the red nylon line. With the four fish on I figured I had about five pounds of good salmon meat for the freezer. I handed the heavy line back to Dick.
Blueback - Immature Kokanee
“Think you can get them back in the water for me?” I asked. Dick nodded, and made for the bank. “If you guys are tired of getting your ass kicked by a very pregnant woman,” I called out as he walked away, “we could go for a drive up to Trinity Mountain, or over to Rocky Bar, just for fun.”
Matt flipped me the bird in reply. It only took a few more minutes of rubbing my fabulous day of fishing in their faces, before they gave and in a took me on bumpy, uncomfortable, twelve hour ride up Fall Creek Road, to the peaks and down another twisted, rutted road to the old mining community. The growing pressure in my groin and low back told me, that this was to be the last rest I would get in a long time, though I suspected that I had at least another day of back labor ahead of me, due to the lack of definable contractions. I thoroughly enjoyed my last day of freedom, spending time with my friends; my face pressed to the window I soaked in the magical scenery that is my home. Despite the ER nurse’s assurance three days prior that I wasn’t in labor, I brought my beautiful baby girl into the world just ten hours after arriving home that night at midnight.
Osprey Video – includes the call http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bu2uyxpQ8FM&feature=related