You could hardly call it a job. Really, it’s barely a living. The pay is lousy and the working conditions are generally cold, damp and miserable. Time away from the comforts of home? At least eight weeks a year. What I do makes no practical sense. My grandmother urged me to be a doctor or lawyer. Sorry, grams, I’ve failed you. What future do I have? I really should turn my life around, maybe seek counseling. Is it too late?
OK, OK, you got me. I’m being facetious. I’m living the dream and I know it! But every dream has a backstory. In a nutshell, here’s mine:
I was born and raised in southwest Ohio, but my mind has always been fixed in the north and drawn to the sleek, mysterious, underwater creatures of cold, clean lakes and rivers. My fishing jones was imprinted early on the walleye, pike and muskie waters of Michigan’s UP. When the teenage hormones kicked in, the pull to water left me. After a young-adult hiatus of hot-rodding, skirt chasing, engineering school and subsequently about 15 years devoted to singing (not always very well) the most heartfelt (and confused) words I could conjure over clanging guitars and drums, the fishing urge returned.
In the early 1990’s a friend introduced me to steelhead fishing in Northern California. What transpired was a bona fide satori. The childhood compulsion to throw a line into the depths and see what’s hiding there came flooding back. I got bit. I had to fish and I had to explore this new-to-me world of steelhead, salmon and the Great Pacific Northwest.
I caught plenty of fish on conventional tackle, but fly fishing attracted my eye and seemed to be the artful way to go about it. I began photographing and writing about my experiences. I read a lot of books on the subject and was captivated by the rich history and literature of this sport that is, in my estimation, way more than a sport. One thing led to another, my own humble book was published (Found in a River: Steelhead & Other Revelations), magazine articles were written, and I made my first visit to British Columbia’s Skeena region in 2003. In 2005 I became an agent for a lodge in Terrace, the hub of the big river’s lower valley, and have been absorbed in a love affair with the area since. Today, I’ve carved out a niche as an independent writer, photographer, travel host and agent specializing in steelhead, salmon and other sea-run fish.
But, it’s all fluid, I know. Who can say what tomorrow will bring? The fish face a multitude of threats. Life is fleeting. Times are changing. Today’s up is tomorrow’s down. Dreams can quickly evaporate.
Viewed from this perspective, for me 2011 was a remarkably precious year, one I’ll hold onto for a long time. Each adventure — Skeena in late March, BC coast in late April, Kitimat in June, the fabulous Dean in early July, a quick visit to Iceland in late July, two weeks in a tent camp on the mainstem Skeena in August, back to the lower Skeena for a rain-soaked, flooded week at the end of September, and finally a glorious week on the Sustut at the top of the Skeena system in late October — yielded unforgettable images and experiences. Assembled in November, this essay is a celebration of the angling year now nearly gone — rendered in black and white.
Why depict such a colorful world without the color? As the days go by, I become increasingly grateful for each day of each trip. I begin to see more drama, more poetry and more possibility in each moment on the water. Rendering these images in black and white feels right to me. They feel more potent in this limited palette. Each seems distilled to a more concise meaning, and each stands as a reason to keep living the dream.
To see more of Jeff’s photography, read samples of Jeff’s writing, and see Jeff’s schedule of expeditions for 2012, visit www.jeffbright.com.