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A FISH STORY
I'm calling what happened to me one Friday the "fish story" of my lifetime. And since I tried, but failed, to get any of my fishing buddies to go with me that day, the real tragedy of it is that there was no one there to witness what happened. Although the good news is that I did have my cameras along with me, and knowing full well that nobody was likely to believe this story, I did my best to at least photograph some of the characters in the story as best as circumstances allowed, albeit after the action was over.
I headed for the river late on a Friday morning, with the intention of fishing downstream from the afterbay. The fishing had been what I would call “pretty damn good” down there, ever since the season opened. Both Walt and I had done quite well there each time we'd been out, although we hadn't yet managed to fish it together that season. And by "quite well" I mean lots of fish, and big fish – both rainbows and browns. And while nymphs and dries had both worked, a lot of really nice large fish had been taking a variety of dry flies, depending on the day and time of day. In fact I think we'd both caught more large fish on dry flies.
So I was pretty pumped up with anticipation of continuing the recent trend, and I took 2 rods, rigged for both nymphs and dries, just to be well prepared for whatever was happening. I started fishing around 1:00 pm at the first choice spot that had already produced some good fish for me on earlier outings. I fished there 30 minutes, with both dries and nymphs, and... nothing! No fish, no strikes, no rises to naturals.
I moved on and stopped again at the head end of the big, long "gauge pool". I fished the fast water, the riffles, and the slow water downstream where the browns hang out. Again, nothing. I did get a couple of small, wimpy strikes, but no hook-ups. And I did see a very few occasional rises to naturals, but nothing very consistent. And I drifted a few different dry patterns directly over a couple of occasionally rising fish down in the slow-water "brown zone" and stirred up zero interest.
So I decided to hike way downstream and try an area of the river that I hadn't fished in a couple of years, farther down below the “wall” pool. I stopped a few hundred yards below the wall pool and started fishing with one of those little “female Adams” with the greenish butt. I'd been seeing a few natural mayflies on the water, and occasional rises to them, and the Adams looked to me like a fairly close match to them.
In just a few casts I finally hooked my first fish – about a 10" rainbow. In the next hour or so, I hooked 4 or 5 more rainbows, all of similar size. Another guy was downstream from me fishing nymphs, and I saw him land 2 or 3 fish too.
So things were finally improving, and it was almost 5 pm, so I decided to head back up to try the wall pool before packing it in. When I got there, I went straight to the big rock that sticks out from the rocky ledge at the mid-point of the pool where you can cover the whole river width with a long roll cast and also cast overhand straight upstream to drift the entire center channel where the water is so deep and the fish sometimes hang to feed.
On about my third cast, I was lazily stripping my line in as my fly drifted back down past me when all of a sudden I got one of those really streaking-fast, slash-and-turn strikes from about a 9" rainbow that looked like he'd come straight up from the bottom of the river to grab the fly and head straight back down and out of sight again. I set the hook instantly, but as I'd been a little slow with my stripping, I had a lot of slack to take up and I didn't get the hook-up until my arms and rod were extended way up and back over my head... you know the drill!!! He felt well-hooked, but I still had to let 2 or 3 risky seconds go by while I was desperately trying to get the excess slack line in so I could bring my rod back down in front of me.
And when I did finally get my rod down after those “risky” seconds, and with the line finally tight again, something had suddenly become dramatically different, and mind-boggling weird! And I was instantly thrown into a state of total confusion and complete non-understanding. Because now that I had the fish on a tight line, my little 3-weight rod was suddenly doubled over like it was about to break, and this fish took off on a head-shaking, surging run that I was absolutely powerless to stop and could only feed line to as I prayed that my 5X tippet would hold. And all the while I'm trying to make sense of what seemed at the time to be a sudden cessation of the old laws of physics and gravity that I'd come to trust. This made no sense whatsoever! I'd had a good look at this fish on the strike and it was no more than a 9-inch rainbow, but it was stripping the line from my reel like it was Moby-freakin'-Dick!!!! It was all I could do just to keep up with this thing in a panic of trying not to make any mistake that would pop my 5X tippet, but my mind was racing none-the-less to come up with some reasonable explanation for what, at the time, seemed entirely unexplainable. I considered a "foul-hook" as a possibility, but only for a second... because even if he WAS hooked in the side and turned broad-side in the current it couldn't possibly feel THIS ridiculous!
So, all I could do was to hold on and go with him, and whenever the fish eased off a bit, I'd try to dare a few cranks on my reel. It probably took 4 minutes or so of repeated give and takes, without so much as a glimpse of the fish, before I finally started to get more line than I was giving. And by that time I was both desperate and determined to know what the hell was going on!
Finally, I saw the end of my fly line clear the water and turn to leader, and I knew I was about to get my answer. A few more very slow, hard, cautious cranks... and there... finally... I could just barely see it... yes... the head of my little rainbow slowly appearing as it came to the surface... but... ONLY the head!!!... the rest of the fish, engulfed as it was, in a huge, yawning, white-lined, toothy-jawed mouth belonging to a tremendous brown trout that looked for all the world at that moment like a scene from the original "JAWS" movie! I was absolutely amazed... but my shock and excitement were replaced in another instant by the most depressing realization that, after all this epic battle, so close to being won, and for all the tenacity of this largest of brown trout that I'd ever brought this close to landing, the reality was surely that he would simply finally let go of his stolen prize at the first approach of my landing net, and swim away hungrier and grouchier, but untouched!
But, for now, he seemed still determined to win our battle, and he made yet another surging, line-peeling plunge for the bottom that again strained my rod and threatened my tippet... and this time he went straight into some barely-visible submerged branches, the one place I'd been desperately trying to keep him out of. And by the time I could recover some of the line he'd taken, he'd done it! The line was wrapped in the branches!!! I could feel the fish still on, but I couldn't move the line from its entanglement. I moved all around the rock I was on, tugging and pushing and pulling every which way to try to work it free. And suddenly, miraculously, it was free again, and the fish moved out into the current.
I held him... shortened the line as much as I dared, sacrificing the elasticity of longer line length for the control of a "short leash". But I could now see, to my increasing sense of doom, that there was a branch still wrapped in the line, but free, and I looked quickly for a place to land the fish, in the fantasy that his tenacity might somehow prevail over his survival instinct. The only easy place was at the upstream end of the rock I was on where it sloped gently down to the water. But I couldn't possibly hope to move the fish, his “lunch”, AND the entangled branch up to there through the strong current.
There was a quiet eddy at the downstream end of the rock, but it was 3 feet below where I was standing, and the water was 3 feet deep there. I didn't need to think twice – I jumped in. The brown was still on, and I wasted no time... I reeled in ‘til I could just bring him within reach of my net, lifted high with my straining rod in one hand, reached as far out as possible with the net in my other hand... scooped... and I had him!!!! Immediately he spit out the rainbow, and I had the two fish in my net.
I looked down into it to behold what I'd never really expected to land, and there, firmly embedded in the brown's upper lip was my little size 16 Adams!!!! And I have NO idea how that happened... only that it did... and I finally understood why that brown trout hadn’t just let go of the rainbow and waved goodbye! So there I stood, with an 8 1/2 inch rainbow, somewhat scarred and ailing, and a 17 inch brown trout, somewhat pissed off and hungry (yes, I did measure them), together in my net, both caught on the same fly on the same cast.
But my lingering question is this: am I guilty of bait-fishing in a catch-and-release stream?