Personal Best

I’m beat. I’m exhausted. My hand hurts, my eyes sting, my back is sore….

But yesterday I had the BEST day of fly fishing since I’d taken up the fly rod last May… I took the day off and hit a local river thinking there might be something happening given we’d had a couple of days of rain, 72 degree weather and the forest canopy was finally full… I headed for a particularly pressured stretch of water on a fork of a river that I had avoided all season.  I should have known it would be a special day when I bumped into some regulars from last season who gave me a nod, wink and smile. I walked up to a well-known challenging pool to see what could be seen. Suckers, carp, oh and rising browns…everywhere. I tied a pheasant tail nymph to a caddis as a dropper and on the second cast and I hooked into a 15″ holdover brown, my biggest from that pool so far. I was so surprised that I almost forgot how to play him in.

I thought it was a fluke until I bumped into another fellow angler whom I’d met last season who told me that he’d had some of the best fishing EVER on the this fork in the past week. The trout were fat and happy from the mild winter and there’s been some epic hatches to boot (caddis, BWO’s, sulphurs).  Seems the big reservoir browns moved in to eat the sucker and carp spawn as well (reservoirs gleam gold and silver, the holdovers are more buttery brown from a life in the river). He said he’d caught three 15″ fish on the previous night and broke off two… I thought, well, that’s HIM, he’s been fly fishing this river for 40 years, of course he gets the big ones…but maybe something was going on…

Then I moved out of the pool and upstream, to see, dozens of wild browns rising, no stockies–just clear bright scales, a full blood red adipose fin and tell tale white stripes on their anal fins. They were small, about 9-10″, but mixed in were some brutes. I spent an hour trying to raise a 18″ brown who was eating nymphs as he defended a depression bowl under the rocky tailout of a pool under a bridge. I threw everything at him until he finally started to rise to my parachute BWO which he finally ate on maybe the thirtieth cast. I was particularly pleased that he did so right in front of two other anglers too who were catching the smaller trout hand over fist… Unfortunately, after five minutes of playing him, and nearly falling in, I let too much slack and lowered my rod tip, and he broke off, but not before I felt a deep connection to him.

Happy, already satisfied to tell the truth, I decided to move up the river, past the bridge. I’ve had some luck in the eddies, nymphing, but in a particularly long run below a dam, I always got skunked, despite rises–or at least I did last season. This time, with much more confidence, I waded on in, right up the center, casting to the bubble line and up under trees near the banks, and immediately starting hooking-up with browns. I could see caddis popping off and sulphers struggling on the surface so I fished those, and alternated back and forth with a BWO and light cahill and caught a few 10″ers but as I moved upstream of the tailout, the fish got bigger.

I would catch a big 16 or 17″ fat brown on the rise, and then it would take several minutes to play him back downstream so he didn’t mess up the fishing upstream. I’d snap a pic and then wade back, this time just a little further than before, wait for another wave of the hatch and cast and hook up again. I did this about eight times, each time hooking up from about 5pm to 8pm. I landed six out of the eight and each was 15″+, most 17 or 18″, and bright with gleaming bronze colors, blood red spots and the tell-tale white anal fin markings of wild fish. A couple had a blue dot just behind their eye. One buttery brown just spazzed out on me completely and jumped once, twice, and then again. Another bull-dogged and just dove for the bottom like a ton of bricks. Each one was a different experience. A couple had lazy takes, others were ferocious rises and scared me half to death. I heard the famous toilet-bowl flush several times on the river. All up and down the run, the slap of rises and slurps of takes and flushes of big gulps was like a slow drumbeat that seemed to slow time, putting me in a trance.

In the fading light, I tied on a light cahill and as I waded back, casually tossed it at rises here and there–the fish were nosing it–and then one last ferocious take and I was hooked up again, with what I think was the biggest of the day. I could feel his mass below the water. My rod bent over immediately but before I could put a proper angle on it, I was so tired, I dropped the tip and the brown made a run which broke me off. I smiled and turned downstream to wade to the edge of the pool. As the sun set casting the river in deep shadow, I didn’t need to see any more trout come to hand today, I could hear them all around me, and that was more than enough.

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