The trout was rising confidently just behind a log slightly upstream from where I was crouching on a small gravel pad bordering the edge of the deep pool that was the residence of the trout that was rising behind the log. I had matched wits with this fellow before and now I had a chance to make another attempt.
The hatch was a mixed bag of small dark colored mayflies, a few micro-caddis, midges and a few small terrestrials. I stared hard at the surface of the water where the trout was rising attempting to ascertain some clue to determine exactly what insect it was eating. I noticed that most of the hatching insects were dark bodied and they were all approximately the same size so I chose a small dark bodied soft hackle. I lengthened my tippet before I knotted on my small soft hackle. My experience with this particular fish told me that I would only have one chance and I wanted to increase the odds in my favor.
Holding the fly in my hand I began to watch the trout's feeding rhythm. After several minutes of watching I stripped off some line and began to false cast parallel to the flow until I had sufficient line in the air to reach the feeding fish. A quick change of direction cast and I dropped my offering just a few inches above where the trout had been feeding. The nose appeared, my leader twitched, I raised my rod and the water boiled. The leader cut a sharp line across the water as the trout charged out into the pool and I quickly reeled in my slack so that I could control the battle from the reel. The trout jumped, I dropped my rod tip, he made a determined rod straight at me and I reeled frantically to pick up the slack, a quick turn and I quickly released my grip on the reel handle allowing the fish to run against the drag. Another jump, headshaking, and then a jump, an upstream run causing the drag of my reel to begin to protest loudly, and then the line went slack. When I retrieved my line the tiny soft hackle fly was still attached to my tippet. The headshaking, jumping and determined runs had caused the fly to work loose from the bony jaw of the fish. The fish had won and I had lost, or did I?
As I have grown older I have become more keenly aware that my idea of loss has changed. I'm keenly aware that there have been many losses in my life; grandparents, parents, siblings, a wife and countless friends. There are places that I once enjoyed that are no longer what they were back when I enjoyed them. Time has caused me to lose my youthful strength; it has taken its toll on my eyesight, my hearing and my reaction time. These are true losses. I cannot reclaim those losses; no amount of searching will allow me to recover them.
However, those losses have taught me what is really important and a trout that I hooked and failed to bring to hand is not one of them; in fact there were more successes in that encounter than failures. I hooked a trout that was feeding in a challenging place. I presented it an imitation that it elected to eat. I had the excitement of matching wits as it attempted to escape the tiny irritant lodged in its jaw. In the end the trout escaped coming to my net but he did not break my leader. The trout would most likely be there again and I could have another chance to bring him to net another day. In addition, I had no intention to kill the fish so when the hook pulled out I simply released the fish at a distance rather than from my net.
I hate the losses that really matter. The loss of family and friends are scars on the fabric of my soul. The memory of those losses, even after the passage of years, has the ability to bring tears. Perhaps this season I will return to that stream and I once again kneel on that gravel pad watching a trout rise just above the log. Maybe I will be able to make another successful cast and the trout will rise.