THE FOOT BRIDGE
In fly fishing, you will inevitably experience landmark events that will stick with you over the years. Many of them will be things that happened while fishing. Others will be sights seen that could never hope to be duplicated. Some we cling to with a desire never to forget, while others stick with us whether we like it or not. There will be many that we can appreciate instantly simply as something that only fly fishing could have provided. Other events we need to mull over years, before their true impact or beauty can really be appreciated.
Obviously we have the fish caught, which after all is our ultimate goal, but oddly enough, it isn't the fish that remains in the mind for me. For me it tends to be times when things just plain old went right, or a particular trip where something which had eluded me suddenly clicked. Certainly, I vividly recall being shadowed along the Little Naches River in Washington State by a cougar. I stumbled upon a black tail kill of theirs, and mom and a youngster shadowed me for over 400 yards through the upper canyon as a result. It was an event which, while exciting, still unnerved me enough to cut my afternoons fishing short. I can still hear the bull elk's bugle, on a perfectly still morning along the Skookumchuck River. It erupted a scant 20 feet behind me while I drifting a streamer, my flinch was so severe as a result that I nearly fell in the creek. I still smile at my good fortune of seeing 2 otters along Pine Creek in Central Pennsylvania as they ignored me sitting on a nearby rock, and chased each other for nearly an hour through the exposed tree roots across the creek at the waterline. Later I would have a game warden in a local sporting goods shop insist that there were no otters where I had been fishing. I wonder if he still believes that?
There are so many scenes that have played out over the years that are difficult to drum up on the fly. However, it usually only takes a chance event that in some way resembles event of the past that brings it back to the forefront. A humid days evening fog that gathers over the water as the air cools reminds me each time of Spring Creek in State College PA. Each time I see a Green Drake come off the water I am on the West branch of the Little Pine again. Whenever I see March Browns I am instantly back on Fishing Creek and the early Pennsylvania spring of my home waters. They are all places that my mind revisits, if even for only a few seconds.
But for me, my mind has never gotten passed the first time I actually matched a hatch. That event has not left me, and I tend more-often-than-not to compare each time it repeats itself to that afternoon on the Yakima River in Eastern Washington. It was my first year of dedicated fly fishing, and I had started to take solo trips over the mountains in search of new waters. It was also an effort to experience some of the hatches that I had been hearing so much about. It was my third trip to the waters, and the first two trips had only offered up a single fish each time. And admittedly both of them came by no fault of mine. One on a nymph that I did not even know I had hooked until I lifted my rod to roll cast. The other came on a streamer after I had turned my head to look for my next cast while stripping in the last few feet of line. Both left me with a feeling of at least not getting skunked but not much more aside from that. So needless to say I was truly trying to validate my time, effort and thirst for some dry fly fishing. The previous week I had been on the midsection of the river just above the Umtanum foot bridge, and witnessed what I believed to have been a Light Cahill hatch. I had gone home and studied my books in order to identify them, and was pretty certain that I had the hatch nailed down. The hatch had begun about 2 pm that day, and had come off for about an hour. Then as abruptly as it began, it died. And along with it the fish seem to have disappeared as well.
This day found me standing just upstream of the Umtanum foot bridge once more. Rod in hand at 12 noon in order to make sure the spot was not taken. I was armed with a half dozen freshly minted Light Cahill thorax patterns, and high hopes that I had guessed right. I was standing downstream along the edge of a small gravel bar that had formed just short of mid-stream. It was along this gravel bar that the hatch had come off on the previous outing. I was working the water steadily with everything I had, although no hatch had appeared yet. In the mean time I hooked 2 smallish rainbows on a black wooly bugger. Already I was ahead for the day. At one point, around 10 minutes after 2 pm I was beginning to doubt that any hatch would begin, when suddenly I heard a "gloop" about 10 feet upstream. I turned to watch, as two more fish rose in cadence as well. It was then that I saw the bugs in the air. With adrenaline going a mile-a-minute, I promptly threw a wind knot on my second back cast and with hands shaking took five long minutes untangling it. I was a mess. But my next attempt placed that little #14 thorax pattern at the top end of the gravel bar. Half way down on its journey toward me a fish took! I lifted the rod to find a fat 16 inch rainbow on the other end and with a whoop I watched as it gained the current and zipped downstream on my drag as I fumbled along behind it. To this day I will never forget that fish in my hand just before it slipped back into the stream. And so it began. For the next 30 minutes or so I either missed or hooked a fish on each and every cast. And then again as suddenly as it began it stopped. And it was as if not a single fish existed in that little stretch of water. I had just finished stripping in line after about my tenth cast since getting a rise, when I looked upstream. There to my amazement, stood a full-curl Bighorn Ram knee deep in the stream! How long it had been there, I do not know. But there it was, in all its glory staring at me as I flogged the water with my fly rod. I stood there watching it as it slowly moved across the creek and meandered up into the Umtanum drainage and out of sight. I reeled in my line, turned, and headed for the truck. It was at that exact point-in-time, when fly fishing changed for me forever.