When It All Comes Together
Someone once gave me the definition of an expert that I have
never forgotten.'An expert is a person that has the best excuses
for the reasons they failed.'
By Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
Fly-fishing for trout is a sport with many variables that are completely
beyond the control of the angler. You may possess extraordinary
casting skills, your knowledge of trout behavior, feeding habits, and
hatches may be unmatched, but if the trout refuse to cooperate, the
insects refuse to hatch, or the weather is perverse you might as well
be a rank amateur.
Over the many years that I have chased trout with rod and fly I
have experienced many times of extreme frustration when the trout,
weather, and the bugs have refused to cooperate with my best efforts.
We've all been there. You arrive at the stream only to find that the fish
are feeding on something that you don't have, or the hatch that you
anticipated would happen doesn't. Suddenly you've forgotten how
to cast, the wind comes up, and it starts to rain, snow or both. You
miss every fish that strikes, your tippet breaks on the only good fish
of the day, you fall in, you break your rod, and you catch a cold that
lasts a month. Been there and done that.
Fortunately there are times in our lives when everything comes together;
a time when all the planning and all the preparation unite to produce a
few moments in time when we cannot do anything wrong. For the
fortunate ones among us such occurrences happen on a regular basis,
but for the majority such occasions are so special that when they
occur we stand back and say WOW.
Just this week I had such a WOW moment, and it happened in
the most auspicious manner. I found myself on a high mountain
meadow stream on a sunny autumn day not anticipating that I
would find much action. The stream was low and clear after the
long summer; reduced to a series of shallow riffles and deep slow
pools filled with gin-clear water, the prospects of this being a day
for the books was less than promising.
I settled down on the bank of one of the deeper pools and tinkered
with my tackle hoping that something would happen, but not having
much hope. The pool was about 20 yards long, and appeared to be
about 6 feet deep at the upper end. During the early season the pool
would have been twice as long and over 10 feet deep over most of its
length. Now, in the waning days of summer the pool was lined with
sun bleached rocks, and the riffle that flowed in at the head was a mere
trickle chattering over the rocks.
The grassy meadows were filled with a variety of terrestrial insects
so I tied on a black foam beetle and began halfheartedly to drop it
along the foam line created by the water flowing in from the riffle.
After a few casts a small cutthroat darted off the bottom and made
a stab at my fly. He was too small to get the fly in his mouth but he
gave it a good try. Several other equally small fish bumped and struck
at my fly with the same results. About to move on I rolled one last cast
into the foam line and a dark shadow detached itself from the bottom,
drifted up under my fly and sipped it in. Moments later I slid a 12 inch
trout onto the sand, slipped the beetle from the corner of his jaw, and
slipped him back into the water. Well, at least he was big enough
to eat the fly.
As I squeezed the water from the foam beetle I noticed a large mayfly
floating along the edge of the pool. The big fly sat on the water until I
dug my aquarium net out of my vest and scooped it up. This was one
big bug, at least a size 8 with dark wings and a brownish green body.
I vaguely remembered seeing a similar insect several years ago on a
small high mountain stream and I remembered keying it out. Timpanoga
hecuba, the Great Red Quill, an uncommon and localized mayfly that
seldom produces a fishable hatch. As I stood contemplating this insect
I noticed a big swirl out in the center of the pool. Then I saw another
large mayfly floating down the foam line, and as I watched a large head
poked out of the water and it disappeared. Then there was another,
and then another.
In the inside pocket of my vest was a box of large flies that I normally
do not carry but I had stuck them in earlier in the season and had
forgotten to remove them. In the corner of one compartment were
several large parachute patterns that I had tied to imitate our western
Green Drake hatch. Tied on a sized 8, 2x long shank hook with a
green deer hair body, a green deer hair upright wing, and several turns
of olive green hackle wrapped around the base, it was just the ticket.
Quickly I cut back my 5x leader back to 3x and tied on one of those
big flies. The first cast brought a solid strike and after a brief struggle
a respectable 15 inch fish was admired and released. In the next hour
the pool produced several 12 to 15 inch fish and as the action slowed
down I dropped down to the next pool where I noticed several fish
feeding along the far bank. Working into position I dropped my fly
just a few inches from a large rock where the water was barely 6
inches deep, and as the fly slowly drifted in the slack water a large
head appeared, and in a classic head and tail rise the fly disappeared
in a huge mouth. Several long moments later an 18 inch cutthroat came
to hand. A few minutes later I caught his twin from the same place.
The big Red Quills had stopped hatching, and I was about ready
to head for the car for lunch. I noticed one fish still feeding
sporadically near the head of the pool and I dropped several casts
over his position without any response. As I started to reel in the
fish rose again and I made a quick roll cast and dropped my fly
right on his head. The fly floated a few inches and then disappeared
in a wash tub sized swirl. When I raised the rod it came up hard against
something that felt like a rock. Then the rock began to move, and in
the crystal clear water I could see that I had hooked a very large fish.
The ensuing battle took on the form of a tug of war. I would get him
headed toward the bank and then he would turn his big head and rip
back into the deep water. Finally I slid him onto the beach, a huge
cutthroat fat after a summer of feeding, fully 22 inches long and 8
inches wide from the top of his back to his belly. He was solidly
hooked in the top edge of his mouth, and I quickly dislodged the
fly and eased him back into the water. My two hands could barely
circle his girth as I walked him back and forth until, with a strong push
of his tail he disappeared back into the depths. As I watched him
disappear I realized that I was shaking.
As I sat on the tailgate of my vehicle I did a mental tally of the last
couple hours of fishing. WOW. Sometimes it really does all come
together. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
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