Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
December 12th, 2005

The Last Mission of FDD-333
By Dan Fink (DanBob)

My friend Vern was quite serious about the mission. The operational area was a high altitude reservoir in Colorado, 10,000 feet plus. Our vessels were float tubes, our propulsion was flippers. Our submarine targets were beautiful and elusive Arctic Grayling, and hopefully big Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout too. The mission was seek, catch, and release. Though Grayling are rare in Colorado, this lake teems with them, to the detriment of the local Rainbows and Greenback Cutthroats.

Vern seemed to revert right back to his Navy days, serving on a destroyer in the Vietnam War. He immediately assumed an official tone of voice, and said "FDD-333, FDD-334 in command. Based on pre-mission lure attraction probability intelligence reports, I recommend a XTY-12-257-Mk18. It will be in drawer L-18, row 27 of your portside aft fly box."

I replied, "You mean a #18 green scud, right Vern?"

"Affirmative, FDD-333."

It was going to be a long day...

I had actually ditched Vern's giant fly filing system in the back of the truck, since it weighed nearly as much as my float tube, and the straps to hold it on my rear deck (uh, fantail) didn't fit my float tube's lash downs. I had an old film can full of flies in my pocket, and fished around for a little green scud. I replied "Aye Sir, Mk18 Scud, I've attached the Mk18 using proper level one monofilament knot strength protocol."

It was a COLD fall morning at 10,000 feet. Ice rimmed the calm waters of the lake, and moose tracks as big as a dinner plate were frozen in the mud from yesterday. Only a few scattered yellow leaves were left on the aspens, the howling snowstorm last week had already stripped most of them off. The sunrise was incredible, all pink and orange.

My radio crackled at top volume. "Watch your initial underway evolution. Jagged rocks off your port bow," he transmitted over our little walkie talkies.

"Gotcha, Vern. I'm actually standing on those rocks, and I'm only 10 feet away from you. You don't have to use the radio. And I don't know bow from stern, since we paddle these belly boats backwards," I said.

"Gotcha is NOT permissible radio protocol. Please re-transmit."

All I could do was sigh heavily and transmit back to Vern, "FDD-334, FDD-333, aye, I copy rocks off of port bow and have marked them on my charts. I am underway now."

"MUCH better. Switch colors to the bridge, assume sea detail. We'll commence formation plan Foxtrot Romeo in exactly 7 minutes, at coordinates 4489330N 426000E UTM as per your mission briefing folder."

"OK Vern, I'll meet you over the weed bed off the south inlet in a bit."

"That's what I said. Please conform to standard radio discipline."

"Roger that 334, FDD-333 out." What else could I say? A few things came to mind, but I kept my mouth shut.

Vern insisted on precise formation while underway, and our rendezvous went perfectly to plan.

Vern radioed (again from less than 10 feet away) "We need to find the weed bed and the drop-off. Make your helm 212 degrees, and prepare to deploy towed sonar array. Man battle stations."

I repeated his orders back and began the turn. "Battle stations. Make my helm 212 and prepare towed array, aye. Coming around. My helm is 212. I have a lock on channel A of the array in test position, check your telemetry on channel B, Sir."

"FTDD-333, I have a lock on channel B. Good job. Deploy the towed sonar array."

I double checked the rope and carabiner clip and tossed the little floating sonar bobber out. My wristwatch receiver beeped, and I started to a receive a profile and depth soundings of the lake bottom. It was a very strange little gadget. I had bought it mostly as a joke, but it ended up being pretty useful. I had my doubts about whether it would find any fish, but it seemed to give the depth pretty well, and show structure and weeds underneath.

"Sonar array deployed to distance of 4 meters aft in my baffles. Telemetry starting," I transmitted.

Vern replied "FDD-333, 334, I'm copying your telemetry from the towed array. We'll go to formation Alpha-13, and troll the weed bed and drop off parallel to shore. I show the optimum depth for fishing the drop off to be 2.72 meters. Separate the vessels by 20 meters, with a 10 meter cross vector offset. Circular trolling pattern. Complete radio silence for the initial attack run."

I wondered a bit about the radio silence order, since Vern is never silent if there's a radio to talk on, but then I noticed he was rolling a tobacco cigarette, which took both hands--no hands left to key the mic. I stopped kicking, cast my little green scud out, ticked off the seconds for it to sink to the bottom, then started twitching it while slowly kicking along the drop off and trying to keep the little scud out of my wake. I had about 10 minutes of peace until my radio exploded into action again.

"Torpedo in the water, torpedo in the water! We are under attack!" Vern radioed frantically. Even though I knew exactly what was going on, it did make me jump and scan around the lake. And I'd never been in the Navy! Too many war movies, maybe? It only took me a few seconds to realize that Vern had a fish on.

Vern was yelling into the radio now. "FDD-333, commence response plan Delta Tango 7 off my starboard bow immediately. Flank speed. I am under attack, repeat, I am under attack!" I could hear him both over the radio and over the water.

Response plan Delta Tango 7 meant that I was to accelerate in front of Vern and try to get in position for a photo, or to help netting the fish if it was a big one. It was impressive watching Vern's rod flex -- the fish was a real fighter. It alternately dove deep and jumped out of the water, and made a couple long runs on him. About 14 inches it appeared, big for a Colorado Grayling, the state record is only 17 inches. Vern's 3-weight rod made the whole battle quite exciting.

Right after I started kicking hard to get into position, I felt a sharp series of tugs on my line. The hook set itself, and I had a Grayling on now also. After I had my slack reeled in and was letting the reel's drag do the work, I keyed the mic again. "FDD-334, FDD-333. I am under attack also. Torpedo in the water. They're hitting us from all sides, Sir. I am commencing response plan Bravo Sierra 3 on my own initiative. Spooling in towed array to avoid fouling it." Bravo Sierra 3 meant I would land my own fish, and Vern his. What a concept!

I'd never caught a Grayling before, and it was a fun fight. It took some work to get it in my net. Grayling have a small, soft mouth, hung underneath almost as much as a Whitefish. But the colors, oh my -- the big dorsal sail was translucent, with purple areas glowing in the sun. It had a 3-D effect of purple going down the sides, too -- almost holographic. What a beautiful fish! Out of the water, the dorsal sail collapsed and the colors went to white, but in the water it was a beauty. I let it go, and noticed Vern had done the same with his.

I had another Grayling on within 5 minutes, and radioed Vern again. "Got another one." I heard only silence back. I unhooked the fish, dropped my fly back in the water, and had another Grayling on before the scud even hit the bottom. Then I noticed Vern had another fish on, too, and he was thrashing around a bit in his float tube. I soon realized he was thrashing around a LOT! I saw some strange objects floating away from his boat, became concerned, and radioed Vern again. "TDD-334, TDD-333, my portside lookout is reporting debris in the water. Please confirm your status, do you require assistance?"

Nothing back on the radio.

As I kicked rapidly over towards Vern, I noticed that the first piece of debris was a very soggy, hand-rolled cigarette. The second was his Bic lighter, in a (fortunately) floating case. The third was Vern's tobacco pouch. I grabbed all of it out of the water and keyed the mic. "Vern, I got your stuff. The Bic is OK but the cigarette and tobacco pouch are severely damaged and took on water."

For the first time, Vern answered in plain English, if a bit out of breath.

"Damn that was a fine fish, it was big and fought like crazy!"

Sadly, it was only a temporary respite from naval jargon.

Vern kept giving orders. "333, 334, requesting underway replenishment operation to commence immediately."

"Roger that, what supplies do you need 334?" I replied.

"I need a cigarette, Danbob."

Poor Vern! I answered "FDD-334, FDD-333, I acknowledge your request for underway replenishment. Come alongside and heave to."

It should have been easy, but that howling, autumn alpine wind was coming up again. We stowed our fly rods in their holders and locked hands, spinning in circles in the wind. I transferred all his salvageable equipment plus my extra smokes to Vern. Our lines and leaders were whipping around in the wind by now.

Without even touching his radio, Vern said "Thanks, Danbob! I'm gonna head for the west side dropoff where the little crick comes in, near the dam. The water's deeper there, and maybe we can get some big trout instead of all these durn Grayling. I've caught a dozen of them already. And I'm gonna try a big #4 spruce streamer, since intelligence reports suggest Grayling have small, soft mouths and can't eat big flies. Prepare to cast off."

Hearing plain English mixed with only a little jargon was a relief and I tried to avoid even the slightest hint of any sort of nautical jargon in my reply, to avoid triggering any more. "Sounds dandy Vern, see ya over thar in a bit."

Vern kicked away, and my float tube started to spin. Then I kicked away, and Vern started to spin. We'd hooked each other well and truly, or at least the wind had done it for us. His fly was embedded deep in my fleece jacket, and mine had caught his net.

It was right back to jargon again. Vern yelled into his radio "All hands brace for impact! Engines all stop, repeat all stop," once again from only 10 feet away. We locked arms again, spun in more circles and extracted our flies, and were glad that nobody was watching. The half-mile flipper trip over to the dam was silent on the radio net, but as we approached the dam the tiny fish finder DID show some deep water -- 60 feet plus, with both rocks and weeds showing on my display and Vern's.

He was quickly back on the radio. "FDD-333, FDD-334, telemetry from your towed array shows depths to 18.29 meters at the impoundment structure. Switching to full sink line and large wooly buggers. Recommend you do the same."

"I copy that, 334, switching to full sink line, large woolly bugger, aye. Using level 3 high-strength monofilament knot protocol."

Then my wristwatch fish finder beeped--it was indicating an actual fish for the first time. We'd been using it only for depth readings. This looked to be for real! Vern's voice immediately came over the radio, and seemed a bit strained. "FDD-333, FDD-334, I have a large submerged contact in your baffles at 12 meters depth. This is your first command, I request you bear off to starboard and let me take care of this target. Prepare to commence response plan Delta Tango 7 at my command."

"Aye, Sir, bearing off to starboard. My helm is 324." My arm was sore from fighting Grayling anyway, and I was sick of jargon.

I released another 10 feet of line on the sonar sensor, and flippered away to watch the action, both above and below. I could clearly see the blip on the display now. It was big! A lurking Mackinaw? Rumor had it that the state Division of Wildlife had released Lake Trout here this summer to reduce the Grayling population.

The radio went off again, and Vern's voice was showing the strain for sure now. "Torpedo in the water, target engaged, I am under attack!"

But something didn't look right. His rod was bent, but it didn't seem be moving around much. His reel wasn't making any noise, either.

"Uh, Vern, you sure about that?" I radioed back.

"It's huge! Proceed with response plan Delta Tango 7 and get in position for a photo."

"Uh, Vern, are you REALLY sure?"


"Vern, you OK?"

More silence.


If a radio could crackle sheepishly, Vern's sure did. "Hooked a friggin' log. @#&$^#$."

I keyed the mic, and sent back "FDD-334, FDD-333. You're violating radio protocal, Sir."

"@#$*&#* radio protocal!" yelled Vern.

I knew that, finally, plain talk might have won out over nautical jargon.

We fished for another 3 hours, and our catch and release totals for Grayling both numbered over 20. Rainbows, Cuttys, Lakers? Not a one.

As we stripped off our waders, I noticed Vern's radio on the gravel, just behind my left rear tire, and didn't say a word. The 'crunch' was audible even with the windows closed as we pulled out.

"#$#*$&!, that was my radio!" yelled Vern.

"Oops," I calmly replied. "Maybe we didn't need those radios or the towed sonar array to catch fish."

"That's a fact. I haven't had such a fine day fishing in 5 years. My arm is sore from fighting Grayling. Mission accomplished. Good sailing with you."

"You too, Vern, let's go get a beer."


The beer tasted GOOD! ~ DanBob

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