Lighter Side

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June 26th, 2000

Giants, Part 5 (Concluded)

by Jerry Dennis

Kelly also likes big bucktail streamers dyed the brightest possible chartreuse, and bushy combinations of marabou and rabbit fur tied to give them a broad silhouette and enticing action. He dislikes using streamers weighted with lead wire or bead eyes, believing that unweighted flies are more lifelike in the water. And he likes them big, on the reasonable assumption that oversize flies attract oversize fish. When his marabou streamers are dry, fresh from the box, they look like Angora kittens charged with static electricity. As soon as they hit the water and sink, they come alive. It's a wonder any fish can resist them. Any fish, that is, big enough not be afraid of them.

Casting big flies for trout is not for everyone. It's hard work, and it contradicts many of our favorite myths about fly-fishing - that it's a gentle sport for contemplative sorts, that purity of intentions and good equipment and careful application of your skills will be rewarded whether you catch fish or not, that big fish are beside the point. With streamers the way Kelly ties and fishes them, big fish are most emphatically the point. If you're the kind of person who needs constant reward, you'll get more satisfaction from catching small fish on dry flies. But I've discovered that I have a deep longing for trout capable of yanking the rod from my hand. Funny how eight hours of fruitless casting can be forgotten the moment a big brown or rainbow charges out of nowhere, turns, engulfs your streamer, and tries to drag you into the river.

All this is just prelude to what happened one day last year on the lower Au Sable, what Bob Linseman call his "crick". Bob, Kelly and I were floating a stretch that has the broad sweeping bends of a western river and is known for its big trout. It looks like big-fish water. We fished it with big streamers and sinking lines and kept our reflexes set at hair trigger. It was one of those days when you figure out fairly soon that you're not going to catch many fish, but maybe you'll get a giant. But the giant didn't come. One of us was always casting from the bow and another from the stern, while the third rowed. Periodically we traded places. We cast and cast. We fished all day without a strike.

Late in the afternoon, on a cast no different than the five hundred that preceded it, to a spot along shore that looked no different than any other spot along shore, I was stripping one of Kelly's Zoo Cougars deep toward the boat in maybe five feet of water when a sizeable section of the bottom underwent a short os seismic shift. I saw motion, a hint of surface disturbance, and then - clearly, with the aid of polarized glasses and an advantageous angle of the sun - the bronze flash of a brown trout turning toward the fly. And I dimensions. This was no mere twenty-incher. It was three feet long if it was an inch.

In fishing there is always a risk of diminishing returns. You can set out on a hedonistic course, always searching for larger and more difficult fish and greater and more enduring thrills, but the search can become like the notorious progression from marijuana to heroin. It's possible to get strung out on giant fish and fall victim to the Hemingway syndrome. Hemingway, you remember, abandoned the brook trout of northern Michigan to pursue monster billfish in the Gulf Stream, and his life went downhill from there. It's safest to avoid temptation. Instead of always seeking bigger fish, be satisfied with small ones. Spend most of your time catching ten-inchers on dry flies. They're nice fish, and great fun on light tackle. Be reasonable. You don't need to wrestle giants every day.

But in that two or three seconds, while the biggest brown trout I have ever seen turned and flashed in the Au Sable River, I discovered that I'm not a reasonable man. Not by a long shot.

I didn't catch the trout. Didn't even hook it. At the last moment it turned way, its wariness winning out over the curiosity, hunger, or plain meaness that had spurred it to move. Adrenaline shot from my head to my groin with so much force it felt as if it had been launched from a fire hose. It surged through me, bursting open a window to my core. While the window was open I got a good look inside. There was no mistaking it: I have an addict's heart. ~ Jerry Dennis

About Jerry Dennis

Jerry Dennis lives in Traverse City Michigan and feeds his obsession for fly fishing (and giant trout) by spending as much time as possible on the Boardman, Manistee, and AuSable rivers. He has been a full-time writer since 1986, writes for numerous magazines, and was the recipient of the 1999 Michigan Author Award. His seven books about nature and the outdoors include A Place On The Water, The River Home and From a Wooden Canoe. The River Home was name Best Outdoor Book of 1998 by the Outdoor Writers Association of American and is now available in paperback.

Excerpt from The Riverwatch The Quarterly Newsletter of the Anglers of the Au Sable.

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