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The Best Part.

April 2nd, 2014

I haven’t fished nearly as much as I’ve wanted to so far this year. Certainly there is an issue with that statement, because as my friends know, that would mean I would forgo eating, sleeping, and any number of other (supposedly) necessary things. However, returning to reality, it has meant I have strove to enjoy the time I do get out on the water as much as possible.

Yesterday morning represented a bit of a unique situation. First, I had the morning open. Second, it was an early weekday, so maybe we would have the place to ourselves. Third, it was opening day of trout season, so ignore the second point. The last rise in the drive to one of our regulars is usually anxiety-inducing, as you crane your neck to get a glimpse at the state of the parking area. And with April 1 sharing many parallels for casual fishermen with January 1 for casual gym-goers, there was a bit more anxiety than usual… 3 vehicles. Not bad. Camo hat on one dash. Two sets of rubber hip waders heading back to another vehicle, spinning rods in hand, unsatisfied expressions on their faces, and no stringers or plastic bags of trout. At this point its not even 8AM.

And with April 1 sharing many parallels for casual fishermen with January 1 for casual gym-goers, there was a bit more anxiety than usual…

For the record, the fishing WAS slow. But even more distressing was the fact that for a place fish are usually plainly visible, and certainly not limited in number, there appeared to be marked absence. The presence of a large dead brown did not make the situation appear any less dire. It had no outward signs of angler abuse, nor did it have any evidence of predation. It was just on the bottom rotting, and I can only hope its fate was a natural one, from age or the stresses of spawning, not environmental decline or human carelessness.

Drew got on the board first, before I even made it back up to our favored spot. Maybe everyone was just exaggerating, maybe the fish had found new lies for the time being, affected by the brutal weather, by the stomping around of meat fishermen. There were more of those seen than fish. Insect life was plentiful. Midges, big ones, were abundant, both on the water, and present in clouds whenever any stream-side bush or tree was disturbed. Birds were in the air feasting on the hatch. But there was not a single dimple on the surface, not a rise-form to be seen anywhere along the stretch.

Trout have to start rising soon, right?

Well, we’re here now. Trout have to start rising soon, right?

At times we just sat incredulously, watching the usual lies, scanning the stretches where at least a half dozen regular risers would be taking advantage of whatever was on or near the surface, even during marginal hatches. The closest we came to rises were us convincing ourselves we heard splashes occasionally: those had to be the fish taking flies from the surface that we just weren’t seeing. There was a bit of a silver lining: mayflies were around as well.¬†There was a stretch of time that we did not even hook a fish. A convincing snag on the bottom here, a tug from a bunch of aquatic vegetation there, but no head-shakes, and certainly none of the unique acrobatics the little trout from this waterway surprise us with on our usual trips here. Maybe the trout hadn’t noticed the BWOs yet, because that makes sense. But anything to convince ourselves something terrible hadn’t happened to such a beautiful stretch. It wouldn’t be the first time there were rumors of catastrophe swirling about this particular stream, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Drew heard the day’s gem, and I’m disappointed I missed it: “Do you see all these survey stakes? I heard they sold this area to the Japanese!” Of course that must be it, how simple! Brown trout sashimi for everyone.

At this point I had spent much of the day staring at flies, wondering why they weren’t working, re-tying, and repeating. When I wasn’t doing that, I was untangling messes. Finally, I got to the point where I did not understand why the fish, if they were still there, were not paying attention to the hatches we saw occurring, which I was doing my best to match. I tied on a double shot of confidence flies, and Drew was kind enough, as usual, to let me fish the downstream water. This may have something to do with me regularly drifting my rig right into his presentation. It’s not intentional, I promise. We discussed that a bit until my line came tight while drifting along tight to cover. A characteristic flash proved this was no snag. And this was no cookie-cutter either. This is the point where I get very serious. Plus I typically demand that no one say anything about the size of the fish until it finds a net or a hand around its tail. I’m sure Drew looks at me like I’ve suddenly caught a serious case of crazy when I get in this mode. There is just something about big fish that do this to me. This particular fish went for a few runs and was then fought into slow, shallow water. And most importantly, Drew kept me from making a mistake that may have lost the fish as I went to land it (sometimes I just resort to what I grew up doing… but 7x isn’t 20lb Seaguar).

The fish was a battle-scarred veteran. A third of his tail was recently missing. Healed scratches criss-crossed his back, while a fresh wound marred his upper back forward of the dorsal. And he taped a half a foot longer than the usual “big fish” from this water.

I don't always tape fish, but when I do, I wish this was how it worked.

I don’t always tape fish, but when I do, I wish this was how it worked.

This fish is easily the biggest fish I’ve landed in this particular waterway. I know that bigger fish have been caught there. I’ve seen bigger fish there, sipping tiny flies and ignoring whatever I presented. Heck, the dead brown that greeted us that morning was enviably bigger. But this fish still made my day. And for once, Drew was actually there for a personal best. We always joke about it, but despite the fact that we rarely fish apart, it always plays out that the crazy stuff happens when we do. So it made it even better that I could share the experience. The tape measure even made an appearance, but definitely not so I could judge if the trout could share Opening Day with a filet knife. This fish even played along, staying still for a brief moment while we taped it.

The trout revived well, and was ready to go back to the relative safety of its covered lie. The best part of my opening day was when the brown kicked strongly out of my hands and shot back into the current, safe for the time being from a stringer or a permanent stint out of water. While it didn’t look like there were a lot of fish there yesterday, there were at least a few and they made our day. Hopefully that specific ecosystem is alright and wasn’t decimated by the effects of the winter. I’ll be back to check soon, and maybe the news will be good.

Undeniably the best part.

Undeniably the best part.

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