Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Flatlander's Dark:30

After almost a year of being away from my favorite river - the Chattooga - an opportunity arose to head there this past Friday afternoon. The drive north consisted of a little conversation, a lot of bluegrass pickin' music and a rush of memories of past trips to this special place. Visions of rising fish from the first ever "hatch" I experienced seemed as fresh as the new spring growth seen everywhere right now, and there was much anticipation of experiencing one again on this day.

As has been the case for me for the last year or so now, I have a hard time deciding whether to fish or to shoot photos. I wish I would just grow another set of arms and be able to perform both, but I don't see that happening without coming in contact with some sort of radioactive material (maybe a trip to the Savannah River Site is in order?). So, after arriving at the river around 3:00 in the afternoon, Guru started, well, fishing, while I shot a few hundred photos of my favorite place. Observing caddis and mayflies sporadically coming off the water and flying to a nearby hemlock, watching Jimmy catch multiple rainbows and brook trout by skittering caddis patterns downstream, and just getting to see normal water levels had me immediately satisfied before I even strung up the five-weight.

Of course, it finally got to me and the fly line was slid through the stripping guides and then the snakes and finally out of the tippy-top. Some 5X tippet was added to the leader and a parachute Adams was carefully tied with a securely-cinched knot. Cast after cast was made for nearly two hours without a single fish rising. But still, I remained satisfied. For the first time ever I was perfectly fine not catching fish. What's happening to me? Am I growing personally? (I'm reminded of an episode of Seinfeld where George says, "Personal growth of any kind really annoys me.")

Then, just when I had come to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to catch a fish this evening, something changed. Tan caddisflies started flying upriver as if they had been summoned to some sort of important gathering of the caddis. A few mayflies - including some sort of huge light cahill/Green Drake/bald eagle hybrid - started flying around (they were so big, one flew close to my head and I swear the wind coming from its wing-flap blew my hair a little). And, just like that, it was on.

The waning light urged me to switch to a big, visible Yellow Humpy dry fly and drop the parachute Adams off of it. Nothing like fishing two dries. In one long run, I landed six rainbows, one of which went completely air born to grab the Adams before it even landed on the water!

After exhausting that run, a short hike up to a long, glassy stretch where I have caught a few decent browns in the past had me itching to "churn butter" and hook one or two more. Guru and I watched as several brown trout consistently rose, including one who had been doing his squats and bicep curls for a while. After a few dozen casts to "big boy," he finally rose to the Adams. "OOOHHHH YESSS!!" I screamed.

Now, when you hook a fish that runs, like all trout do, you're usually okay as long as they don't run directly AT you. This creates slack and that's not good.

Well, big boy did exactly that.

Luckily, I stuck him good and felt confident that the hook wasn't going anywhere. And, that extra time cinching down my knots had me almost certain that this fish would take up temporary residence inside of my landing net. And, when he neared my feet, I really caught a glimpse of how large this fish was (somewhere between 18 and 20 inches with some good shoulders on him).

There was one variable in this equation, however, that would possibly jeopardize the whole operation - a slight rust on the bend of my hook. The current state of the economy and its subsequent effect on people who are trying to write for a living, combined with the fact that I hadn't trout fished in a while (the bass are on the bed... REPEAT... the bass are on the bed) led to an all-too-neglected fly box.

So, while continuing to YELL "OOOHHHH YESSSS!" over and over, I came up with a new dance move that helps remove slack line - the "Trout-Tackler-Two-Step" is sort of a backward stumble that adds some crazy-fast stripping with the line hand to try to take out the slack. It worked and the fish was on tight again... for about two seconds. In an instant the line was totally slack and my flies were above the water again.

Upon further inspection, the Adams had lost the business end of himself in the battle.


But, an immediate roll-cast to the side resulted in another immediate rise by a smaller brown and he was quickly landed. Another few casts to another rising fish had him on and landed - a NICE 15-inch brown. And before dark, another two browns were landed on that same glassy stretch.

The second half of the hike back to the parking lot was in darkness, save two flashlights from Guru and Dredger (who we met on the hike back) and was just as fun as the fishing. Stories, observations, fish counts, laughs and camaraderie were readily shared on that jaunt through the dark woods as another memory was filed away for the next drive north, whenever that may be.

David Cannon

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