Have you ever come across a trout that was so secure in his lair that he basically ignored you and your puny attempts at angling for him? Generally, these guys are taking advantage of nearly impenetrable cover, some depth, obstructions, and the perfect flow of current to bring them their daily fare. I am talking about the ideal lie and feeding station here, and they come and go in the lives of rivers. Flood waters giveth, and flood waters taketh away, so you may run into one of these scenarios only once, or on a repeating basis for several seasons.
I started early yesterday morning, hoping to recapture some of the great summer fishing I have enjoyed over the years. I enjoyed the cool morning air and the solitude of the river, and by the time I reached my fishing location, I enjoyed the thrill of watching a big fish sip something tiny from the film. This is 2022 though, and there still are not very many bugs on the water, day in and day out. By the time I reached that early riser, he was gone.
There were a couple of cruisers that attracted my attention, though the odds seemed to be stacked against me this day. I recall mornings when I had great fun with those cruisers. The daybreak fare was somewhat consistent and, there were enough of those little flies around that I could spot one and choose a matching fly. This was not one of those mornings.
It took me a couple of hours to amass a bank of information regarding just what kind of trout food was in the drift. It wasn’t consistent, in fact changing throughout the day, and it seems that it changed frequently. I found two sizes of tiny rusty spinners, two sizes of small sulfur spinners, the occasional sulfur dun, two sizes of dead sulfur duns, yellow jackets, another unidentified tiny spinner, a few mayfly duns so minute that I could not imitate them even with the pack of size 32 hooks that has lived, unopened in my store of fly tying materials for a couple of decades. Just to be accurate, there were also a couple of things I simply could not identify, that may have been mangled insects of some kind.
So, after chasing the very occasional cruisers and changing, changing and changing flies for those couple of hours, I came upon the only consistently feeding trout I would encounter. He was ensconced in an impressive array of cover, with his own little conveyor belt carrying all of those sporadically appearing and disappearing menu items. This guy was secure in that lie let me tell you, just how secure I would learn during the course of our association.
I expect the progression is familiar to most of you that angle for selective trout. I began with a small beetle which was summarily ignored. I tried one of those little size 20 sulfurs; also ignored. I stared at the surface to see what else was drifting by at that moment, then dug out an imitation and tried it. Sulfur spinners in 18 and 20, an ant, a different beetle, a perfect little size 22 parachute olive, a size 20 olive comparadun. After another hour or two I spotted one of the rusty spinners in the film. Aha!
The size 18 rusty that was lurking in my fly box was larger than I wanted. I had not looked closely when I grabbed that box, satisfied that it was my summer box with various little spinners, olives, even tricos. I knew there were size 20 rusty spinners in there, but there weren’t. The 18 though did tell me something about that trout. It told me just how smug and secure he was in his super lie, and that he had nothing to fear from any angler. I believed he had sipped in my rusty you see, and I lifted the bamboo rod to set the hook. The trout flipped his nose in the air and splashed when the fly departed right on top of him! I expected that our interview was concluded, but it wasn’t sixty seconds later that he sipped something again.
As the afternoon warmed, the breeze rose a bit, and I tried a run of terrestrials again. Then I went back through the sulfurs and spinners to no avail. Ring, dimple, ring…hello I’m feeding here! You can’t touch me! I changed to 6x tippet early in this game, then back to 5X (longer), and finally to 6X fluorocarbon. I never fish 6X in heavy cover, but hey, this was the only trout in town and the game had become personal.
I am not one of those guys who gets philosophical to take the edge off defeat. I don’t sigh “fooling them is the primary goal, the real victory” when a tough customer breaks my leader or opens up my hook and escapes. You either catch a trout or you don’t. I knew that using 6X in this lie, with this trout, was courting failure, but I also knew that he wasn’t going to be seduced by anything but a perfect drift of the right fly at the right moment, whatever that was.
After another dig through the bowels of my chest pack, I found a single, disheveled size 20 rusty spinner in a gob of flies and managed to dislodge it without spearing my fingers on any of those intertwined hooks. Allright damn you, here you go!
Fishing classic bamboo fly rods is a game of pluses and minuses, just like everything else. Bamboo is the best rod to give you a flawless presentation, but it is not the tool you want to horse a big fish out of cover. Fly fishing isn’t about horsing fish anyway, it is about finesse and beauty and art. I think that, sometimes, the softer, more natural flex of cane lets you control a fish where the harsh reflex of graphite just pisses them off more than the hook already has.
I made another series of casts, vying with the breeze for the perfect drift. The trout would shift around in his little enclave, taking in four quadrants: sometimes up, sometimes back, sometimes tight to a log on the bank, and sometimes out a bit, closer to me. Everything finally came together when he shifted out and I sent that tiny spinner on its way for the last time.
I think he was shocked that he had been fooled and hooked, at least for a second, and I used every bit of that second to let the pull of the late George Maurer’s beautifully flamed bamboo begin to bring him my way, and out from that maze of cover. He thrashed and shook his head, and I kept stripping line and coaxing him out, six inches at a time. I didn’t use the reel; I simply kept stripping and kept the line tight and in control with my hands. The click of a reel often seems to irritate a fighting trout, to energize him even more. That’s a beautiful thing when a fish is making a long musical run into your backing, but it is not the tactic that is beneficial to getting a sizeable trout out of heavy cover. I did let him spin my old Hardy a bit once he was clear of disaster!
That brownie measured nineteen inches, not the biggest trout I have landed this season, but he does get the prize for being in the most difficult lie. I invested the major part of my fishing day in angling for that fellow, with very short odds, and I felt a little glow of appreciation and satisfaction when I released him back to the cool river. I noticed that the sun had grown hot, and the wind had increased to an honest gusty summer blow. Hmmm, maybe now I can tempt one with terrestrials…