Like so many fishing stories, this is a tale of the one that got away.
One week ago, I caught an enormous brown trout. Of course, "enormous" is a relative term. The fish was about 24" long, and likely weighed ... well, God only knows what it weighed. It was fine fish though - a big fish - insofar as the river goes. Long, thick in the middle, a protruding kype and well defined shoulders. This kind of brown trout will certainly make an angler's day, may be the highlight of his or her season, and might end up the crowning achievement of a lifetime spent riverside.
Are there bigger? Does the river hold eight, ten, or twelve pound fish? Of course, but trout like those are legendary in part because they're so rare. They're phantoms - figments of our imaginations that are there and gone before we've a chance to set the hook. When they are caught, it is almost always by a ten year-old boy fishing nightcrawlers below a red and white bobber, or a 75 year-old farmer slinging salted minnows with an equally aged Heddon baitcaster. Fly flingers sometimes pay thousands of dollars, and travel half way around the world for that kind of luck.
In my years on the river, I've had the good fortune to hook several fish of that caliber, but I've been denied the opportunity to hold even one behemoth in my hands. Such is my luck, and please believe me when I tell you that the reminiscence is bitter.
I remember how I shook after fighting a rainbow that was likely 28 to 30 inches long. She leapt from the water five or six times like an angel bright steelhead fresh from the Pacific. The trout pulled me into my backing, and didn't end the battle by breaking my line, but rather by breaking the hook - a stout #4 TMC 9395. I also remember my shock as a similarly sized brown tore off 60 feet of line, and threw the hook in a violent roll on the surface. His eye was as big as a nickel, and I swear he winked at me before we parted ways. The following week, what I can only assume was the same fish broke me off on a streamer. There was that brown that tailwalked for three or four feet before spitting my Muddler back into my chest, and still another that bent two hooks straight on two separate occasions. Life - or the life of this particular bug chucker anyway - is full of disappointment.
And I experienced another such disappointment just three nights ago. Adam, Ben and I were fishing a stretch of river that has given up some real bruisers over the past two years. This particular spot has everything an outsized brown could want or need: depth and depth changes, cover, plenty of feed, relatively gentle current, and virtually no fishing pressure. In my years of fishing there, I've never seen any footprints in the sand other than my own. It's a glorious place to spend an evening.
It's especially glorious if you've devoted yourself to the kind of trout that break an angler's heart. I'll spare you the long version, but we fished through the run with every streamer in our boxes. Cast, step, cast, step, cast, step, back to the head. We were getting a little bit frustrated as we hadn't had so much as a bump all day, and our arms were sore from repetition. The six pack of Saranac Pale Ale may have been the only thing, which kept kept us from going all Lord of the Flies on each other. On my last pass through the run I tapered my leader down to 4x, and rigged up with a pair of nymphs. The fish took on what must have been the first or second drift.
Twice I had him nearly close enough to net. He may as well have been a mile away for all the good it did.
I swear he winked at me before we parted ways.