I’m at the back of the truck, tailgate down, packing gear while Hopper impatiently wanders but always has me in sight. Hopper, a black shepherd, a year, and a half old and my shadow when I fish alone. If you know German Shepherds, she is my shadow ALL THE TIME! Yes, she is a fly fisherman’s dog, and I named her Hopper, but her nickname is Spaz. Right now, she’s working hard to free a downed fence post from the barbed wire still attached. Spaz. The streamer rod comes out, then the dry rod. Still rigged up from yesterday’s float. The dry rod is a 5 weight with a #18 BWO parachute thingy attached. I haven’t seen the river yet today, but what the hell, it worked yesterday. It’s October 20th, overcast, a slight north wind. I can’t see the river from where I’m parked but I can almost feel the hatch. I’m really hoping for a fall hatch. Experience tells me I should be in luck, but experience also reminds me the Bow River laughs at experience for fun. I’m betting on BWO’s, but we’ll see.
Hopper sigh’s “Finally!” as I sling the backpack and head towards the game trail leading to the bank. I’m headed to a run I’ve fished for at least 25 years. This past season, I’ve only walked it a few times, but guided guests on it daily from the boat. I’ve seen its structure change every year. Sometimes dramatically to where it’s unrecognizable. The one constant is big trout. Always big trout.
A week ago, the valley was full of yellow, still holding on to it’s fall kaleidoscope. I love this river valley with its stunning beauty during Summer and Fall. I struggle to look up an appreciate what’s in front of me. Do all fly fishers have this problem? Today the landscape is brown and grey. The pretty season is over. This is serious fishing terrain. Nothing to focus on but reading the water and finding happy trout.
Hopper leads the way, approaching the water. She finds a log instantly deciding all seven feet of lumber needs relocation to the rivers edge. The grass is tall, thick, and dusty, but she’s determined as both of us crash through the maze announcing ourselves to the gravel bar with absolutely zero grace or finesse. Hopper wrestles with her log as I shed the pack and get ready to scope out the situation. The situation I want to see is dimples, splashes, disturbances, heads, backs, and tails. Within a reasonable casting distance would be nice. I’ve fished a long time. No need for hero casts around here. Anyways, there’s no one around to see my quirky casting technique.
Before I can settle into the recon part of the afternoon, I see a familiar drift boat up stream. Jason doesn’t recognize me on the far bank. I’m just a random bank fisherman and he’s focused on drifting the boat on its fishy line. So focused. I give him a yell; he looks over and pulls the boat in. Jason is a great guide and guy. I’ve had the pleasure of being guided by him and working with him these past few years. Today he’s fishing with his brother. Guides typically only get to fish in spring and fall around here. It’s the only job I know, where we love heading to work on our days off! We’re catching up on the week, discussing the coming cold weather, while both scanning the river for you know what. A few minutes go by then Jason says,
I say, “Yep.”
Another minute goes by. “There’s one”, he says.
“Yep”, I say.
“There it is again. Nice fish.”
“Yep, big tail”
After a few more rises, Jason says, “Grab your dry fly rod, I’ll net it for you.” I love his confidence in me.
Our specimen is about fifteen feet off the bank, feeding in about eighteen inches of water. I position myself downstream so I can get a 45-degree cast above it and the fly will be right on the feeding lane. I’m ready. I did math, I moved into position, I stripped line and did a test cast for distance. I’m so ready. I wait. I wait some more. Jason says,
“I don’t see it.”
“Nope”, I say.
I think I have the right line on where we saw Mr. Big, so I toss the bug. Nothing. One more time. Nothing.
Damn. Fishing. It really is 90% anticipation.
It seems like forever, but it’s probably only a minute or so. We see another rise. This isn’t the same fish. It comes up several more times in the same line. I reposition my feet, adjust my distance with a couple of false casts and lay it in there. I absolutely cannot see my fly. It’s a small BWO with a nice parachute, but it’s the same colour as the foam. The sun, although behind cloud cover is just in the right place to cause trouble. If only I was fishing from the other bank! Glare is fun. I move down stream slightly, so my cast will now be closer to straight upstream. More math and measuring. Fishing is hard. Thankfully this trout is still feeding, so I have a shot. I lay the cast in the lane; I can see the fly! It’s perfect. Smack!! A 13-inch brown splashes and makes a fuss. I say 13 inches because 13 is bigger than 12. No one gets too excited. It’s a fish, this trio has all caught them before. Still, it was a damn nice cast to a rising fish. I’m happy. Still, this isn’t the big old boy we saw a few minutes ago. We’ve made some noise now and Hopper crashes the water to check out our little brown friend.
Jason and I fist bump and he heads down river.
I just know Mr. Big is going to show up again. I’m looking up stream, scanning. I get down on one knee so maybe I can see better. Nothing. I head up stream, well back of the rivers edge. There he is! Right where I was looking, but so subtle, I couldn’t see around the glare while down stream of the rise. There’s a lesson here. Fishing isn’t so hard. More dimples. I’m only seeing the back and the tail on this guy. It’s hard to say for sure with the glare, but I go with my gut and tie a little emerger off the back of my BWO thingy. I don’t know the name of the flies I’m using, but the size and colour seem right. Yes, I am a full-time guide. Really. I want to get down stream of him, but I know I’ll never see my presentation. I opt for a downstream presentation. I make sure I have more line than I need so I won’t have to mend. I remind myself to be patient and let the fish eat before I set the hook. As it is, if he takes the emerger it’s a going to be a perimeter set. I know I’m overthinking this, but man I’m having a great time!
Okay here we go! Wait! I feel a dull thud on the back of my knees. WTF! It’s Hopper and a new stick she apparently needs me to see. She’s snuck up behind me and her driftwood slab catches the back of the legs. Perfect. She decides to splash around in front of me, steps on my slack line catching the leader and making a helluva mess. Fishing is hard with Spaz. I swear a blue streak at my companion, she seems to understand and retreats, log firmly in her jaw. I’m getting the eyes from the tall grass, yes dog, I agree, I’m the problem!
I’ve retied. New tippet and both flies. As I retie, I’ve noticed my friend happily sipping, oblivious to the carnage bankside. I look both ways for the Black Menace. She’s wandered off somewhere. Here we go!
The cast lands the BWO about four feet above the last dimple, the glare is horrible, but I can just make out the white parachute. The fly drags on a cross current. I let it float by before I pull it off the water. I work my feet out and upstream a little more. This should be a better line. I don’t like a downstream presentation, but this is the best option and not a completely blind cast. The trout makes another appearance now closer to me. It’s moved up and closer to the bank. I cast, stopping the line short, allowing it to land about six feet above the fish. It’s right online. Come on baby!!! The top fly floats only two feet into its drift and disappears. I feel nothing, I see nothing. Set! It’s there! All hell breaks loose in 18 inches of water! Yeah baby!! The line is tight, the rod is bent! Shit, it’s coming right at me!! My arm goes up way over my head, I’m stripping like a mad man! Why am I so bloody short!! I quickly turn away from the fish, sending my rod tip upstream, stripping line tight!! It turns, headed for deep water. Give it line! Give it line! I must have twenty feet of line in the water at my feet now. It peels off in a split second! Hot Fish! I turn and chase as it heads downstream, hands above my head, hoping I don’t faceplant! We’re in for a ride with this one!
The line goes slack. Just like that. It’s gone. Hopper is downstream where the fish was. She often gives chase to where she sees trout splashing on the line. A beautiful, dark, fall Rainbow got the best of me today. I couldn’t be happier! I watched that fish for at least forty-five minutes before I made a cast to it. Once it ate the fly the whole thing was over in less than fifteen seconds. I hear a Bald Eagle chirp. Looking up I see it chasing an Osprey that has a fish in it’s talons.
An old high school classmate once wrote; “In life, we remember specific moments. Not days or weeks or years, specific moments.”
Hopper and I stuck around and caught several more fish today. We switched to streamers and played around with a hopper dropper after the fish stopped rising. I won’t remember any of those fish in a week, but I’ll remember stalking that one trout. Even if it hadn’t taken the emerger at all, I still would have remembered the chase and the anticipation. I’ll remember my dog harassing me. I’ll remember running into a friend on the river. I’ll remember the eagle and the Osprey.
Here’s to more adventures and moments for all of us!