I woke at 5:30…actually that is misleading. I woke at 3 and at 4:30 as well. Fishing trips have a way of waking you just enough to see what time it is, remind yourself what time you set your alarm and perhaps go to the bathroom. That all encompassing anticipation; it can consume you.
In any case, I was out the door at a quarter past six. I would have left sooner but I become OCD when leaving for a day on the water. Did I remember my waders and boots? Did I get my flies? Which reel did I pick up? The list of potential oversights is endless and a gallantly perused each one even though I had carefully packed the night before and had checked numerous times already.
I stopped at a fast food joint, grabbed a coffee and a sausage biscuit, and drove with purpose to the river. My plan had been to be at the spot at seven. I pulled in at 7:03. Slightly behind schedule, but I made it…and I was alone. Not another car in sight. Perfect.
I geared up and stared down the hill to the river. This particular stretch has three specific spots that hold some very nice fish, and as I put on my waders my eyes bounced from place to place. The sun was still behind the hillside so the water was a smooth solid gray. Not a rise in sight…yet.
I grabbed my breakfast, trotted down the hill and waded out mid stream. And there I stood. Not even the birds were up yet. Just me and the steady sound of the water as it gurgled round my thighs. I had breakfast, and just relaxed. I didn’t check the time, but I would venture to guess that I stood there for better than half an hour. Not fishing. I needed a few moments to just relax into the day, allowing things to take shape. Some people can just suit up and get to the fishing. I like to get into the flow of the water and set my mind in the right place before I begin. It seems that I fish better when I go through this ritual. It may not work for others but for me it is almost mandatory.
Tucking my trash into my sling pack, I tied on the tailwater twins. It may not be the same in your area, but here in East Tennessee, if you are on a tailwater and fish are not rising, a pheasant tail and a zebra midge are the safest bet you will find. Size 18 PT, size 20 midge. And with that I began with slow and short casts, working out about five feet of line as I went until I had reached about thirty feet- anything longer than that and I get really sloppy.
As soon as the first rays of the morning sun started glimmering off the water, the fish began feeding. Three brought to hand in as many casts brought the hope that it would be one of those days that is so good that when you retell the story, people don’t believe you. However, as is my luck most days, that was not to be the case. Clouds cover the sun-the fish shut down-sun peeps through-fish turn on. It was like this all morning. Finally, after some time, the sun won out and it was a beautiful day.
I don’t know how many I caught, but there were a bunch. It was getting on up into the afternoon and my buddy Brad had showed up and hooked what was in all likelihood the largest rainbow trout I have ever seen caught on this river. Size 20 fly on 7x tippet. He knew from the start that it would take a miracle to land this fish…but he almost succeeded. The fish had to be over 24” and fat. It made a half hearted attempt at leaping out of the water a couple of times but was so heavy that all it could do was flop. He got it within arms reach, placed his hand on it and bam…it was gone.
Why didn’t he net it you ask? Well, a quirky thing about Brad and I. We don’t carry a net. Oh, we have owned nets, but they either become an impediment while hiking into the river, or we wind up loosing them. So, we just don’t carry them. Would have been nice to have it though.
I told Brad that it was time for me to go and started to wade my way back to the put in. There was a pool I had passed earlier that I knew held fish-I had watched them rise there all day, but never got a strike. Halfheartedly I cast to the head of the run and something struck hard. I set the hook and began a long battle with what was my biggest fish of the day; 19” of pure rainbow glory. Of course I had no net as well, but managed to move it into shallow water. One quick lift out of the river to show Brad, and then I cradled it as it got its wind back. I watched as the wide tail flicked one time and the catch once again became part of the river.
Then it was time to leave. Didn’t want to spoil the moment with another cast, but oh how I wanted to.