Friday, September 18, 2009

Training Day on Black Ice

Is it possible that this little guy could cause one man so much trouble?

Apparently so.

Today, I ventured out on my own. Neither of my regular fishing partners were available, so I drove up the canyon to explore some higher waters for a little practice. I was quite surprised on the drive up as I scanned the river for some solitude. The Poudre is such a great river for fly fishing because of mile after mile after mile of public access to the water. If you encounter a fellow angler in one of your favorite stretches, you either move on or you create enough space to not bother him/her. A couple of things surprised me about today. One, there seemed to be very few anglers on the river. Secondly, the water still seemed to be abnormally high for this time of year. Nonetheless, both the sky and the river were crystal clear. I didn't see much of a hatch on the surface, which was just fine with me as I seem to be turning into a full-time nympher more and more.

I decided to stop and fish a stretch I'd never tried before. This stretch of water had a nice combination of slow moving drifts and plenty of large boulders with nice holding areas behind them. I finally settled on a Prince Nymph for one rod with a Blue Winged Olive on my backup rod.

My troubles began almost immediately. One thing about the Poudre that you can take to the Bank is that the current will be strong. I stepped into the water and began to wade very uneasily to a spot where I could begin to drift the nymph from above a large boulder into the eddy behind it. In addition to the strong current, the rocks on the bottom seemed unusually slippery. I felt as though I were walking on ice with each step, and nearly went into the drink a couple of times before even making a cast. Finally, I stumbled my way to a huge rock that would allow me to sit for a few minutes while I casted upstream.

Fish began to take the nymph almost immediately, and I caught my first fish - a very small rainbow - about five minutes into things. After returning him to the river, I again drifted into the eddy and saw the indicator stop, followed quickly by a light, but very clear tug on the fly. I missed the hook set and casted again. And again, in the same spot, the fish kissed the fly. I slowly stripped in some line and watched as the fish followed the fly until I pulled it out of the water.

This cat and mouse game continued for a couple more casts before I finally coaxed him into taking it. Another nice little rainbow that popped off the line just as I reached down to pull him out. Having done enough in this spot, I decided to wade back to shore and work upstream a little bit.

I didn't bother bringing the fly in as I began to wade back across the river. The current was strong enough to warrant my full concentration, and I was still stumbling over my feet a little as I stepped on slippery rock after slippery rock. I finally reached some shallow water and turned to look at my line, which was harmlessly downstream. That's when the little tiger in the picture above took the nymph. Oh well, sometimes you get a little lucky. When a fish basically hooks itself, I don't stop to question why.

In retrospect, I'm convinced that the "why" in this case was that the fish wanted to have a little fun with me. I started to turn my feet downstream so I could quickly bring him in and move on. As I did so, I took a step onto what I can only describe as "black ice." The ensuing bit of comic relief to follow convinced me that I'm not quite the skilled, sophisticated river rat I sometimes delude myself into thinking I am.

There's a famous scene in the movie "A River Runs Through It." Paul, the younger son, hooks an enormous trout while older brother Norman watches. The fish starts to run downstream, and Paul risks life and limb to bring the giant in. The fish drags him down a treacherous, deep rapid, and as Paul submerges the only remaining sign of him is a hand holding firmly to the end of a flyrod, extended as high in the air as possible to keep tension on the line. Eventually, Paul reemerges in a calmer section of the river, lands the fish, and poses gloriously for the post-catch photo.

Um...yeah. My catch was nothing at all like that. I stepped on the cursed black ice rock, temporarily stood on my other leg, fell on my ass, and sat in water up to my waist. The fish stayed on the line. I think I might have heard him laughing. Rather than risk another ill-conceived step on the slippery rocks, I decided I might as well just sit there. My camera bag is waterproof, and it was safely around my neck out of the water anyway. So I landed the little guy from the cheap seats, not really caring whether he would squirm his way off the fly or not. Since he didn't, I decided to take his picture.

My waders and t-shirt will dry, but it may take awhile to regain the dignity that an 8 inch trout took away from me today.

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