At 7:00, we're armed and ready, and we arrive at the stream just minutes before another fisherman with trout-hunting on his mind. He looks somewhat put-off that we would have the temerity to beat him to the put-in spot, makes a brief, hopeful inquiry that we're not actually going to fish at this particular spot, then drives on downstream in a subdued huff. Doc smiles. That was close.
The first hour goes slowly. Most of the river is waking slowly. I cast and drift patiently, wondering whether the nymph will produce. Caught off guard, I react slowly as the line stops its drift and bends back upstream. I lift on the rod. Too slow. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Two minutes later, I'm alert. The strike indicator sinks, and I respond forcefully this time. Hook up. The sensation is familiar, yet surprisingly new and fresh. Like a kid, I look around for Dad's approval. He's busy upstream, so I start the battle. A hefty brown trout wanders back and forth along the bottom of the stream, my pheasant tail nymph secured in his lip. He instinctively runs for deep water...and then sits. The steady pull feels heavy, like trying to retrieve a concrete block. I follow his run, wading through waist-deep current. Finally, he surfaces, and finds his way into my net.
Swift, heavy slicks await us further upstream, and surely more trout. The entry point is fast whitewater, but runs smoothly and gradually into a quarter mile of perfect water. Trees overhang the river every 20 yards, forming a series of shady, concealed holding lies. I cast upstream and drift the nymph into the first. There's nothing subtle about the strike. A strong, river-seasoned rainbow consumes the nymph and runs. I make a feeble effort at setting the hook, which has already been sufficiently set. And I hang on for dear life as the trout begins to thrash. Unlike the brown who simply sat and tugged, this rainbow zigs, zags, runs upstream, runs downstream, and leaps. It's a heavy fish that isn't going to come in quietly. The bend in the rod is dramatic, but the sight of the trout in the net is one that will lodge itself in my memory, stored alongside images of others in my mind.
Under the next set of trees, the story repeats itself. The character is different, but the result is the same. Another rainbow. This one takes the hook a bit more cautiously. The indicator seems to stop, and then the line bends back upstream. My mind is now focused, attuned to react. A quick raise on the rod, and the fish is hooked. Not as large, but compensates with beauty.
Another set of trees, another rainbow. I play this one quickly, and he tosses the fly before I can snap his photo. It's just as well, because the final act in this drama is about to play.
Under the last bunch of trees, I drift a new nymph close to the far bank. I'm pleased at how the nymphs are holding up. The first was durable enough to survive two large trout through long, hard battles. The second survives another two trout, but takes quite a beating. They're patterns I've tied myself, and while they aren't as pretty as the store-bought variety, they're clearly working. A fresh fly on the line won't hurt at this point.
After several drifts, I finally get it right. The indicator is flowing downstream perfectly, neither racing ahead nor dragging behind the line. Suddenly it disappears, taking a nose dive for the bottom of the stream. I set the hook securely and listen as line immediately begins to zip out of the reel. I see a huge flash of silver take off on a dead sprint, and then turn back upstream. The monster goes aerial three times in rapid succession, each leap out of the water punctuated by mid-air thrashing. The big fish tries everything it can think of to shake the fly loose. Doc is watching this one, and drops everything to handle net duty. Marvelous, marvelous fish.
We break for lunch and respite from the searing mid-summer heat, then return to the same stretch. It's been so good to me throughout the morning that we decide to refish the stretch during late afternoon, this time with Doc leading the downstream progression and me playing cleanup behind. At the first set of trees, the scene is familiar. Doc sees the indicator drop and sets the hook. A brief battle ensues and Doc nets the fish.
As I start downstream to capture the fish on film, I see it give one thrash and disappear. It's out of Doc's hands and gone. Doc looks at me with an "uh-oh" expression, and mentions something about me having to "cut it loose." I have no idea that he's referring to the pheasant tail nymph stuck in his finger. I arrive on the scene and find this grisly carnage:
Doc finds it somewhat odd that I want to take a picture. He shoots me a look somewhere between perplexed and perturbed. "All part of the Flywriter's mentality," I say. He shakes his head and holds out his hand before asking, non-verbally, "can we get to the damn doctor now?"
Our afternoon ends. The physician at the clinic compliments Doc on his wherewithal to shove the barb through the skin, making it easier for him to clip through the hook and pull the remainder out.
Fun day. Looking forward to the next one...