The look of puzzlement on Jae's face matched the confusion dancing circles in my own mind. "Tough fishing today," he deadpanned.
Tell me about it. I've only sent five separate flies drifting down this stretch over a thousand times for the past hour. I was having a silent conversation with myself, trying to figure out what could have been happening. The shallow riffle ran down a small, gradual shelf into one of the few slicks that had any water to speak of. Overhanging vegetation and a few bunches of undergrowth formed some structure that looked eminently fishable. Most of the river - at least this stretch of it - has settled into the familiar winter routine: Trickles of shallow, unfishable water interspersed with a few deep, but stagnant pools. We thought we'd finally hit pay dirt on this particular stretch. It actually looked like a river is supposed to look through the eyes of an angler. We'd tried everything under the sun, short of floating dries on the surface, which seemed like a silly idea. We hadn't seen a fish surface all afternoon, so we figured our chances of enticing one to even look upward were slim. Tiny midges dead drifting naturally with the current did nothing but dead drift naturally with the current. Nymphing bead heads became frustrating, and we'd each hooked enough sticks to build a small raft.
"Well, I'm going to hunt for some more water upstream. I'll catch up with you in awhile."
"Sounds good, Jae." I did my best to feign a smile. Well, I'm just going to stand here like an idiot and beat some more hell out of this water for awhile. I haven't felt enough pain yet.
I watched Jae turn on his heels and begin to trudge the path in search of greener pastures, or at least deeper water. Taking a deep breath, I gave myself a moment's rest. My ankles were getting sore from navigating the rocky, slippery terrain lining the Poudre's floor. I took a small pinch of Copenhagen - my only remaining vice, or so I tell myself - and decided to change flies...again. I was running out of alternatives, but a couple of possibilities sat waiting in the waterproof Otterbox hanging around my neck.
Stupid 6X. I don't exactly have the hands of a surgeon, and I must have looked comical trying to feed the tiny tippet through the tiny eye on the tiny hook. Finally, an eternity later, I managed a respectable knot and unfurled the line from my new 3-weight toward the far bank, sending the miniscule fly hurtling recklessly in the vicinity of where I wanted to start the drift.
Not even close! The fly landed beautifully in an overhanging branch. I'd elegantly casted right into the trees.
Seriously, John!? I bowed my head and counted to ten. You all know the trick, right? Count to ten and the urge to swear like a sailor will go away. I lowered the rod tip and pulled gently, straight back, turning my head to avoid a flying hook in the face. Pop! Line free, fly gone. Stupid 6X. I thought back to one of Doc's economics lessons. Clearly, I'd gone beyond the point of diminishing returns, where an increase in labor and man-hours actually causes production to drop. Or something like that. All I know is that I was running heavy on labor and ever shorter on productivity.
Still, it's such a beautiful run of water. One more fly. I'd run through every bug I thought I'd need for a short afternoon outing, but there was an old Prince Nymph I'd clearly used before that seemed to be the right size and still had it's goose biots intact. I replaced what remained of the severed tippet and resolved to give it one last college try with the Prince.
The cast felt good. The drift seemed good. The indicator floated evenly with the current. Holy cow, John, it stopped! Set the hook! A quick raise of the rod tip, and I finally, mercifully felt something bouncing around on the business end of the line. I'll be damned.
Five minutes later, I was admiring one of the most beautiful sights a fisherman's sore eyes could ever hope to see. Like a salesman who finally closes a deal, I'd landed a treasure of a trout simply by playing the numbers game. Probably not how the masters would do it, but good enough for me.
I'd exhausted my supply of flies, as well as my casting arm, and I decided to leave well enough alone. I approached Jae feeling way too proud of myself. "What do you think?"
"Tough fishing." His friendly smile spoke volumes. "Good day, though."
Yeah. Good day.
Back at the vise....