“Nice fish. What fly?”
“Umm, a DDD”
“Oh, a dry, so you’re a purist?”
You’ve spent much of the day on the really small stream flowing below the campsite. Further up it quickens into smaller pools and fast glides as it climbs up through the reserve and into the mountains proper. There’s not a lot of holding water up there, but what you find is deep, dark and well protected.
You doubt that many people fish this water; certainly very few fish it seriously.
The small ‘bows up here are game and very nearly every cast that you don’t peg into a branch raises a fish. You raise what must total a hundred fish in not many more casts than that. You hook almost as many and land not many fewer than that.
Clearly you’re one of the guys who fish this stream seriously. You’d like to think so anyway. You’ve taken comfortably more than, what, fifty fish today? That’s serious. Or it was; for the first half-dozen or so.
After that it was just carnage (in a nice catch-and-releasely kind of way). This happy go lucky catching and releasing of mostly palm-sized, parr-marked, dumb-as-shit rainbows is occasionally punctuated by a fish between 8″ and 10″ and then you’re a study of seriousness for a cast or three; but it doesn’t last and you find yourself screwing around again.
You take a 13″ fish from a deep pool and it’s far and away the best fish of the day. The three landed from the same pool brought no satisfaction and tying a weighted soft hackle from the bend of the dry turned out to be right choice. It’s a cool thing, getting it right and you smile to yourself a little.
The nice thing about fish hell-bent on the annihilation of their species is that you get to test flies objectively rather than using your usual half intuitive way of rating them.
Terrestrials are shunned with scorn. Your floating and trailing sunken ant combo, a deadly duo, receives upturned noses and clenched jaws. Caddis aren’t on the specials board today; that’s as true as tomorrow’s sunrise. A rise in every ten casts, give or take.
Today, like many others this high up, is mayfly day.
An Adams gets you a rise in every seven casts. A parachute Adams begets a slash every five casts.
Ok, you reason, you want them lower in the film, do you?
You tie on the funny little para RAB emerger thing that your friend tied for you. He has a technique that he claims makes them superior to everyone else’s.
No amount of squinting your eyes reveals the secret to his technique and they look a hell of a lot like every other bloody para RAB you’ve ever seen – but damn if the trouts don’t love them today. It’s not cast for cast stuff, but it’s one every two and a half casts at least.
When the sun begins to leave the tight valley you pack it in. Your daughter has requested trout for dinner and you would walk over hot coals for that girl.
She loves trout; it’s her favourite meal by a long, long way. Perhaps it’s some vestige of your primitive self but you treasure the act of stopping by the lake, catching something of a reasonable size and preparing and cooking it for her. As a hunter-gatherer you’re not the most skilled around. Frankly you’re more of a gatherer and are genuinely surprised when you’re able to provide dinner; regardless of how many times you’ve done it in the past.
The dam is a little above the river. Screw it, you drive up. The air here is thin and as the sun dips below the high peaks the chill sets in. Your soaking wading boots and trousers begin to make your joints hurt.
The water is a fairly large one. One guy is on a float tube and judging by where he is and the action on his casts you determine that he’s casting a full sinking line and is dragging a beast of a fly along the bottom. Wrong choice, you just as quickly determine.
On the windward bank are four or five guys casting from the bank and retrieving too quickly. Strip-strip-strip-jerk-wiggle-pulse-pause-strip-strip. The whole thing, between casting, retrieving and casting again takes about 30 seconds.
A quick ask reveals that there are no fish about today. The stunted conversation, if that’s what it is, turns to amber liquids and log fires.
One of the guys on the bank has a cigarette hanging from his lip and it jars with his exceptionally graceful cast. It entirely messes up what would be a beautiful picture.
He lays out a long line and strips more line off the reel. The click-click-crrrrrrrrr sound that you hear is one made only by a seriously good reel. You know the difference – because none of your budget Korean reels make that sound.
He’s putting a full line out now with as little effort as he puts into dragging on the smoke in his lips. He doesn’t touch it and the front of his vest is gray with ash.
Soon he’ll just be an intermittent red glow on your right. Evening is coming down fast and you’ve got to get a move on. You really hope he’ll pick up a good one though because that reel is really going to sing as the backing peels from the spool.
You’ve left the two weight in the truck and have your five with you now. You’ve been here before and you know what works. It’s not intuitive, it’s a law of nature, carved in rock and handed to a prophet on a mountain top.
You’re on the windward bank, there’s a slight chop on the water and the sun is fading. You have a largish, ragged DDD with a small nondescript flashback under it at around 30cm.
You pull some line off the reel and envy your neighbour for the sound that his made when he did the same. You cast maybe 15m and stand dead still. The wind brings the fly back and you repeat the process a few times.
On the fourth or fifth time you see a swirl and set the hook. The water isn’t deep but he appears to have come up almost vertically because his head broke the surface. You could have sworn he took the dropper and think that you got lucky with that early hook set.
He drives hard up and down the bank. He doesn’t run for deeper water at all. You want to shout to your neighbor with the sweet reel to get his line the hell away from your fish but you just muscle it into the net as quickly as possible.
His weight you estimate at around four pounds; perfect. You notice that the dropper is fixed firmly in the roof of his mouth and the dry is hooked into the outside of his mouth. You smile because for once in your last few times on a still water you got it absolutely right. You club him on the head and turn for home.
There are probably a few more that you could deceive but you can no longer feel your feet in your wet boots.
Someone is talking to you but it takes a while to register the fact.
“Nice fish. What fly?”
“Umm, a DDD”
“Oh, a dry, so you’re a purist?”
You smile. Because you can’t find the right words. You walk back along the wall with the faint smell of fresh fish rising from the net at your side.
Float tube guy shouts out. His rod is bent a little.
He must be a purist.