Monday, September 27, 2010

Henry's Fork: Final Day

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That word "final" sounds so final. But every fishing trip has its final day, and we had arrived at ours. The balance had tipped, and, even though I resisted it, I was already thinking about the packing and stowing of gear, the long drive home, and the responsibilities that awaited me there.

But even though it's final, it is a day, one more whole day to fish the river we love. We got out early and headed for our favorite stretch.

The river looked good, the wind was calm, and the Tricos, our insect indicator, were thick. We were optimistic that our last day could be our best day. It's a luxury to feel simply optimistic on a final day, and not desperate. It means you've already had a good measure of success, have had those moments when you think "I could go home now and be satisfied."

John headed out and began ranging here and there. I found myself drawn back to this sweet run. This is where I had caught the good fish the day before, and I knew there were others in there, or would be before long.

They were there, but I couldn't find one willing to stay up long enough to see my ant. There were plenty of smaller fish moving, and I cast to and hooked a few of them above and below the run while waiting for the big fish to come up again. They loved the ant.

I shifted tactics and tied on a Henry's Fork Hopper and worked the bank, thinking that big fish might be enticed to come up for a big meal. No takers. So I went back to the ant.

I stayed there all morning, and the good fish would come up just often enough to keep me there. Just before John came along and suggested a lunch break, one of those fish porpoised, coming up head, dorsal, and tail. Good fish.

Do they do that on purpose? Are they taunting? I cast a few times to that spot, but he didn't come up again. I resolved to come right back after lunch.

On the way out we were startled to find four or five fishers--men and women--working the river below us (a stretch we had found to be a waste of time,) and there were three or four cars and trucks in the parking area. Not typical, but it didn't spoil our lunch.

We headed back to the ford and noticed that the wind had come up a bit.

Those fishers were still there, and as we headed back up to our stretch I saw two things: the wind had come up strong, and there was another fisher standing right in the sweet spot of the run I had been fishing. He had come from that bank and just waded right in where the big fish had been hanging.

A common mistake, and a lesson for us all: check the bank carefully before splashing in and routing the best fish of the day. I would have been happy for him if he had managed to catch one of those fish, but it pissed me off that he ran them out and spoiled the run.

Oh well.

We moved up to check out the deep run in the "flats." More fishers, one or two in the water, and three or four sitting on a rocky point. We waded across to the other side and surveyed the river for some length. Fishers everywhere. Where the hell did they all come from? There must have been a convention in town.

That would have been OK in itself; it's a big river, plenty of room for everyone. But the big story was turning out to be the wind. It began to blow a gale.

In a wind like that the fish may still be working here and there, but you can't tell. Rises are invisible. We found comfortable rocks along the bank and sat down and waited, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the wind would quit at some point.

We knew it wouldn't.

The couple of fishers in the water on the other side came out and joined their friends on the rocky point. John, the Mainer, said it was beginning to look like a seal ledge.

We sat and waited...and waited. We talked, we dozed. John got up and went out and splashed water on his face, and it must have woke him up enough to get a good idea. He came back and tied on a little bead head hare's ear.

He went out and began swinging it and hooked a fish. I watched as the rod bent double and then began to jerk up and down as the fish began headshaking. I held my breath, but suddenly the rod sprang up as the fish broke off. John came back up and said, "I couldn't lift him!" That might have been the fish of the trip.

That got me off my behind, and I joined John in swinging nymphs and soft hackles. I got one take on a yellow soft hackle, but no hookup.

The wind was still howling, and the floating weeds were thick, requiring cleaning the fly after every cast, so I finally decided to go back downstream in hopes of finding some more sheltered water, and maybe some rising fish.

I found some calmer water, but precious few rises. Soon John came wading down. I think we both knew the day was over. John waded all the way down the river through our favorite stretch, I think as a way to say good bye until next time.

We headed back down the trail toward the car.

We made the familiar ford.

We headed back to camp and fixed up some supper

We sat around the campfire, that ceremonial campfire when you burn up all the wood you've got left, and felt that sweet melancholy you get after a good trip.

We knew again that the best thing you take away from the river is the knowledge that it will still be there in all its glory the next time you come.

Here's to the next time.

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