Monday, September 27, 2010

Henry's Fork: Third Day

Click on photos for full size image.
We got to the river early, and made the ford and the hike to our favorite stretch again.

One of the moments I love on a river is the arrival at the river bank in the early morning sun. It's a time to sit on the bank and observe, to see what the river is doing. In fly fishing, you take the river, and especially the trout, on their own terms, or you don't take them.

It was a calm morning, and the river flowed with promise.

The Tricos began swarming as we sat there, and flowed thick over our heads.

But I didn't tie on a Trico; I tied on an ant. Fish began rising and we waded out to see what we could do.

I moved up past the place where I had caught the big fish and into a small channel that flowed between the opposite bank and one of the many islands that dot the river. There were many smaller fish working up and down, but I had seen some rises close to the bank that looked intriguing.

When big fish are slurping rather than sipping, their rises have more depth than a smaller fish. The circle of the riseform moves out at the same speed and with the same expanding diameter, but the rings are heavier. That was what I was seeing.

These fish--I'm sure there were more than one--were playing it cagey, though. They'd come up once, twice, then go down for awhile. The good news was that they were coming up again in the same spot.

I was being cagey, too: I had them up against the bank; they couldn't drift away. There was still the chance, and, let's face it, it's always a very good chance, that they would drop down or swim up and out of reach, so I took my time.

John has made the observation that he is like the Harrier, or Marsh Hawk, when he fishes, constantly, restlessly moving; and I am like the Redtail Hawk, circling, circling. I went into Redtail mode.

As sometimes happens if you're patient--if you're the Redtail--one of the fish got more confident and more intent on feeding and began to rise steadily well within reach of my cast. It took me a couple of tries to get a good float with the ant, and even then it was slightly out of the feeding lane. The fish moved over and took it hungrily.

I raised the rod, and missed it. Don't know how. But I've seen Redtails come up empty after a stoop.

I thought that might be it, but one can find grace even in the middle of a river: the fish came up again as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I took a deep breath and laid the ant out again. I still missed the feeding lane, but the fish, really hungry for ants, apparently, moved over again and took it as though it wanted to make sure it didn't get away this time.

I raised the rod, and had her. She wasn't a runner. She was a thrasher and a head shaker, and she whipped the water into foam before I had her in the net.

Another thick, heavy fish. She was ready to go when I got her unhooked and out of the net, and I could barely hold her for this photo, so I didn't get a measurement. But I think she was longer than the other one.

That's all I'll say. But she certainly made up for my lack of fish the day before.

John continued to range up and down the river. I stayed where I was and circled those other rises.

By then it was early afternoon, and the wind came up.

It felt like a good day to finally hike back to the car for a lunch break. This is another one of those moments on the river that I love, and we have had some good times around the picnic table here comparing notes, relaxing, sometimes tying a few quick flies, and always anticipating the long, delicious afternoon and evening ahead.

We got back on the river and found the wind was still a factor. The front that had moved through the day before was also having its mysterious effects on the bugs: there were fewer on the water, and not the rich mix we had seen before.

As I was standing in the river a pair of Dragonflies, locked in their mating embrace, fell into the water near me. They buzzed around, lifted off, then fell back again. I watched them as they drifted downstream, still buzzing and writhing, making a big commotion.

Twenty yards away from me a big head rose up and deftly ate them both. One bite.

So, I took the ant off and tied on one of the muddlers that I use at the lake. I often think the trout there take it for a Dragonfly, and I hoped this one would. I swung it carefully and methodically, twitching it, trying to make as much commotion as the two Dragonflies had. But I didn't get that fish to come up again.

But that's a nice way to while away an afternoon.

We moved upstream to a big open stretch we refer to as "the flats" because it tends to be shallow for a long way out. But the reason for checking it out isn't the shallows but a deep run in the middle of the channel that almost always holds big fish.

It holds them, but they're hard to get to. Often you have to cast in a strong flow over your waist or up to your chest, and even then the good fish are tantalizingly out of reach. When the wind is frisking up, it's even more challenging. And, for good measure, it's almost always full of drifting gobbets of weeds, so you have to clear your fly frequently.

Still, it's good for the soul, and I'm sure--though it hasn't happened to me yet on that stretch--when you hook up on a monster it must be doubly sweet.

There were good fish out there that day. John even waded across and tried it from the other side, but neither of us caught anything of any size.

That stretch may be good for the soul, but it's also tiring, so as evening neared we moved back downstream.

It was a quiet evening, and the only fish I could find and catch were little ones. I kept hoping one of those little rises was a big fish like on the first evening, so I rolled the dice on one rise after another. But this time I crapped out.

We headed back downstream toward the car and found a few more rises to cast to, but the fish were wary and we were tired.

We got back to the camp site and considered our supper options. It occurred to us one of them was to go somewhere and get a big burger. So we drove up to Pond's Resort and got there ten minutes before the grill closed.

We went home happy.

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