Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Trout Lake Report: The One That Got Away

The heat has come at last. The sun presses down, dispels the last pockets of cold, in the shadows of the forest, in the marrow of my bones, in my soul. I have stripped down; just one layer of clothing between the lake and my skin. The south wind is strong and warm. It careens off the mountain and shoulders into the lake. The waves roll; the light dazzles.

I cast big flies, and strip them in. Cast and strip, over and over. I cover a long curving shoreline. If the lake is a closed book, this is the turning of its pages, one by one, to see what stories it holds. Fish flash and swirl in the swells, chasing the fly, and missing. Each one is a surprise, each one a delight.

I reach the place I will beach the float tube, stand and stretch and rest for a time from my labors. On the last cast into the shoreline I find the one. I know this one all too well: the one that got away.

He does not strike the fly, he simply takes it. He knows instantly something is not right. He tugs tentatively, shakes his head at the unaccustomed pressure, then stops. There is no panic. It is as though he has a plan as he slowly, slowly moves past me into deeper water. Then he goes down and away. I feel his weight and his strength, increasing rapidly as he bears down. The rod flexes and bends, I marvel at the force, and the fly pulls out. I sit stunned.

On land I replay the events in my mind, muttering to myself and shaking my head.

I launch, turn away from the scene of my loss, and make my way on up the shoreline, still casting and stripping. More fish chase the fly, and miss. It doesn't matter. I know what I must do.

After a time I turn and go back. I change flies and troll on the way. I bring the first fish of the day to net.

At the place I lost the fish I tie a big fly back on and go looking for him again. Some things are better left in the past; some things can be redeemed. I cast and strip, cast and strip, and a fish takes the fly. I net him.

Is it the one? It doesn't seem so. I know that it is the way of fishermen to exaggerate the size and strength and intelligence of the one that got away. It is highly possible that this fish, even though it isn't what I imagine it to be, is the one that got away. I caught it in the same place, it's of good size, it has weight, it appears to be a wily old-timer with its gnarled lip and torn dorsal and pectoral fins.

And yet... So I cast and strip, cast and strip some more, an Ahab in search of his whale, as the light goes and the wind dies.

I finally give up the search, if not the dream, and start across to the other side to cast there for big fish.
On the way rises bloom in the blue sheen of the lake's calm. I succumb, and, remembering the flying ants I had seen earlier, tie on an ant pattern.        

The fish come to it, and I am comforted by their willingness to be caught.

I'm ready to leave and look out over the indigo lake, still thinking about the one that got away. I see a rise ripple the reflection of Venus in the water. It's a big, deep rise. It must be a good fish. I resolve to stay later next time and be ready for him. It just might be the one that got away.


  1. Another nice combination of story and photos. I could feel the heat and brightness. Then I got caught up in the hunt too. The old wily one was a beautiful fish, and on a Muddler to boot. Good recall on seeing the ants. The image of Venus coming up and a indigo lake....excitingly peaceful. What a beautiful place.

  2. Great post Jim...it's that search for "the one" that keeps us going back again and again. Here's to chasing that dream!!

    1. So right. For every fish in the net there's that "one."

  3. Hi Jim. Your comment at the beginning reminds me of a day at the Camanche Trout Pond. One of the guys hooked a big one and it just went. didn't jump, didn't shake it's head, just went like it didn't know it was hooked. Turned out to be 8lbs 8oz. once Wes got it turned and landed.


    1. There, my point exactly. I've had that happen at the lake several times. Twice--three times now--I couldn't turn them. I remember one that must have run 30 yards before finally breaking off. I love those fish I've never seen.

  4. Wonderful catch.
    I notice your lake has an abundance of rainbows. A fly you might want to try is a pink worm. A San Juan tied with pink chenille.

    1. Thanks for the tip. I've never tried that. I'd been thinking I needed to tie up some picket pins (one of the first flies I tied.)