You take a tour down the shoreline that leads to the drake waters. It's been too long. You have the muddler on, and you drift and cast and drift and cast.... Lovely.
You drift past a stump you didn't even know was there.
The day started out clear, but you notice that smoke is drifting in on the southeast breeze. It could be from any or all of the many fires that surround your valley.
You find another one of those little holes in the shoreline, right in there between those protruding willow branches. That's what you've been probing. You plop the fly down right in its shadowed depths. No strip. You let it sit. There's a rise, you raise the rod, you feel the fish, and he's off. You cast it back with a little prayer: "Come up again, fish."
Up he comes. He's a fish used to getting his way, and he fights hard to avoid the net.
You get to the drake grounds, and all the structure you fished during that hatch is beached. But there are small fish chain rising around the weed beds. You catch one. You manage one quick shot between thrashes, and then he thrashes out of the net and away.
You hang around. This is holy water. A million ghosts of big drakes swirl here thicker than the smoke.
The snag that was shoulder high in June now towers over your head. Interesting to think that you fished above your head then, as though June happened in a parallel dimension.
You need a pee break. You've been waiting until the three boats full of women and children have all trolled far enough away.
You're standing there looking just past that stump when you see one of the biggest fish you've ever seen here. He's not jacked up. He's the King. He's lazily working the weeds. Just one slow, sure dorsal and tail rise after another. The dorsal and tail shine bright yellow. And there has to be a foot between them. Hell, 15 inches.
You put yourself back together as quickly as you can and kick over there. You try to hurry without making a commotion. But when you get within casting range he's gone. He can do what he wants. He's the King.
You wonder if you can trick him into a take, and you saturate the weed bed with casts and strips and twitches. Nah. It's good to be King.
Through all this a rainbow has been making spectacular leaps every few moments from under that snaggly deadfall. There are only a few feet of the log still under water, but he's claimed it. His own little kingdom. So you go over and give him a try. You have to get the fly right in tight, and you have to wait for him, but he finally takes. He's a fine consolation prize.
Dusk is flitting in, and the smoke has thickened even more. You begin a slow retreat to the truck. Very few fish are rising, but you get some casts in, and a few hits, but you miss them. So you wake the muddler behind you and enjoy the twilight cruise.
It's darker than you expected when you get back to the channel. Where is the light going? A little guy grabs the muddler. You appreciate his feistiness. You compliment him. But you're thinking of the King.