It was less a question of which fly, but more one of how to get a fly, any fly, to the right spot. The smaller fish in the area had been eagerly devouring the small #20 bead headed prince nymph at the end of my tippet all morning, so my confidence was high in the business end of my line. I’d been standing quietly in the same spot for nearly 30 minutes, watching what looked like a good sized fish work an area of water no larger than an unfolded newspaper.
The feeding area was well guarded by tree and bush limbs on the left, and a very tall cliff on the right, and as such presented a real puzzle. It was no surprise that a good fish would choose this spot to grow large. Here there was little threat from predators of any kind, and the river provided constant food. The water rolled a dark, rich green. Hidden currents pushed deeper water to the surface causing mounds of lighter green to appear and then melt back into the ever moving surface. A thin foam line accented the eddy line that was caused by a large rock that projected into the stream from the left bank. Like a well practiced bucket brigade, new foam was formed at the top of the threadlike line, and the whipping end of the eddy peeled off bits of older foam to be sent downstream.
As I was trying to form a plan for getting into place for a cast, a small coyote pup popped his head out from above the rock that was causing the eddy. It was clear that he had no idea that I was sharing his morning with him. Staying still I watched him climb to the top of the rock and chew on the ends of some of the limbs. Suddenly several of his litter mates appeared a few yards back into the trees, and he scampered off to join them.
Being still in the woods often provides me with these kinds of encounters. Most people find it very difficult to sit absolutely motionless for more than a few minutes, however, thinking that they might be missing something just out of eyesight. Motionless objects are often overlooked, even if they are clearly visible. I am always surprised, and at some level amused, by the people who walk past me in the woods, at very close distances if I am sitting still, and clearly do not know that I am there.
Thinking about this I considered the strategy of walking to the one place that I knew I could cast from, and then standing still for a long period of time to let the images of my wader clad legs pushing through the water fade from the memory if the big fish. It would work, but it wasn’t very elegant. I considered sliding out downstream, and then coming around on top of the fish using the same rock perch that the pup had been on, but that also presented problems. Maybe I could bend a cast from right to left and put the small fly into the magic patch of water, but the cliff on the right made that unlikely, and even if I could pull it off the currents would immediately expose my fly as a fake by dragging it unnaturally through the water. Not even the fastest mend would be enough.
As I was working on other ideas, the sun moved far enough over the lip of the canyon so that the air above the pool was lit. I could now see a busy cloud of Pale Morning Duns (Ephemerella inermis) swarming above the water. More certain then ever that the right fly was on the end of my line, I still had no solution for the cast. It was then that I noticed the deer tracks on the left bank at the top of the pool. Deer tracks. I didn’t see how deer could get there, but they had.
Slipping slowly down stream I moved up onto the left bank and circled toward the big rock. I could now see a low tunnel like path to the water’s edge. Finally, something that might work. Taking off my vest I held my fly rod in my right hand and moved toward the deer passageway. It quickly became clear that I would not be able to walk under the limbs, so I began to crawl. Slowly, slowly I moved closer to the water. When the tip of my rod reached the edge of the water I freed the fly and got ready for a bow and arrow cast. Trying to judge the distance the fly would travel, I decided that I would over shoot the small target I was trying to hit. Backing up about a foot I made one last judgment and made the cast.
The fly landed close to where I was hoping and was immediately slurped up by the big fish. Now I was in trouble. I quickly crawled forward and tried to move out from under the limbs. Realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to, I decided to wade further out into the pool. Paying more attention to keeping the line taught, and not enough to where I was going, I suddenly had the sensation of floating in mid air. The pool was very deep, and my legs were not nearly long enough. As the water spilled over the top of my chest waders I did the only thing I could think to do, I started laughing. By this time the fish was running down stream, which worked out just fine as that was the only direction I was going. Within twenty yards my feet started hitting bottom, and before long I was standing in the middle of the river. The fish settled into the top of the next pool, and I sloshed down to a point where I could land him. He didn’t put up a huge fight, and he wasn’t as big as I had imaged, but he was a great fish.
As I let him go, I sat down in the water and thought about how I had come to be soaking wet. Ten minutes before I was dry and warm, with no thought that I’d be spending the day any other way. I wondered if I would have passed up catching the fish if I knew I was going swimming? I don’t think so. Sometimes it’s worth getting wet and cold.
It was quiet again in the little canyon. The echoes of my laughter had faded away, smoothed out by the unbroken gurgling of the river. The coyotes had no doubt wondered where all the noise had come from, but they were probably focused on something more interesting by now. With the sun shining warmly I stood up to empty my waders, ring out my shirt and socks, and find the next challenging cast.