Jack and I set forth bright and early to unlock the secrets of our cavernous destination. Crystal Cave would serve as the final chapter of this summer’s caving expeditions. We had a good time earlier this summer at Mystery Cave in SE Minnesota, but Jack was eager to jump the border into enemy territory for another round of exploration. As you can plainly see from the pics above the sugar rush was in full effect. It’s common knowledge in these parts that I’m a sucker for the sugary goodness of the doughnut, and lets just say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Getting the boy hopped up on a nutritious breakfast was simply the first part of my master plan. Crystal Cave, unlike it’s Minnesota counterpart, has a rock panning station that allows you to search for that diamond in the rough (and everyone’s a winner). Between the jelly filled confections and the minerals-a-plenty, Jack was a happy fellow. While my number one priority was to put a smile on his face, I admittedly wasn’t completely content. I had been suffering from a serious case of Brookie on the brain and I rabidly felt the urge to exercise some demons.
We shed our cave dwelling sweatshirts like two butterflies escaping cocoons. It wasn’t particularly hot out, but we were certainly overdressed for the task at hand. We were on a mission to find an easy walkin’ cow pasture, and I was sure that this beat would be full of overly anxious char. I figured that the specks would be foaming at the mouth to grace us with their presence. The area had gotten a pretty decent soaker the day before our arrival, but I felt good about our ability to find fishable water. Like a page from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, anticipation quickly turned into angst as I spied the mahogany froth beneath my feet. Once again mother nature dealt us a cruel blow. Streams have been very fishable for the latter part of the summer, but we had mistimed our assault. With shattered dreams of Brook Trout bliss, it was time for me to dig deeper into the playbook. We ran to a bridge crossing on bigger water and found high, but surprisingly clear water. The evidence of other assailants was littered everywhere. Most notably in the form of an old tub of liquified worms. The putrid smell was enough to choke a donkey. We made a few casts just for good measure, but weren’t impressed with the results. We decided to go grab a sandwich and weigh our options for the remainder of our journey.
I had been blown off of one of my favorite Brookie streams earlier in the summer by an isolated pocket of torrential showers. Within minutes the gin clear water turned amuck. I decided to take a look at a pool on another stream that often runs off color, but tends to be fishable after ample rainfall. I launched a smallish copper-colored clouser to the top of the run. Within seconds a large specimen emerged from the murky depths and briefly latched on to the offering, but never really planting hook in jaw. I was left dumbfounded, with only the close encounter to fill the void.
As Jack and I ate our sandwiches I decided to look for the monster that had eluded me. Jack has a fairly broad range of angling experiences in his short tenure. He’s been immersed in the usual array of warm and coldwater species. Big fish tend to be more impressive than little ones, but he has no real concept of a big Brown Trout. I decided to build up the myth of this fish en route by proclaiming that it was a giant who had eluded me. I added that the beast was virtually impossible to subdue. Just the kind of bluster to keep a 7-year old engaged in the process. As we arrived at the creek we strung up the little 4-weight that was intended for Brook Trout duties. We brought Jack’s spinning rod, but I thought that this would be a good lesson with the long rod. I was in no hurry to get on the water. There were a wealth of hoppers in the grass and Jack and I discussed how they could easily turn into trout food. I let Jack pick out a hopper then steered him towards the nymph box for a second “lucky” fly. The ubiquitous hopper/dropper combo would be employed with one caveat, we’d strap on a jumbo-sized dropper nymph that utilizes a technique that I call “shock and awe.” Any long time Adrifter™ would know that I like to use single XL nymphs without an indicator to dink and dunk my way through a run. I often refer to this pseudo Czech nymphing as “Frankenymphing.” Occasionally when Frankenymphing you’ll get fish that hammer the nymph upon impact. A few weeks earlier I had a fish move more than 5 feet and launch completely out of the water, ultimately missing my fly. It was this experience that prodded me to employ my “shock and awe” technique with Jack. When you put two flies of similar sizes on your hopper dropper rig you get a different presentation that the norm. It creates a double splat. The quickly plunging dropper and slowly drowning hopper wreaks havoc from above that is just too tantalizing for some trout to ignore. It’s as if two hoppers at once got blown into the creek and forces a quick decision from the fish, which one of these easy targets should I destroy?
We stealthily slid our way up to the pool, which is easier said than done with a youngster. Jack doesn’t have the skill set to put this fly on target so we decided to tag team it. He stood in front of me holding the rod while I kneeled down and behind him. Similar to how a casting instructor shows a pupil, I controlled all of the mechanics while Jack was simply along for the ride. I decided to launch the rig towards an overhanging bush about 10 feet away from where I’d previously encountered the pig. Our juicy rig hit the water in good, but not great proximity to the target. Our shortcomings mattered little, as much to my surprise a long slender rocket shot out from the tree and engulfed Jack’s “lucky” mega prince. I set the hook and immediately felt undergunned. It’s at this point that pandemonium brook loose. I guess I hadn’t really considered what we’d do if we actually hooked a big Brown. I’d like to tell you that I just handed Jack the rod and he did all the work, but that just wasn’t the case. We attempted to fight the fish together for awhile, but Jack became out of sorts, as if he’d just seen a ghost. He stepped away, and said “dad you get it.” I swiftly grabbed my bantam-sized Brook Trout net and assigned him “net man”. After a handful of blistering runs she got close enough to net, but Jack really didn’t have the reach to land her. I ultimately scooped her up and brought her in for closer inspection. I must confess that I was squealing like a school girl while Jack stood there in shock. The legend was ours. I pulled out the camera and snapped a few pics in the net, but wanted Jack to hold the fish for a few frames. I had gotten a good grip-n-grin pic of him earlier in the year, yet this snapshot would be one for the ages. I carefully lifted the creature from the water and handed her to Jack. He instantly freaked out and refused to hold her. Without skipping a beat, I broke best fish handling practices by holding up the fish vertically to document the moment. Not the best choice, clearly I was plastered with big fish euphoria. I promptly put her back in the water and she scooted off quickly no worse for the wear.
Our original plan was to get after a healthy cache of Brookies, but sometimes you have to punt. Rarely can you go out and accomplish exactly what you set out to do. Catching a targeted big fish is something that doesn’t come around too often, and the fact that we accomplished it as the father/son team was more than I could hope for. It’s almost hard to believe that it was one and done (we didn’t even make a second cast that day). There was no need to be greedy.
The thirst to continually evolve my game is virtually unquenchable, though you have to be ready to take your lumps. I just never know what’s behind the next door. The payoff of that endeavor is palpable with shock and awe.