In one way or another we are all “masters” of our domains. Anyone worth their salt has an innate sense of self confidence. Conviction manifests itself in a broad array of flavors and intensities, but is omnipresent in most blokes. One of my quirky habits is to observe this characteristic in people. It’s not that I’m above such accidental temerity, on the contrary my middle name is hubris… Andrew Hubris Weaverling.
On a primal level we are programmed with baseline 20/20 vision when it comes to decision making. And that’s a good thing. How can you pretend to guide anyone to the angling promised land if you’re not chock-full of confidence, good decision making, and a light touch of bullshit?
Jim was the big winner when it came to auctioning off my mixed skill set for an annual fundraiser benefit. But for better or worse, this is a guide trip for two. Through the good graces of Jim, budding fly fishing enthusiast Sok weaseled his way into the trip for a third straight year (rubber galoshes and all).
The truth of the matter is that unlike a real guide, I hadn’t been out fishing midday recently. I was dependent upon gut instinct to get me through the trip. Bluebird skies and dog day heat were bearing down on us for the first few hours. I elected to tie up a mess of terrestrials as our first line of defense. It’s not news to any ardent Adrifter™ that I’m all about the reaction strike. Sure we could have drifted any number of nymphs under a float for some easy takes, but that leaves the angler somewhat disconnected from the action. I figured the fellas would enjoy the splat-and-take offensive action without being masqueraded by a bobber. Hoppers were the first course, and they didn’t disappoint. Within minutes of our foray into an easy walkin’ pasture stretch we had a solid take. I chose this familiar beat as a warm up and to observe Jim’s casting abilities. I really feel for Jim, he has the unfortunate burden of having only fished from drift boats in much flaunted Montana waters. The Driftless virgin did well in his warm up session, as I largely ignored the veteran Sok. He was relinquished to the bleak world of the trout selfie. In the interest of full disclosure, I realized when I got home that I had concentrated on the fishing and ignored quality pics for the blog. After a short session I pulled the plug on the first spot, suggesting we move on to Plan B.
The reason for the move was to hit another easy walkin’ stretch that could provide better numbers of a fish with the first realistic shot at a big. Golf course like ease is generally part of my guiding formula, but not always the best choice if seeking sizable combatants.
Upon arrival we took a few minutes to “hydrate” ourselves. I consider this a full service affair since I serve as the self described “beer sherpa”, cab driver, and personal trainer in addition to my guiding duties. As I chomped on a sandwich I concocted a plan to embolden the soldiers for the upcoming mission. I proclaimed that this stream was so good that I could walk down to the stream, sandwich in one hand, fly rod in the other and bring a fish to hand in seconds. It’s poor form to take fish away from the clients, but we had a few miles to stretch out and I was confident that there’d be more than enough to go around. The plan went off without a hitch, as I promptly one handed a medium sized Brookie into my clutches and held it over my head like I’d just won the Indy 500. All I needed was the illustrious glass of milk to wash my sandwich down. I returned to the car, gave the troops a pep talk, recommending that we head downstream to the lower section for the chance at a beast.
After a few minutes of adjusting to the new conditions, both Sok and Jim were getting takes. I hovered between the two observing the low water conditions and eagerly anticipating what lied ahead. We put a few dinks under our belts, then I heard Sok yell from a deep and narrow section upstream that he had a bigger fish. I didn’t immediately react to the proclamation since we were only getting smalls. Upon further examination I realized that Sok’s 5-weight was folded over and throbbing like a compound fracture. It’s only then that I realized he was into a big Brown. By the time I arrived he had walked it down to a bigger pool where I could clearly see it’s prowess. Sok had nabbed a midday, bluebird skies tank, north of the mythical Mason-Dixon line of 20″. I find it amusing that some “trophy” trout are long and thin like the bemoaned hammer handles of Pikedom, yet others are built like absolute footballs. It’s as if the thick ones are composed of both the bicep and the tricep, and this fish was the latter. Once I observed Sok gingerly working the fish in it’s cozy confines, it struck me that I was negligent in my duties. After using my gear in previous outings, Sok had come armed with his own rig, and I hadn’t checked any of the specifics. As it turned out he was rigged with 5x and only the gods knew how sturdy the connections were. In the fog of war I decided to take action. I pulled my net from it’s holster and jumped into the creek, deciding that time was of the essence. The water was crystal clear and I got a good look at what I was up against. The brute bulldogged Sok into the deepest part of the pool and I followed suit. The rush of ice cold water pouring over my waders didn’t deter me from the task at hand, as I’ve dealt with the shrinkage many times before. The fish gave me a few flybys and I foolishly conceded strikes one and two, sending him away angrier with each errant net attempt. As all big trout do, he found the only cover available to him which was some laydown brush on the close bank. I screamed at Sok to not let the fish burrow in the cover or we’d be sure to lose him, to which he obliged. The pig popped out of the cover and casually twitched to the surface, ripe for the picking. He was just out of netting range, so I began to take steps forward to scoop up our bounty when I heard our worst fears come to fruition. Sok’s line snapped like an accident waiting to happen.
We looked at each other in disbelief, but were no worse for the wear. I pulled my camera from my pocket, asked Sok to pose for the hollow victory, and immediately began to question my actions. I like to say that the grip-n-grin trout fondling photo serves as the “proof of purchase” to a angling conquest, and I can’t help but feel responsible for Sok’s missed opportunity. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. It was Sok’s first entanglement with a monster, and he deserved better. What I can do to help heal the wound of loss is to provide a memento from the experience. Does that look like the face of a defeated soldier? We were all actually pretty stoked by the experience. It’s better to have loved and lost, than to never loved at all. Here you go buddy, tight lines!
As the afternoon gave way to evening the hopper bite cooled off significantly. Jim and Sok toyed with another solid fish lingering beneath a logjam, but couldn’t get him to commit to their delicious subsurface offerings. So we packed it up and moved to bigger water. I gave Jim brief respite from his fly rod and suggested that he work a deep corner bend with a spinning rod, unsuccessfully looking for his shot at the title. Blasphemy according to the purist, but these guys are adept bilingual anglers and I’m not one to discriminate. Eventually we found ourselves immersed in a decent sized school of risers and it was time to decipher the evening’s code. There was a mix of visible insects, but I surmised that the Yellow Sally activity was the meal ticket. We stood in virtual darkness diligently working on our dry fly mending and drag-free drifts. Their work paid dividends, when the “when in doubt set the hook” mantra was in full effect. The results were paler than the afternoon’s crescendo, but that was fine by them. They were just happy to be on the board. Sadly I don’t have that luxury. When you’re hardwired the way that I am, every micron gets assessed, rehashed and reanalyzed. Only to be second guessed again and again. In my case the vapid axiom is true. Hindsight is 20/20.