A crazy low lying fog covered the exposed cobble and bank. The river was still slate blue and up above the post, storm clouds were moving on briskly. I survived the storm and now it was time to get back into it and check the downed spruce for what I had been holding out for. I waded across from the cut bank to the shallows of the cobble all the while scoping the lair and doing my best not to slip and dunk myself in the river.
I took a second and sat down trying to see if much debris was floating down post storm... not more than pre-storm. I opened up my fly box and decided to put on a fresh pheasant tail on a size 18 jig hook. This didn’t have the traditional brass bead head as they often do. I’d found a tungsten bead that was slightly larger and had more weight that would get this bug down quick. After replacing my tippet, I twisted on the fly, added a bit of saliva and cinched the knot. It’s rock & roll time. I stood up and plotted my casting zones to the pocket. It’s tight under the spruce where I could see a small eddy up against the bank. First cast would be wide and on the outside just in case there were more browns in there than just one... doubtful, but you never know. Second would be tighter to the eddy, but not yet over the top all the while avoiding the branches just off the surface. And last would be the high stakes presentation. Maybe casting up stream a little further to get the jig and indicator in a perfect vertical position before hitting the zone. This last cast had to be inches just off the bank and able to avoid the branches and float right over while hopefully having a slight pause in the eddy.
I exhaled while pulling out line getting ready for the first shot. My Ross Animas sounds funny when it’s wet... a reminder that I tossed my rod above me on that bank when I dug in below as the storm pelted me. Three false casts for distance and release. Nice subtle landing on the outside, indicator bouncing along through the drift ping-ponging off the real estate subsurface. And now past the possible zone, first cast done. No takers. Second cast a little tighter and just outside the pocket, float through, and done. Nobody. As I set up for the third attempt, I repositioned further upstream almost directly across from the spruce because there would be no way to ever get the fly in the pocket without getting hung up in the branches. All I need is to have this fly hanging like a Christmas ornament above this Brown's home. It would be so upsetting if I’d have to wade over, spook the fish and cut the pheasant tail out.
Years ago I learned from a would-be mentor that you never leave a fly or line in a tree or in the bushes. Never. I casted way out, a little too high and hooked into a sizable limb over the river. I started to shrug it off and my mentor said; it’s not Christmas and that’s not a Christmas tree. Go get it. I had to wade across the river barefoot, put my shoes back on and then climb up another tree to get to the tree limb that had my fly. All while hanging on to my rod. I got it and I get it. Lesson learned.
Third attempt was methodically executed right down to the landing. Maybe 2 inches off of the bank which made me flinch for a split second. Plenty of time to get the mend just right to dead drift under the limbs, indicator bobbing along right with a slight pause into the eddy followed by the take. My woolen indicator dove down and out of sight as I lifted my rod tip. Fish on I said out loud even though I was the only one there. I definitely had him and I didn’t want him to rush forward into the brush. So I started walking down stream and trying to get behind the fish. If I could get behind him I could keep tension and if he did run, maybe I could direct the run out from under the spruce and into open water. That’s all I had planned out, if given time beyond that... I’d figure it out.
It worked! The fish was now in the fast water trying to go up stream. Every time he ran on me I just played him further to the shallows. The runs be came shorter and the time between grew longer as our game was coming to an end. I moved up while gathering line to shorten our distance. I pulled my net and placed it well under the surface as the brown drifted right to me. With a tight line he came to the net without hesitation. I set up a quick photo-op and just guessed as I hit the timer on my camera that was balancing on top of my pack. Just over pan size (that is 12” in my head) maybe 14-15ish but who cares really. The release was calm and the fish swam peacefully away in the direction upstream to the lair. I glanced over to the cut bank to see how far this game really took me. I was directly across from my impression in the bank, where I had ridden out the storm. My little lair.
On the walk out I smelled that camp fire again... actually not burning anymore but smoldering as if doused by water. As I came to a clearing, I found it not to be a camp fire at all, but an aspen that had been exploded by lightning. It was only 50 yards from that brown's lair.