I headed east out of town planning to meet up with my long time friend James at the usual spot, the fire house. It was just dawn and the air hadn’t warmed up yet – still crisp with a little nip. When we met I gave him the recon update from the evening before during my scout. He voiced his interest and grinned.
On the way to the spot, we picked up where we left off on a previous trip under a month ago... Rabbits. As we hit the gravel he balked at how low the water actually was. That was my cue to pitch my theory about this seasonal, maybe even just a week or two, event unfolding right now.
Missionary ridge to the west was holding the full moon when we got further into the river valley. The moon's reflection still on the water. No breeze.
I found the turnout that would lead us to the trail easily... so now rig and gear up. A truck passed by with a familiar face and stopped. It was my friend Bob, a mutual friend who had been out already and backed my theory. He’d been out way earlier and wished he could join but was cold to the bone and had to go home. That’s quite cold because Bob is hardcore when it comes to fishing. It was great to see him and he gave us a tip...chartreuse.
Rigging up I realized I only had 6x leader. Oh well it is what it is and I’ll be fine on my 4wt.
The walk was farther than I had thought as always but good conversation made it pass easily. At the water's edge James and I starting talking flies and agreed on streamers. At least my 4wt is hearty it won’t launch the meaty streamers but it will do the job.
You can catch a fish on your sock – it’s all in the presentation. Just an example... don’t try it.
The tight little river channel opened up quickly to the wide and deep mouth of the lake; a perfect drop off. I went with Bob's tip and found something chartreuse in my box. Size 12 rabbit fur leach as fluffy as the rabbit it was originally on. First cast was great. Second cast was a terrible flounder. Water weight from this streamer was like a brick. Change out.
Found a size 14 pine squirrel leach more of a dark green. Cast out 15 yards, let it sink a second then start the retrieve. Broken patterns on the mend, slam, fish on, then broke off. Damn –
This went on for a while with several fly change outs. It did cross my mind that maybe my tippet was old. The contradiction to the thought was how well it performed yesterday and the day before in the heavy current of the Animas. No curly q’s on the broken line meaning bad knots, just clean breaks.
By now I had gone through my stash of streamers in the box that mainly houses nymphs, midges and a few drys. But my Aminas fly box had a few streamers in it as a last, “just in case, don’t leave home without it" thought. My “meat” streamers are in their own box back home – a great place for them now! When packing for this trip I didn’t even have this situation in mind, hence the 4wt. My thoughts were that I would have maybe one evening on the Animas and it would be more of an excuse to just get wet. Nothing like the current situation of being under gunned during an event unfolding in front of my face.
James was being taunted by something large. The beast kept surfacing and splashing so close to him, he starting calling it names. But no hook ups yet. I moved from the deep water to the tight channel and put on my last streamer. Size 16 white rabbit fur with chartreuse body. This is a river leach without a bead or wire wrap on it. It’s a floater 'till the current takes it down. Here in the channel there wasn’t much of a current so I added shot, about 8 inches up from the fly. One to get it down and second to make it really articulate.
First cast down river and thud, fish on. This time I just lifted the rod tip to set it. The fish ran and I let him go about 10 yards before applying the brakes, palming my reel. He responded by coming to a dead stop and acting like a log. Lifting the rod tip higher I could finally feel his weight. He was a HOG, stubborn and not wanting to move an inch. So I switched it up on him and walked down river to change angle of tension to see the reaction. Enter the chess game. He didn’t move and tried to convince me I was hooked to a rock at the bottom. I started to doubt if this was a fish in the first place or was I dredging river bottom real estate. Panicky, I gave a twitch to my rod and the hog came alive and took off for the depths.
My mind went to how deep and how far will this swine go? I can’t horse this fish for god's sake.
I’m on 6x leader, 6x tippet with my 4 wt. (for the non fish heads – these line and rod sizes mean the equipment I’m using is for medium to light use... not intended for big game).
I palmed my reel and got him to stop again. Now I’m thinking we’ve been at this game for a while and I still have to net, retrieve my fly, most likely revive and let him go, all without tiring him out to the point of death. So the game became a truce. James was my net man and we formulated the plan. I walked up the bank taking up line while James guided the hog to the net.
It was truly a hog of a brown trout. Large old male, battle scars all dressed in autumn colors of deep oranges and yellows. This was the largest fish I’ve ever caught and caught on a fly rod.
The release was peaceful. Once he got back his strength, gracefully slipping through my hands, he gave a good slap with his tail to my hand on the way out... as if to say, good game.
I did give him a kiss while I had him captive.