I was on the north end of the small lake with a group of friends. We were all spread out and in our own worlds, which would hopefully yield epic bragging rights and stories that night around camp. I was in the water, entertaining a few cutthroats that were sipping off the top with a dry-dry setup... elk hair caddis as my point and a size 20 black mosquito as the trailer. The fish were into the mosquitoes and it was the closest artificial I had to what they were really after. It was a presentation to a short motionless drift to strike and net. It was almost effortless and I felt like a pro, even to the point of loosening up my drag and playing these beautiful cutthroats just a bit more. After a while I thought about resting the spot but they were relentless to my little black fly. After the next fish, I kept telling myself, I’ll check the mosquitoes condition and trade out if need be. The elk hair laid out perfectly on the smooth water just inside the shade spot. Gathering up my loose line, I exhaled and settled in on the wait. I checked the spot where the bald eagle was perched earlier as if to be the afternoon lifeguard. He sat so patiently waiting for these bipedal kooks with weird sticks that shot out line into the water would catch what he wanted to eat. Strangely, us weirdos were releasing his cutthroats back into the water. I thought we were testing his patience. He was still there. Glancing down and back to my elk hair, I saw the take on my mosquito. “God save the Queen” is what I say after the take and before the set. It’s a good pause when using drys, now lift the rod tip and set. A spunky cutthroat took to the game and headed out into the depths of this little lake. We went back and forth for a bit before he gave into the net. This time, I reminded myself to check my poor little beat up fly. After the release and putting the net away, I inspected it. It was now just a pathetic ragged black thread wrapped around a size 20 without even hackle left. It resembled more of a misfit midge than any dry fly. I looked up to catch another pod down the bank sipping away without a clue to what has been going on over here for the last hour. I didn’t hesitate, I just got up and walked their way. I didn’t even string up my rig to the guide on my rod... I held it in my hand between my fingers. I approached with stealth as not to spook the casual feeding going on. I even picked out my first opponent as I side stepped the bank. Misjudging the landscape, I slipped and almost went down, but I remained graceful and caught myself. Recalibrating on the target, I was distracted by an intense pain in my index finger. Yellow jacket, bee or some weird blighting fly?.... I wish it was one of the above, but no. How about a size 20 3XH/2XL Mustad buried into my finger and yes, buried down to the ass of the the black mosquito or to the bend of the hook. I gave it a tug and it didn’t budge. Oh damn, could I have forgotten to crush the barb when I tied this? One glance back at the risers and I confirmed they were hopefully not going anywhere anytime soon. So I found a spot up the bank to set down my gear and cut the line to the fly. After setting up triage and making my patient comfortable, I began the removal process. Thankfully, I packed a small first aid kit and my forceps were also close by. So let’s start from the top; I tried to pull this thing out with my fingers.... nope it wouldn’t budge. Well, okay, now try the forceps but here’s the trick; I’ve got to get a good grip and lock them down, make sure I can do the extraction in one continuous motion, nice and slow. I took a second to clear my head and looked over at the water where the fish were, they were still there. I used this as more of a relaxing moment than to get overly excited and rush the job at hand. With a few deep yoga breaths, I engaged with the forceps. I started with a slow and gentle pull and that was short lived, the mosquito didn’t move. Okay, try again with a little more force? Nope, this thing is buried in there and that damn barb is doing what it’s designed to do... not come out. I took a minute to look around and clear my head again. I spotted my friends scattered about whooping “fish on” and another sending out a double haul almost to the other side of this little lake. The breeze came up and put a slight chop on the water and with it came in a few white cotton ball Rocky Mountain summer time clouds. The grass was electric green and the spruce was mighty. I exhaled and said out loud “ time to suck it up princess and get on with things.” I told myself, this time was going to do the trick. Hard and heavy without letting up till the mosquito was out. I took a sip of water and got to work. Getting a good grip on the hook, the forceps were locked tight and didn’t budge. I moved to being on my knees for better leverage in preparation for the extraction. I bared down on the fly and gave a long steady pull. I was committed for the long haul at whatever cost. The fly didn’t come easy nor did it let up during any part of the process. The barb fought all the way. At some point I recall a primal growl that while lasting the entire length of the hook seemed to help this civil war style field surgery without anesthesia. It must have pissed off the beaver, because I do recall hearing a tail slap while I groaned. The size 20 came out finally and I believe I cracked a sweat in the process. Glad that was over and now on to clean up and maybe back to the task at hand.... fishing. Back into my fly box with the other mosquitos I examined the barbs. All had been crushed when made, I guess I picked the lucky one. Ha!
The rising trout never left their spot, luckily for me. I picked up several more before moving on and joining the group for lunch. Someone mentioned hearing a strange bellow from range cattle or something like a wounded elk. I snickered and got into my lunch muttering squatch. Crush your barbs or only buy barbless for the fish and maybe that one time for you....fish on.