By Nick Simonson
My first experience with wild trout came in Montana just before my senior year of high school. There, alongside a ditch that we were told was a trout stream by the man at the shop in the nearby town, I wandered out toward the bank and looked down to see a dark, missile-shaped body holding at the bottom of a blue-green run of water. With my flyfishing days far ahead of me, I slashed at the fish deep in the pocket. It barely flinched as my Mepps spinner burned back time and again to my downstream position on the knoll at the base of the pool. It was evident this fish had been cast at time and again by the anglers who likely came before me and would come after me as well, wise to the blur of burning blades and the nymphs that bobbed overhead.
Needless to say, I didn’t catch that fish, and standing on the shore throwing cast after cast with the three varieties of spinners at my disposal, bordered on the insanity that Albert Einstein described of doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. After an hour or so, my mom came out of the family truckster and informed me it was time to head back to the hotel where my dad’s conference was wrapping up and a reservation at the restaurant awaited. I ordered trout that night, and it arrived – head-on – and I couldn’t help but feel vindicated for my efforts in chasing after that bottom-hugging rainbow.
It was this morning’s efforts that reminded me of that first foray into wild trout fishing. My brother and I dropped into the creek bottom below the lake where I had been advised my best bet would be for a mix of big browns and rainbows in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The online reports – something I didn’t have 30 years ago – and the words of the fly shop proprietor over the phone last week, suggested that with a little luck I could turn one of those fish too. As we crested a small rise that gave us a clear view of the stream below, I felt pulled back in time.
There in the depths of the deep run sat seven fish, stacked like cordwood that had broken off of the fallen log jutting out from the shoreline. They were the large browns referenced in the phone call the week before and highlighted in the pictures that the shop’s guides had posted on its website. In the back of the pool, along the slow mossy edge, a fish of more than 20 inches rested in the green bottom. A few lengths ahead another one sat, and then another, each fish getting smaller and smaller until the last one, maybe 14 inches, rounded out the scattering of wild browns which lay in the current of the clear creek.
Sneaking down and across an upstream riffle, I worked my way alongside them, staying slightly away and cast my first offering, a tungsten beadheaded midge. It drifted through the pod and nothing happened. My brother called out from the hillside, directing my next few casts, but with each pass, he informed me of where the fish moved, obviously spooked by the line, or the leader, or the pattern that likely resembled nothing they’d ever eaten before. I felt as if I had been taken back to that time long ago, when I saw my first stream trout in a high-traffic area where the anglers in the two trucks that had beat us to the spot by 5:45 am had likely gone before us.
After whipping the pool into a frenzy, I headed back up the angler’s trail toward a river crossing and looked out. There, against a small spot washed clean by the water and probably the tail of the large brown trout that sat on it, discerning and picky in its review of the passing detritus, I gave it one more shot before we were due back at the rented cabin for family activities on the day. From my knees I let a small streamer, then a nymph, then a midge float over the spot until I gave up, rose from my crouched position and watched the fish drift deeper into the creek. It would serve as the start of a week of learning ahead of me, and some effort to find the less educated fish somewhere down the flow or on those tucked in the pine lined streams nearby. Close at hand would be the memory of those fish, and the first one I had cast to on that far away stream as a youth, and the ultimate insanity, which is sometimes more rewarding than at other times…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: The author’s brother stands above a deep pool on Rapid Creek where a pod of big brown trout were lurking. Simonson Photo.