Saturday, May 1, 2010

You remember the trout you lost

The river stretches before me like a shimmering, silver quilt covering secret gifts piled under a Christmas tree.
I know there are big, even giant, trout waiting for me under all that sparkling, smooth water. They are there hunkered next to a rock or thick laurel root, lazily sipping nymphs and the occasional oblivious mayfly sailing over its nose. You can see them from the bank. You imagine they are laughing at all the foolish-looking people standing waist-deep in the river waving sticks over their heads with a string with a bit of hook and feather attached.
I know they laugh at me.
Strangely, my most memorable fish at the Davidson are the ones never landed. Certainly, we all remember that huge rainbow caught and netted years ago, but for me those fish pale in comparison to the monsters that broke my tippet and my heart the past 20 years splashing around the Davidson River.
Only on the Davidson do I have such a problem.
Noted by Trout Unlimited as one of the nation’s Top 50 trout streams, the Davidson that I fish has three classifications — the Hatchery Supported section at the lower end near the intersection, the Catch and Release section upstream past the ranger station and the Wild section far upstream.
So, you have your fat food fish at the lower end, your trophy trout in the middle and the quick-as-lightning wary wild trout up the mountain toward the headwaters.
Something for everyone, so to speak, awaits the anxious angler on the Davidson. She has all sorts of ways to break a fisherman’s heart.
I hit the water late in the darkened afternoon with a heavy gray sky threatening to spit all kinds of rain and mischief. By the time I had rigged the rod and donned the waders, a soft spring rain began licking my face. My thoughts immediately turned to Blue Winged Olives, those little mayflies that love misty rain on cool days.
A passing fisherman said the rises were ‘sporadic’ but that the trout had been hitting cream-colored caddis flies all day.
I tied on a cream-colored dry fly.
The rain, unlike the bull of a storm of a few weeks ago, had a soothing sweetness and soon passed.
A piece of sky peeked through the clouds, escaping from the darkness like a frightened bluebird.
The threat of rain and spotty showers kept most people away from the river on Monday, and I all but had the water to myself. I cast upstream on the mirror-smooth water. Trout rose downstream, across stream and upstream. They ignored my fly.
There was a little breeze, what the poet called trout-colored winds, whispering through the trees, but if you waited for a pause, you could flip a fly a good ways. I used a long leader, which helped get a more natural drift.
I chased rises for awhile, even though I know that is not the proper way to fish these fish, and I missed the few hits I got. I turned my head to cast upstream again when I felt a tug from behind and almost lost the rod to a struggling brown trout who thought I wasn’t looking. Fooled you, I thought.
I laughed at that trout.
About 15 minutes later another trout hit my fly with a vengeance. A passerby shouted, "I heard THAT," and I knew I was into a pretty hefty fish. I could not tell you which was shaking the most, my rod or my legs.
When the trout rolled with the fly, I caught a glimpse of an enormous belly the size of one of my shaking legs. I had him hooked solid. All I had to do was play him awhile, give him enough time to get tired and then get him up close for the obligatory photo.
I fought that fish forever. It splashed and whirled and ran with the fly.
And then he broke my heart.
The tippet went ping.
And he was gone.
I could almost hear him laughing.