September 22nd, A wade to Remember.
It is that magical time of year when the browns are on the move; moving up their rivers and creeks to steak out their claim to spawn. The pre-spawn. The colors are the best they will be all year and the big browns are as aggressive and careless as they will be all year. It is a time when amazing things can happen on any fishing trip.This is the story of such an event, such a fish, such a memory.
I arrive at the creek I would be fishing at sunrise, 7:00 AM. The morning quiet and fog still clung to the morning like a child clings to a blanket when awakened by the sun. The water levels were good but not great as they are still falling from the recent rainfall from hurricane Florence. There was a decent chance of rain later on in the day but I was determined to make something happen. As I stepped into the water the conditions weren't ideal but they were not against me either.
I began my day fishing a small section of water that consisted of a cluster of productive fishing holes. I often do this to gauge the section I am about to fish. First hole, I make several passes and retrieves with a large headbanger sculpin streamer and move nothing. So I switch to the other rod I am carrying, a euro nymphing set up. I usually carry two rods with me so that I do not have to breakdown and change rigs often. I primarily streamer fish and then will pass the euro rig through the run or hole after. First cast with the euro rig produced a nice wild rainbow which was odd as I had never caught a rainbow out of this hole. A few drifts later another rainbow takes the stonefly. This got me thinking that the browns may have pushed up higher into the creek than I had anticipated but I figured that I would try a couple more holes to check. Another usually fruitful spot produced nothing, firming up my working hypothesis. I was going to check one more hole before moving, but as I approached a guardian of the fishing hole was blocking my path. A very large snapping turtle sat in a bottle neck choke point that I would have to walk through in order to fish the hole. I contemplated grabbing him by the tail and moving him but I reminded myself that this is his home and I am just a guest passing through. I turned back to the car and headed upstream to try my luck there.
I put in further upstream in a section that is very narrow and has a large amount of plunge pools and undercuts where trout might be lurking. I dropped into the first hole and on the first cast a nice 15 inch brown shot out from an undercut rock and took the streamer. One jump and the fly loosened and released the brown. It was an encouraging sign that I was in the right place. I continued onward and upward. I had elected to leave my euro rod in the car because carrying two rods can be a pain. I worked the water well but was not moving anything.Thus is the life of a streamer fisherman, live and die by the streamer. However, as with any style of fishing, all it takes is one good fish to turn the day around.
The next hole I came to was different than the others. It was slower moving, deeper, and in direct sunlight. The harshness of the light revealed that there were several fish in this hole. There was one fish in the group that was at least twice the size of any of the other fish in the run. There was no way that I could guarantee that the one of the other smaller fish would not eat my fly first and spook the king of the pool. I casted once with the streamer which only caused the pod of fish to panic and swirl violently. As a result, I waited motionless for several minutes until the fish settled into their newly acquired position within the run. Their response would surely be the same if I tried the streamer again. I cursed myself for my apathy in leaving my euro rod in the car. This fish was enormous and the allure of this fish would not let me leave the run until I had exhausted all options. I switched to a dry, no response from any of the fish. When in doubt I switch to my confidence fly, the stonefly. I put on a size 8 black stonefly. The fly was easy enough for me to see in the water due to the sunlight increasing the water visibility. I was going to try to euro nymph the giant out of the hole but I had no sighter on and was using a 9 foot 5 wt rod. I knew my chances of seeing my leader move or feeling the fish take the fly were minimal but I had to try. My first few drifts were right in line with the fish but they elicited no response. Fly change from a black stonefly to a slightly smaller brown stonefly. A drift a few inches to the left of the fish, a slight movement from the fish, and the faintest of ticks in the rod told me the fish had finally eaten the fly. I set.
The leviathan erupted from the deep of the pool and began to thrash at the surface. The 4x tippet I had on would allow me to put a fair amount of pressure on this fish but I still needed to be careful. This was also my first time fishing with this particular 5 weight rod so I was learning about its fighting ability and tippet cushioning on the fly, pun intended. I was now upstream from the brown and my mind pictured everything that could go wrong, the fly pulling out of its mouth, a quick thrash and a broken line, or being pulled into some structure and losing the fish. These scenarios flash the mind of any angler in an intense fight. I played the fish well and was able to move the fish above me which would reduce my chance of the fly coming loose. We fought for what seemed like hours but in reality was only a few minutes where each moment seemed an eternity. Several netting attempts proved unsuccessful, he would either swim away when he saw me or he would stretch out across the net and would not fit. Finally I had a good angle on the fish and was able to get his head in the net. I strained to lift the net and the fish perched precariously on the edge of the net balancing between victory and defeat. The fulcrum of the beast edged closer in favor and he slid into the net.
I stood in awe of this mature male brown. An immense fish in regards to both weight and length. The handsome fish sported a fully developed kype in response to the pre spawn. The pattern on the brown was unique to it and appeared as a dense maze of color. Red dots mark his flanks, the red of a wild brown that is a true predator. Dagger like teeth line his top and bottom jaws, another sign of the pre spawn battles taking place under the surface of the water. This is one of those fish, one of those moments, and one of those memories that angles can live within for the rest of their lives. It was an honor to be in the presence of such an animal and that feeling is what drives me to find these fish.