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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Even a Trout Can Still Make Make Me Shake

As a child I was so excited to fish I would run to the river from the car. 

Years passed and I was no longer a child; I was driving my own car.  I still ran to the river sometimes.  I was keyed up to fish and I could get even more keyed up when I caught a nice fish.  

In 1974 I spent 5 days fishing in the Ketchum, Idaho area with a friend, Jim Driscoll.  We fished different water each day.  I almost drown in the Big Wood River on the fourth day.  It was the only time I had the experience of “seeing my whole life pass in front of me.”  The fifth day we fished fabled Silver Creek.  It was my first experience with a float tube.  The depth and speed of the creek were such that I could put my feet down and easily stop to make some casts.  Pick my feet up and the slow current moved me to the next spot.  This was only my third season of fly fishing; a 14 inch trout was still a big deal to me. 

Half way into the day I put my feet down to cast to a rising fish.  Anticipation was high.  The fiberglass rod delivered the line smoothly; the adult mayfly pattern drifted over the spot where the trout had risen.  While it has been 40 years since that moment, the memory of the take has stayed with me.  It was one of the few trout to take me into the backing up to that point.  I was shaking as I played that fish to the net.  I owned a Minolta 35 mm SLR camera but since it wasn't  with me the fish didn't even pose for a picture.  I admired him for a bit, thanked him, and turned the net over to send him on his way.  I was still shaking quite a bit. 

My tippet was now frayed and I needed to pee so I got out of the creek.  I managed to take care of the first job okay with shaking hands but I could not get a new tippet tied on.  I had to stand for a while and settle down before I could change the leader—all because of an 18 inch trout hooked on a dry fly. 

In February 1978 I caught my first Steelhead, a 6 pound hen, on a Corky and yarn.  I shook just a little.  In June of 1978 I caught my first Steelhead on a fly in the Kalama River.  It was a 9 pound hen and I shook a good deal. 

In the ensuing years, four species of Pacific Salmon, many species of Trout, some species of Char, Grayling, and my beloved Carp, have been tricked by my flies.  Some of them made me shake. 

Today, at age 62, a fish can still make me tremble but not as easily as when I was in my 20’s.  In part it is that I have caught many fish since that day on Silver Creek.   It is more than that though.     

What does it take to get me to shake now?  A 20 pound Carp?  An 8 pound Humpy? A 20 pound Chum?  A 5 pound Trout?  A 30 pound Chinook?  Each of those fish identified only by weight and species are great fish but they are not enough to get me to tremble.  A smaller fish of any of those species can get me to shake if the circumstances are right.  In fact the circumstances and the totality of the experience have become more important than the size of the fish alone. 

A 20 pound Carp in and of itself will not get me to shake.    I may have dropped the fly in front of the fish which is not as exciting as casting to them.  The fish might be a big slug that didn't fight that well.  That doesn't usually happen but it can happen.  The water may not be open enough for the Carp to get up and run hard.  The swim may be plain looking or even unattractive.  Of course I would like to think that everywhere I catch Carp is perfect and beautiful.  Let’s be honest here, many places are wonderful but not all of them. 

A five pound Trout can take the fly off the surface but he may also be lethargic and generally lacking in enthusiasm.  I have hooked many Salmon in the high teens and low twenties; they rarely make me tremble at all.  Lots of things have to come together these days to get me to tremble when I hook a fish.  

Last week I enjoyed some solitary fishing.  An hour had passed with only one refusal of my dry fly.  Normally I would hold out a good deal longer before changing to a wet fly; on this day I decided to make the switch at the end of that hour.  I blind cast for another hour and a half with no hookups.  Moving down river I saw a Trout feeding.  He was making “sub-surface rises”.  He would take something high enough  in the water column that the disturbance would make rings on the water but the fish never actually broke the surface.  It was enough to give his position away and to let me know he was having a late breakfast.  Nothing about the “sub-surface rises” gave me any indication of how big the fish might be. 

On my second cast there was a “sub-surface rise” and the line went tight.  The hook set sent the fish immediately out of his holding area and down the river.  A couple jumps gave away the serious size on this Trout; it was no effort for him to get into the backing. 

By the time the fish was near to me I was shaking some.  The day was beautiful and the setting was pleasing. No one else was in sight.  I had spotted a feeding fish; I had cast to him and got to see evidence of the take. He ran in to the backing.  He was fat.  As he ran down the river he created an important element of doubt that adds a lot to my excitement.  I wasn't sure I would be able to hold him and get him turned.   I knew this may be my only fish of the day and I wanted to get him in the net and take his picture.  All of these things contributed to my trembling. 

I use the Measure Net when I am fishing for Trout.  The Measure Net is great for immediately telling how long a fish is but the bag is shallow.  The first time I reached out to net this fish it ran again.  I really didn't  have him on his side yet.  Some more time against the pressure of the rod finally got him turned.  Within reach I slipped the net in front of him and lifted him up out of the water.  He was over 24 inches and he was quite thick.  What a beautiful fish!  He was in the net a maximum of three seconds when he flopped leaving his tail was on the bottom of the bag and his head was pointing straight up.  He flopped again and he was out of the net and in the water.  I stayed calm thinking I would just play him back in and net him again.  The short fall had broken the tippet.  My fat fish swam away with my fly in his mouth.  No one was there to hear me swear. 

I recalled a time when I was about 11 or 12 years old and was frustrated with snags on two consecutive casts so I threw my rod in the river.  Fortunately for me it wasn't very far in the river and I was able to retrieve it.  I’m 62 now so after my fish flopped out of the net and swam away the urge to throw my rod in the river was not strong enough to get me to actually do it. 

I knew this may be my only fish of the day.  Turning away from the river I looked up at the sky and took a few deep breaths.  I mumbled to myself, “Get over it”.  My trembling calmed quickly; I tied on a new tippet and fly.   

I have no idea why I caught more fish.  For the first two and a half hours I had not had a hook up; heck I hadn't  even had a strike.  In the next 3 hours I had numerous strikes and 6 more hookups with 5 making it to the net.  I don’t know why I started catching fish and I don’t know why the fish were all big.  I wish I did.  Maybe the fish gods thought I was trembling before them so they rewarded me.  Who knows…I do know that I am glad that even a Trout can still make  me to shake.  

One fish that was 24 inches was silver like a Steelhead just out of the salt.  

Another one that was also 24 inches had the beautiful, classic rainbow coloration on its side and gill plates.  

And a couple others that took my fly.  


  1. Nice work, Mr. P. Those are some great fish.

  2. Wonderful reflections of a life well-fished. Much enjoyed, Mr. P!

  3. Those are monsters. That would be a fish of a lifetime around here.

  4. Quality and Quantity! Rarely do they hang out together!Awesome!

  5. Enjoyed the imagery Jim. I'm not sure most anglers take time to ponder such things. Time well spent. Beautiful fish and fantastic that they were enough to bring the "shakes". Looks like there's no want for good trout fishing in your neck of the woods.

  6. Great Mr.P!

    I even believe I know the place, not that that matters. Wonderful story! Same here, been awhile since I actually shook with a fish. A large Small Mouth on a small Calibaetis nymph in a trout reservoir where they were not suppossed to be did the job. My first mirror last year may have done it. Other than that it's been years. Done the Silver Ck. thing with a very large trout once, wonderful area.


  7. Hey, I saw the Carp Carrot in the most recent Feather-Craft catalog.

    -Paul Huffman, Major Geek