Early the previous evening the skies began to cloud over. Rain came down at about 10 PM and temperatures remained in the upper 50’s all night. A few mild thunder boomers came through and during the early morning hours the rain turned to a steady, albeit not heavy, fall. I love trout fishing after rain storms! I set the alarm for 5:00 AM with the anticipation of hitting a local stream. The conditions were perfect to put the trout on a feeding spree, and I was going to be on the water shortly after first light.
Upon arriving at a favorite stretch of mine, I found no fresh vehicle tracks and no signs that the fish had been pounded by anglers in the recent past.
The stream had risen a bit and had the color of somewhat diluted tea. The sandy bottom showed through the light reddish-brown of the water in depths of about a foot. In two feet of water the bottom could barely be seen and it was hidden under that amber stain in anything approaching three feet or deeper.
Using steelhead spawn bags in a bottom bouncing presentation, I slowly worked my way upstream through the lowland tag alders that bordered this twenty-foot wide ribbon of trout water. The fish were there, feeding in their preferred lanes and seams, out and away from their usual daytime haunts deep within the recesses of the logs and brush that littered the bottom. Smaller browns and brookies were eager to feed and they provided constant entertainment. In less than an hour of fishing I took upwards of a dozen fish ranging from 9”-14″. All were returned to put on a bit of weight and length. On days when the fish are on a feeding prowl I usually don’t keep fish, as I would have reached my limit in short order, and these days I find myself returning the vast majority of trout that I catch.
Each run that should have produced fish did so, and I reveled in hitting the stream on one of those perfect days when the Trout Gods smiled and the fish were on a feeding spree.
In stained water one has to fish in feeding lanes, those runs that are a bit deeper than the shallows and act as a food funnel for ravenous trout. Deep under the banks and log jams will hold fish at this time, but most of them are out of their hidey holes, taking advantage of the concealment provided by the stained water, as well as the current which brings a cornucopia of tasty treats.
In about two hours, less than a 1/2 mile from my starting point, and dozens of fish later, I came to a decent hole, which was fed by a wide, deeper run of about 3 feet in depth. It was located on one of those half-bend stretches of water which channeled the current into the log jam at the bottom of the hole. Over the years this particular spot has provided brookies and browns of up to 14″, but never a really large fish (the brook trout always ranged from 7-10″).
I made three or four casts to the head of the run and let the spawn bag bottom bounce towards me with no takers, which was unusual considering the prime conditions. On my next cast, one made a bit closer to my position to the side and downstream of the run, I felt the “tap-tap” of the bag ticking along the sandy bottom. The line stopped. There was no tug of a fish, not even a gentle “rap-rap” that indicated a willing trout on the other end of the line.
One thing I’ve learned over the years……a half century of trout fishing….is to be patient and pause when the line stops its drift. There might a trout at the other end, despite no tactile evidence of such. Waiting a bit, I gave the rod (a 2 wgt, 8 and a 1/2 foot Orvis flyrod w/spinning reel spooled with 4 lb. test MagnaThin mono) a snap backwards. A heavy tug, felt all the way to the reel seat, signaled that a fish was on and he had some heft. It made no flashing dash to get out of the neighborhood, but rather moved upstream, further away from the now threatening log jam and sashayed back and forth at the head of the run.
To tell you the truth, for a second or two, I thought the fish was a large sucker. The stain of the water prevented me from seeing him, but I knew he was big. Once he got to the shallower water at the top of the feeding run, I saw that the fish was indeed a brown trout of generous proportions.
Experience in taking on large trout, especially in the narrow confines of a small stream, has taught me never to panic during the battle. I am a firm believer that more large fish are lost, especially on a stream, because the angler gets too excited and begins to make quick, thoughtless moves which, by their very nature, send panic vibes to the lunker at the other end of the line. The fish in turn panics and a small, brush choked stream with plenty of in-stream woody debris is no place to tangle with a large trout which has shifted into panic mode. Calm, cool, take it easy, alertness and rational thinking are the mindset that an angler must have, if he is to consistently land large stream trout.
From the head of the run the trout turned suddenly, knowing that shallow water lay to his front, and came towards me with a rush in an attempt to get into the log jam. Again, through experience, I’ve learned that, while the battle is on, to position myself between the fish and any dangerous areas such as logs and brush in the water and I had done so in this case. The fish wanted no part of me, but he didn’t panic and once again headed to the top of the run.
He’d been on for a few minutes and all was looking well, but those thoughts, and they did cross my mind, were quickly expunged. I never count my fish before they are in the net.
As do all big fish at some point during a battle on a stream, this one decided what he was doing wasn’t working and it was time to change tactics. With this, he went to the tag alder-encrusted stream bank to my right and headed downstream. Once again the Fish Gods smiled, as they’re prone to do, if treated with some reverence and respect, and the thin mono went through the alder branches unhindered and unharmed. The fish was below me now and this could portend trouble. Whenever possible, it is wise to stay downstream of a large trout. However, this was not the case and I moved to remedy the situation.
Streamside brush and in-stream logs narrowed the “ring” in which the two of us battled. With care, keeping a taut line at all times, I eased the mono from the couple of spots where it had gotten hung up in the alder branches. The trout skipped upstream a few yards and then made a U-turn to go back down. This maneuver, in close quarters, took the line completely around my legs.
Again with cool calm and in measured moves I turned, undid the line from more brush and unwrapped my legs from the entwining of the monofilament.
The fish was close now and getting ready for the net. He made a half hearted lunge towards the midstream logs, but the Orvis flyrod had enough backbone and length to staunch this effort without forcing the issue. He was closer now, but due to the length of line I had out, was not close enough for me to net him, even with my rod hand held high in the air as I bent over with the net. Without applying undue strain on the thin strand of mono, I reeled in several turns on the spinning reel, bringing the fish closer. He was in the open now, in the shallows just below the log jam run in which he had been feeding, and lined up with his head pointed directly upstream. I’m a believer in netting a fish tail first. I want the net as far from any protruding hook point as possible. More than one large fish has been lost when the hook (or hooks) gets tangled in the netting before the body gets into the mesh.
A quick, deft scoop and the fish was mine.
He measured 23″ in length and I knew he was going on the wall of my den/computer room. The fish was one of those beautiful stream browns colored in gold/orange and a tinge of red. The photo does not do these colors justice, even though I quit the stream as soon as the fish was in my creel and headed back to my truck for the trip to my taxidermist’s.