Fishing, at times, can provide a real challenge. As the old saying goes, "Thats why they call it fishing and not catching." When I first started fly fishing, catching large numbers of fish was my main quest. I wanted to get on the pond or creek and catch as many fish as possible. I'd count each and every one of the fish I landed, backtracking to make sure my count was accurate. As I've grown into the sport, the pursuit of a 30+ fish day isn't as much a draw for me anymore.
Lately I've been much more intrigued with finding big fish or fishing tricky water filled with picky trout. A few of my favorite Northern California spots can be just that. Last weekend, I spent two days trying to get into some larger lake run fish that use this river as important spawning habitat. With a good gravel bottom, deep pools, and dark undercuts, there's a lot of room for big fish to hide and create the next generation.
This time of year, there are usually a good number of trout in the river. However, timing can be a big part of the puzzle. Although I fished hard for two days using a variety of small, winter fly patterns, there either weren't a lot of fish in the system or the cold front had turned them off. Not to mention, the relatively low water levels accompanied by clear water conditions made sneaking up on good sized fish even more difficult.
The challenge of finding big fish and getting them to fall for feathers wrapped around a hook is a huge draw for me. A big enough draw to keep me on a river from sun up to sun down with temperatures as low as six degrees.
Although I didn't land the big fish I was hunting for last weekend, I did have an encounter. An encounter was good enough to keep me coming back for more. My flies drifted with the current on the opposite side of the river, right near the undercut bank. Then, thump, I was hooked up! The fish instantly moved up stream with authority, almost as though he didn't know he was hooked. With a little side pressure applied, he exploded on the surface of the river, then went straight to the bottom and gave a few weighty head shakes. Before long, my size 18 came spitting back across the river. As soon as it had begun, it was over.
As is usually the case, the fight had me both excited and disappointed. I had found a good fish and convinced it to humor me, but in all honesty, I got whooped. That encounter was fuel for the fire though. It kept me out past dark, hands frozen and nose running in the bitter cold. It's times like these. Times when I come close but don't fully feel the satisfaction of landing the big one that makes me love fishing so much. The challenge, the chess match, and the puzzle keep me engaged and wanting more.