Personally, I prefer heading to the river with a good buddy to share the experience of fishing the beautiful places that trout tend to live. It's always a good time when you can share some key tips or patterns with a friend or cheer the other guy on with high-fives when they stick a good one. On occasion though, I step foot into the watery world of trout on my own.
On a recent road trip, I decided to spend an evening fishing one of my favorite (yet challenging) rivers in Northern California. I'd fished the river a few times and hadn't come tight to a good fish, a humbling river for sure. As I laced up my wader boots and headed to a section of the river my friend had encouraged me to explore, I couldn't help thinking about the prospects that this river holds. I'd seen, and heard of, some great fish coming out of this small river. Lumbering down the trail and through the grass, I wondered how it would be to catch a truly big fish, without anyone there to share the experience with. Would it be as gratifying? If you catch a great fish in the wilderness and nobody else sees it, did it really happen?
At water's edge, I strung a rod with a streamer and the other with a size 18 caddis pattern (Dry Fly). The sound of water moving over rocks and trout sipping at the rivers edge, had me ready to finally get a good one on this river! Knowing I was still a solid 1/2 mile from the section I wanted to fish, I kept my eyes keenly focused on the riffles, runs, and likely spots that brown trout ply while sipping caddis.
Around the first bend, I saw a line of fish taking Caddis just on the far side of a little run. Being pretty amped up, I made a few clean casts and got two fish to rise to my fly but promptly pulled the fly out of their mouth. My next few reach casts had my fly dragging through multiple current lines and the fish stopped feeding. On to the next hole!
Although I didn't land a fish in the first run, the sight of actively feeding fish had me hopeful and eager to find more of the same. As is usual on a river, you'll find patterns. Sure enough the next time I saw a similar run, there were brown trout noses peaking through the surface. This time, I made my first few casts count and came tight on a solid (16-18 inch) brown trout. The skunk was off, I had the right fly, and knew where the fish were feeding. Game time!
The sun dipped behind the pines and I made my way to the next likely holding spot and found, what looked like a dozen trout, consistently feeding. Starting at the bottom of the run, I landed a few more fish. A couple small ones and another good sized brown. The biggest nose was yet to come and was still feeding at the head of the run. I put my fly in his lane, just a few feet in front of where he was taking bugs and sure enough, he came up to grab it.
Once he knew he was stuck, he screamed to the end of the pool, then towards the biggest rock he could find. I was barely able to keep him from getting me into trouble on my 4wt and he took to the air in hopes of shaking the hook. After a few minutes of anxious fighting, I dipped my net into the water and landed the 21 inch brown. Without anyone to hoot and holler with, I silently pumped my fist in the air and snapped a few photos (I need a wide angle lens if I'm going to keep catching big fish like this on my own) and let the fish go back to his home.
Although it would have been nice to have had help in landing the fish and even better to share in the moment with a good friend, the quiet contentment of landing and releasing the fish with only nature as my audience was exactly as it should have been. I'm looking forward to the solitude of hunting big fish on my own in the future. There's something satisfyingly intimate about sitting on the bank of a river with a huge grin on your face after landing a great fish.
Every once in a while, you land a truly memorable fish. I've begun to name them, just for fun. Meet Hemingway, I hope you have a chance to meet him some day!