First trout on a fly?
My first trout on a fly rod was very memorable. Yeah, I had trolled them up on streamers, and piled my line into the currents so I could strip the fly back and hit a few that way - but I mean the selection, the cast, the retrieve, the hit, the fish.
Mine came in stillwater, a stocked fish but glorious for me just the same. Don't even get me wound up on commentaries about the damage native populations sustain from truckfuls of finless pellet-fed heiffer trout pushing delicate fry from their fragile domains, eating them at will, sucking the food source dry, etc. I didn't mean to talk about that.
But that spring day, the promise of a new season was in the air and the bright green buds were pushing colors from the gray fingers of winter-stripped trees along the pond, and the birds were singing their sweet songs. I had gotten into this intense obsession about catching trout without Pautzke's Balls o' Fire or marshmallows after I saw the old timers on Walden and Whites and Scargo and Cliff Pond gently lay funny looking fat lines toward the sipping rings of trout, finding fish after willing fish while I and the rest of the forked stick crowd sat like Norman Rockwell's mischevious boys on buckets wishing we had a rock in our hands. These splashes would drive me crazy, I just had to figure it out.
I had an old fiberglass rod someone gave me and set out stubbornly to defeat this conquest, getting rides to the pond from my sister who had only just gotten her license or even taking the bicycle on the highway to get there. We even hitchhiked (I'm dating myself there, eh?). Eventually, I would be ornery enough to bring the flyrod even though I couldn't cast to save my life and the whole thing felt like I had two left feet on my arms whenever I tried.
But I tried and I tried, buying flies with my spare change whenever I could, at Sears, at Zayre's at any shop that my folks brought me to or that a bus went to. When I tied them on they seemed so stupid, wet, and ineffective. It really took me a long time to get a clue.
One day I was standing on a stone wall at the waters edge with my flyrod, feeling stupid. From the corner of my eye I saw the unmistakable speckled form of a trout, cruising just below the surface. It turned and rushed over to a spec on the surface, hesitated and gently sucked in something. I looked at my fly - which I now know as a blacknosed dace streamer and thought "that ain't somethin, gotta find the something!" and dug thru the box. Seeing as I was surrounded by gnats, it only occurred to me then that they could be feeding on them. I selected a tiny gnat and proceeded to tie it on. Being unaware of things like tippet and bloodknots, the leader was cut down by streamer abuse and I could barely get the line thru the eye. The knot looked bigger than the fly. I tried it anyway. When the fly began to sink every cast I stopped to think things over.
Looking in my corny green fabric creel, I found a spare not-a-knot leader. Wasting no time, I replaced the leader I had with the new one using a whatchamacallit knot. It was bigger than my fly too, but the tippet was as light as a spiders web and I got excited about the sense of renewal.
I set out to find these fish again, and luckily they were still rising. It took a while before they came within my range (20 feet max) but they did. I laid the fly on the water with a delicate kersploosh, and then I thought.. now what? If I move the fly, it sinks. If I don't I feel stupid. I sat there a little longer, and the wind began to move my line. The fly formed a tiny little wake as it slid to the side, and I decided that the spaghetti like trail of line that lay between me and the fly was not going to do me any good, so I began to retrieve some line using a motion that remotely resembled something I now know as "stripping".
Then it happened... with a subtle slap, a flash of scarlet and silver, and a moment of disbelief, I had a rainbow on the line as I fuddled to pull in the slack and feel the fish in person. And feel I did! When I made contact, the fish bounced the rod with a vigor that nothing with a trailing egg sinker could produce, and I let out a strange noise that you could never spell. After a little nervous give-and-take, I slid the flooping trout onto the sandy gravel and pounced on it like a cat.
Yeah sure, I ate it - but I was a kid, and you've never seen someone so damn proud of a little stocker trout. For some reason, every spot and scale of that fish radiated with the sheen of accomplishment, and I'd swear it's pale pasty flesh was exquisite if you'd asked me then.
Well, millions of false casts later I've been pleased to say that I have been fishing the same kelp beds as orcas on the Olympic Peninsula, and swinging Spey flies in the same waters where Haig-Brown caught his first steelhead. I've laid crazy charlies into the patchwork of turtle grass and fine coral sands to entice bones on the Keys, and wrestled big 'cuda from the deep dark trenches on an 8wt. I've seen bluefish blitzes a hundred yards wide and cruising stripers so big that I was afraid to cast, and hope I've got a whole lot more to go before it's all said and done, but in the scope of things that little rainbow was a milestone I should never forget or forsake.
Every one's a keeper, in the mind's eye.
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