There are some streams you are drawn to as an angler. The feel of the gravel shifting under your feet, the push of the water against your waders, the overhanging tree branches framing the water rolling over and around boulders and fallen trees, the rising fish to emerging insects, they create moments you want to recreate. Sometimes a new moment revisiting that reach meets or exceeds the picture in your mind. Sometimes you are left wondering if you really remembered it correctly. For me, I lost what I believe was a large (one of the largest I have ever hooked) brown trout in one of these picturesque reaches. It haunts me. I have been back many times since I hooked and lost the fish, and while it is productive, I haven’t hooked any fish close to that size.
The stream is not too close or too far from me, but when I typically fish 4-5 hours, driving for 3-4 hours is not a slam dunk. But this reach usually pops in my head as somewhere I need to fish, especially when I think it will be a while before I will have time to fish again.
For the past several years, I have tried to fish at least once a week. I can typically get in 2-3 hours on the streams within an hour of my home. On weekends when I don’t have activities, I try to spend a longer time on the water.
This morning I was able to run up to my “haunt” and fish for a little over 3 hours. I know the route there by heart, well mainly, those who know me well know my sense of direction is consistently inconsistent. I have a favorite parking spot. I know where the shallow riffles can be easily crossed. I know the hidden snags and the boulders where an 8” brown trout is usually hungry. I also know the spot where the big one broke me off.
When I arrived this morning, no one was parked along the road. I had a smile on my face as I pulled on my waders. A grey sky, light rain and a cold breeze was perfect fishing weather for me. No bright sun to cast shadows and enough discomfort to limit the number of other anglers who want to be on the water. My kind of day to go ghost hunting.
Preparing for this weekend, I had spent a few hours this week tying some flies. My confidence patterns include the Frenchie, Pat’s rubber legs, and the mop fly. I use them often and lose lots of them, so I restocked with four or five of each.
The last few trips I had taken to my haunt, the water was low and clear, today the water was pushing and slightly stained, like a brewing tea. More good news. Higher water levels spread the fish around by increasing available habitat, dislodging anchored aquatic insects, and washing off terrestrials to increase food sources. The stained color likely aids the angler to not be as visible to the trout. If the high-water conditions are safe to wade and doesn’t produce excessive turbidity, there are advantages for anglers with increased flow.
I checked the water temperature, 48 degrees. Not optimal. Once the water temperature dips below 50 degrees, the metabolism of trout slows significantly. Considering the lower temperature, I chose to fish nymphs, guessing the fish would be less likely to chase streamers and more likely to prefer low, slow, and deep drifts of nymphs. I was feeling prepared and sharp. Bring on the 20” brown trout!
The first cast and drift are thought to be the highest opportunity to catch a fish. They are hopefully unaware of the angler and looking to eat until you provide an indication of your presence. Sloppy casts or dragging flies can trigger nearby trout that the environment has changed and cause them to find refuge. My first cast was nicely placed and was drag free for approximately 10 feet, no takers. My second cast was very similar. The third cast landed and immediately didn’t feel right. Lifting my rod, I quickly saw I had rushed the knot to the top fly and lost the rig. Two flies down, my confidence was shaken, and I felt foolish.
Fishing the first “haunted’ run, I ended up losing 3 more flies in a variety of ways but managed to catch two fish. Neither was the monster I imagined on my drive. Feeling relief after catching the first two fish, I settled into a better groove for the remainder of the morning but only managed to bring two more trout to net. They were beautiful browns, but none were larger than 12 inches.
Driving home I was grateful for my time on the river, but I realized I am limiting myself by returning and trying to catch the “ghost.” It may be in the reach; it may have moved on, but I am stuck. One evening earlier in the week, I spoke to my friend Mark and talked through areas to explore along the same stream. Instead of seeking the adventure of a new reach I went with my old haunt. Next time I’m going to explore and leave the ghost to rest in peace.