The foam hopper landed inches from the edge of the large boulder, momentum carried the nymph a little further and it bounced off the face of the rock and settled into the jet of water accelerating past the obstruction. The hopper moved slowly with the current until the motion of the nymph pulled the dry fly into the same flow path, like a frustrated parent leading a tired toddler by the hand. At first excited by the accuracy of my cast and then disappointed by watching the dry fly dragged across the surface of the water, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Within less than a second I reopened my eyes and worked to locate the fly on the surface. I quickly found the fly and as soon as I found it, it quickly sank beneath the surface.
My disappointed mind dismissed the submerged dry fly as an indication that the nymph had snagged a rock or hidden log. I lifted the line to set the hook as if it could be a fish despite my skepticism. The line went tight, and I felt the vibrations in my fingertips of an obvious head shake. Skepticism turned to jubilant excitement as I could tell it was a good-sized fish. It neared the surface in its attempt to escape the hook and line and I could see it was brookie, likely the biggest brook trout I’ve caught. The excitement moves into another level for which I can’t find the word.
It was likely my personal best brook trout. That sentence alone should tell you all you need to know about the remainder of the story. I moved my feet to safely keep me upright on the rounded, slippery boulders just in time for the brook trout to leap in the air and dislodge my hook from its mouth. I went on to catch several fish and have a great day. But the one that got away lingered with me.
Later in the day, after I arrived home, I described my day fishing to my wife. I briefly spoke about the beautiful, peaceful setting and the several nice brown trout I caught and then I said the words that really sparked her interest. “I hooked a really nice brookie, but I lost it, it likely would’ve been my personal best.”
“Why do you say that all the time?”
“Say What?” I really had no idea what she was talking about.
“Every time you tell a story about a fish you lost; it is always ‘likely your personal best.’”
“It is? I don’t…” I knew not to say anymore because it was true.
Our exchange stuck in my head. Why was it that I held onto and repeated the stories of fish I lost? What was my perspective that those fish I lost (at least the ones I talked about) were all big fish? I know ego has something to do with it, but I forced my mind to go to science!
Refraction is the process by which light passes through one medium of a certain density, into another. This causes a change in the light waves and the perception of the viewers. So, there may be a scientific explanation for this phenomenon. The index of refraction of water is 1.33, while the index of refraction of air is 1.0. Therefore, as a person peers from the air into water, an object could appear up to 33% larger than it measures. This may not be exactly how it works, but it’s close enough to lead against the ego argument.
The underlying argument is that all fly fishermen are liars. This may be one saying that doesn’t need to be rendered ungendered. There are multiple books with the title, including the wonderful collection of stories by John Gierach. Men have been prone to exaggeration on almost any topic for almost all time. Defining your fishing prowess by telling fish stories has become an analogy for many other points of exaggeration.
I can’t always tell if I’m more of a romantic than a cynic, but I have moments of each. So why do I think I hold onto and tell the stories of the fish that got away? I wrote previously that lingering on lost fish can keep us from appreciating what we have in life. Now I think it may just be holding onto hope that there is more to learn, more to gain, and bigger fish to catch. The hope brings us back and makes the stories of the fish caught, against many times of struggle, so much more satisfying.