Saturday, September 20, 2014

Breaking the Drought, Fishing Drought

For the past couple years I've been trying to work myself out of a fishing drought, the kind that comes about ever so often for those of us who's livelihood doesn't depend on it. Life gets in the way and fishing time seems to fade into the woodwork. For me this one was brought on by a move from Wyoming to Colorado Springs and yet another knee reconstruction. Before I knew it months had passed between outings, something that has been a rarity for decades.

You would think that just getting back on the water is all it takes to break that kind of drought. In a way it is because just being in or on the water is far better than life in the concrete jungle that is urban sprawl. After growing up and spending the majority of my life in rural north Texas just living in an urban neighborhood is difficult enough. Take away the ability to get away from it on a regular basis and wet a line and a level of insanity starts to set in. The houses and buildings start to close in, spaces seem smaller than they really are and this fishaholic gets a bit grumpy.

Luckily things have started to ease up a bit and I've been able to get out weekly for the past month. The first time out recently things were pretty exciting. Some really nice fish were stalked and hooked but rusty playing skills made landing them a more difficult proposition. Over the years I've told myself that getting a wary trout to take a dry fly is all that really matters. When getting out regularly is the norm that's true enough but while trying to break a drought it's really nice to get them into the net. Add to that the combat like jockeying for good runs on this particular river and frustrations start to build. But take a deep breath and it all works out in the end.

After being crowded out of the more luxurious runs the best plan of action is to find a river section that doesn't attract as much attention. I did that and it happened to have a pod of eager risers. The down side is that the holding pockets are small with multiple conflicting currents making good drifts difficult. The trick to fishing pocket water like this for the first time is to try and work out positioning to get a decent cast and drift without spooking every trout in the pod. All you can really do is take it easy and not get into too big a rush then hope you don't blow it too badly.

After stopping in and hitting this section three consecutive weeks I was able to land a few of the lesser trout from the easier positions. Two weeks ago a river acquaintance and I fished over the regular pod of trout and landed some of the smaller ones but couldn't induce a strike from the king of the hole. It was a nice trout that looked to be in the 18" range. After giving the hole and that particular trout a break I circled back to give it one more try an hour later.

Leaving my rod in the truck I made my way down the bank hoping that at least one of the earlier risers would still be there. I was thrilled when I spotted the one good size trout we couldn't get to take sitting right in the prime feeding spot. Ten feet out from the outer bank of a long slow bend in the river there is a rock, boulder really, the size of my easy chair that splits the current. Ten feet or so downstream from that boulder is another that is slightly smaller than my easy chair right on the bank that causes the current to turn back into the river. To add another wrinkle there is an ottoman sized rock flanking that boulder that splits that current. The trout was sitting just ahead of the ottoman in the back edge of the eddy caused by the front boulder off the bank.

After returning from the truck with my rod I decided to set up in position and either land this trout or put it down and do it on top. By this time all but remnants of the earlier BWO hatch had disappeared. The trout was clearly visible just off the bottom and clearly feeding but seldom on or near the surface. There was a smattering of BWO's, caddis, PMD's and midges on the water and in the air. Cast after cast it would move slightly to inspect certain patterns and even follow some for several feet closely inspecting the fly until the conflicting currents dragged the fly away or the wary trout just decided it the fly wasn't right.

Two hours, countless fly changes and even more casts later that trout took a BWO E-Merger with all the confidence of a steady riser taking on the first cast. In the course of those two hours I had settled my feet between a pair of large rocks. Once hooked the trout immediately shot out into the main river but try as I did I could not get my feet to move from where they had become lodged. As the trout turned to head downstream I applied pressure and held it in the rushing current for a short time before the size 20 hook pulled lose. The trout sank into the current and disappeared.

I returned to the river this past week with intentions of trying for this trout again but found another angler already fishing on that section of the river. Not wanting to crowd the already present angler I headed on downstream to one of the more luxurious runs that was surprisingly open. It wasn't too long before being crowded out of that run so I returned to find this section unoccupied.

Like the week before I took a quick look sans rod to see if the trout was present. It didn't take long to spot it finning gently just where I hoped it would be. Returning with rod in hand several minutes of observation revealed the trout feeding just as it had been the week before. The question was what fly to try first when a small caddis whizzed by on the light breeze coming down canyon. Question answered. Leisurely Stringing up my rod another and yet another caddis flew by confirming fly selection.

Getting into position I dropped the fly short on the first cast. Stripping more line from the reel I false cast to the side confirming the proper length for the second cast which landed right on the current seam as intended. As if in slow motion the trout lifted from the bottom, turned and took the #16 tan elk hair caddis with complete abandon. The usual antics ensued and for the next few minutes nothing else existed in the world.

Weeks of effort were on the line, literally. I followed as it moved from one current seam to the next trying to get downstream of my position. Every time it leaped I held my breath until I could feel the line tighten, the rod bow and the weight of the trout was once again transmitted into the palm of my hand. Using a limber, 3 weight rod and 6X tippet pressuring a hard fighting trout across current wasn't an option. Eventually I was able to herd it all the way across the river into a slow moving side channel.

Even with a long handled net far larger than I normally carry while wading this feisty rainbow was able to avoid three attempts at netting it before it finally rested in the soft nylon bag. Shaking inside normal breathing rhythm returned as I admired the bright colorful trout that had eluded capture until this moment.

After snapping a pair of photos I eased the net into the calm pool where we had ended our struggle. It took only seconds for the trout to reorient itself and swim out of my net. It had been just over a year since I had landed a hefty trout. It had been much longer since a single trout presented such a challenge. It always strikes me how tunnel vision sets in during certain fishing situations. The rest of the day went well enough. I did hook and land other trout, one of which was the same size and fight but it didn't carry the same impact. I don't think I'll return to that river for a while, there's really no point.

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