As far as days go, you couldn’t ask for much prettier. The clear blue Utah skies let the sun shine uninterrupted over the river valley, and the occasional breeze kept the temperature in the comfortable low 70’s. Nearby, the soothing sounds of a softly flowing river weaved their way through the trees at the water’s edge, and each gust of wind made the grassy fields sway in waves, sending clouds of freshly hatched Caddis flies airborne. In an adjacent field, a herd of Alpaca grazed silently. Their methodical feeding halted only occasionally as they raised their heads to see where the one unnatural sound was coming from. Somewhere in the field ahead of the herd, violent coughing and hacking, with an intermittent gurgle was erupting from the grass.
MY violent coughing an hacking.
One of the billions of Caddis flies had managed to find his way straight into my lungs while I was walking across the field. Dressed in full saltwater fishing apparel (I own nothing else), I crawled around in the grass in a futile effort to hack up my lungs. Tears began to stream down my face as I struggled to breathe and eventually an Alpaca came near the fence to see what all the commotion was about. He silently chewed his cud and with an unblinking stare, he watched me struggle on the ground for a few minutes.
A fitting end, I suppose. Who would have ever seen this one coming? Slain by a rogue Caddis in the Utah desert, with no one to witness it except an emotionless cousin of the camel from the Motherland (my mother is actually from Peru). It’s a death none of my friends could have predicted, although…Now that I really think about it…I doubt any of them would have been -that- surprised by the event.
But as you may have guessed since you’re reading this, I eventually managed to dislodge the foul beast from my windpipe, wiped the tears from my face, and thanked my Alpaca friend for the help. I then grabbed my fly rod and set off to do what I’d intended to do all along: Fly fish for Brown trout.
Having lost my shoes in a fly fishing success story a few weeks prior, I was still running around barefoot. And by running, I mean carefully and deliberately taking each step, only cursing wildly every once in a while when my foot found a thorn. The river I was fishing -looked- fishy, but at this point of my trip I still had no idea what I was doing. None. My only real hope was to just get out there and try it. So I cruised the bank until I saw a decent looking hole, and walked down to begin casting from a rock. Almost immediately I noticed fish rising. BIG fish. Every once in a while it seriously sounded like someone dropped a bowling ball into the water when I fish hit something on the surface. Now remember, I’d spent the past 4 weeks fly fishing Montana in a very long trout lesson that resulted in only a handful of fish. So imagine my surprise when I big brown took my dry fly on the 3rd cast.
The fight was on and I immediately realized something: I was outgunned.
My 3 weight fly rod simply didn’t have enough *umph* to get these fish out of the current. The fight honestly took over 5 minutes before I managed to get the fish to the bank. And it was then that I realized I was missing a vital piece of equipment. No, not my shoes…ok…Yes my shoes…But something even more important: A landing net. I splashed around barefoot in shin deep water for what felt like an eternity before FINALLY grabbing hold of the fish. I honestly couldn’t believe what I was holding.
My first Brown! I’d fished so long and hard for trout the past few weeks that this just seemed…Easy. Maybe it was just a combination of things. Higher water levels. Different fish. Different river. Different hatch. Shoot, even I can admit I’d learned what to look for over time. Maybe I was actually getting the whole “trout” thing down pat? Regardless, I soon revived the fish, and started fishing again. With the same result. Just a few casts later I was hooked up. To an even bigger one.
Given that I barely landed the last fish, I pretty much had no chance with this one. He bulldogged his way into the current, and then just sat there. Had it not been for him slowly moving further up current, I would have thought I’d hooked bottom. Sadly, my hook eventually pulled, and he swam off. But was it really this easy? It was only 3 in the afternoon. Was this about to keep up the rest of the evening? Excitedly, I stripped out some more line, and executed a flawless cast about 8 feet up a tree on the far bank and broke my fly off.
Fantastic…I thought to myself as I began to dig through my fly box for a clone of my lost fly. And it was then that I realized…That was the only one of it’s kind that I owned. Nothing else I had was even -remotely- similar to it. I tried everything. Nymphs, hoppers, you name it. Nothing was working like my long lost fly.
So I sat there on a rock and drank some water. All the while contemplating what I should do. Busily watching fish feed in front of me, I was startled by the sound of something crashing through the bushes behind me. Suddenly a man came staggering out of the bushes. An old man. A REALLY old man. Dressed in waders and a wide brimmed hat, he was toting around a 6 weight fly rod and had the overall look of an old fly fisherman. The creases around his eyes and forehead showed the signs of a man who’d probably seen it all, and slightly crazy from it. Not from life in general, but from fly fishing too damn much. It’s estimated that every three hours spent fly fishing is frustrating enough to take a week off of your life expectancy. Given the man’s limp he was sporting, as well as his overall appearance, I would have put him somewhere between 80-127 years old. But he crashed out of the bushes as gave me a big smile as he approached.
I was surprised to see someone there since I hadn’t seen a soul since I arrived, but we began to chat and he told me that he’d been fishing just about all day and hadn’t had the first ounce of success. I told him about my varied luck and he commented about how crazy I was for swinging just a three weight on this particular river, but congratulated me on actually landing a fish with the thing. He gave me the usual old man banter about better rivers elsewhere and the whole “it’s not what it used to be” schpeal, and then said he was giving up for the day because he was sore. Why was he sore? This ancient guy had undergone double knee replacements, double HIP replacements, and a shoulder replacement. And here I was complaining about sore bare feet and a throbbing knee from an ACL tear in highschool.
Before he left, he asked me what I’d been using and I answered as honestly as I could.
“Just this little…brown dry fly thing…”
“Oh, like this one?”, he responded, holding up his rod to show me the fly. “I’ve been throwing this all day and haven’t caught a thing yet”
That was it! That’s the same fly I’d been using!
“That’s actually the one!” I told him.
“Well here…maybe you’ll have better luck with it than I did”, he finished, and snipped the fly off to give to me.
I thanked him profusely and he said he needed to get going. I told him bye and he wished me good luck before disappearing back into the bushes. Quickly I tied on the new fly and walked up to a fence that overlooked the field with the Alpacas in order to get further down the river. This field was the only point of access to this river, so I expected to see the man walking back to his truck. But it was then that I realized something…There were no other cars when I parked. I was alone out there. To add to the mystery? The man was gone. Like, GONE, gone. As easily as he’d appeared, he’d disappeared.
Was he even real? It was like the Ghost of Fly Fishing Future. If I kept fly fishing like this, I was assuredly going to end up just like him. Was that what I have to look forward to?
Regardless…The fly was very real. And I proceeded to slay the fish with it.
Still outgunned, I only managed to land two other fish, and lost another 5. Oh, and of the ones I landed? Thanks to not having a net, I managed to finally bare hand a fish before he flopped from my grip, and snapped the line…Money Fly in tow. Just as easily as that fly had entered my world, it was gone. And as far as I was concerned, my day was over.
I learned a lot from my time spent out west. As a die hard saltwater guy, I’d always kinda poo-poo’d coldwater trout fishing. It was something that never really interested me because it was something I knew -nothing- about. Having lived and breathed it for over a month, I can say that it’s something I thoroughly enjoy. It’s extremely technical and challenging. No two rivers are the same, nor are any two days. What worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today. And it’s details like this that keep the game ever changing and keep the angler on his toes. Of course I love paddling out a giant bloody piece of bait for shark fishing here in Florida, but western trout fishing has managed to find its way into my heart, and I’m sure I’ll be back sooner or later to get that fix. Maybe next time I’ll get to run into the Ghost of Flyfishing Future again and thank him, and maybe next time I won’t be outgunned in the desert.