To my surprise the phone rang. The wife had given me a pass to fish the day away and I was easily a mile or so away from cell reception, cooling my feet in the crystal clear waters of a local spring creek. I’d already brought a few fish to hand, no biggins, and was prepared to continue on into the depths of the woods and into prime trout territory.
The water sparkled in the noon time sun. Air temps reached just shy of the 70’s necessitating my trusty neoprene waders to shield me from the frigid waters I plied. It was early April and after a low snow year runoff had subsided. At the lower end of the valley the stream ran through recently reclaimed pasture land, thick with prairie vegetation still crispy and brown from last fall. Further upstream the river carved through the woods, flanked closely on both sides by steep rocky bluffs. The water flowed well within its banks over cobbled limestone. I was interrupted just as the hillsides closed in and the stream flowed at a higher gradient as it tumbled through the forested valley.
My wife’s voice quivered as she fought tears to explain how our dog, big momma Beazer, had swallowed a drumstick bone which she snitched out of the garbage when the wife’s attention was away. She would need to head to town to have an ultrasound taken to see if the bone would pass naturally or if some other means were indicated. This would cost $300.00, no small sum for a lowly social worker. Not good news but the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, the trickle of the stream flowing around my legs, and the promise held around the next bend softened the blow.
I continued on for an hour or so, periodically casting to and landing average sized trout on small dry flies. In the back of my mind I worried about what a medical extraction of the drummie would mean for our modest savings when again, the phone rang. The sun passed behind a cloud, the wind picked up, and temperatures dropped. My wife explained that the bone was lodged in the puppy’s gut just so, requiring emergency surgery.
She would have to take big momma to the cities as no other services were available locally (it was a Sunday). I asked her “the damage” she replied, “you’re not going to like it “. I didn’t. It would cost an additional $1200 for the procedure and a drive to the cities, a five hour round trip. Before I could pick my head up and ask she said, “it’s ok you can keep fishing”. Again, this softened the blow. The cloud passed, the winds died down, and temps rose. I continued prospecting the water as I headed upstream $1500 poorer. All those sayings that I use at work comforted me as my mind tried to loosen focus on the financial impact of Beazers indiscretion. Sayings like “it is what it is” and “we’ll just do what we have to do” and “things will work out, they always do somehow” soothed me.
After landing a few more cookie-cutter brown trout I decided to tie on a streamer. The fly I chose was a simple leech pattern tied with a tungsten bead head and buffalo hair.
Continuing upstream I found heaven. Held back by the largest pile of sticks, branches, twigs, and muck I’d ever seen the stream pooled. I climbed onto the beaver dam. To my right a massive beaver hut sat along the shoreline which plunged into the depths. Huge boulders flanked the bank and ran all the way to the bottom. The right bank was clearly not fit for travel. Between the banks lie a massive pool, around 7 or 8 feet deep which ran stagnant toward the tail and slow near the head. Three or four large boulders were spread out evenly from head to tail. The water was a transparent, chalky, greenish color. Big fish stain! On the left side, my only real option to navigate, the forested bank was steep. I was forced into the chalky gray muck to access the prime lies. At the mid point a large tree hung over the pool, buds just beginning to open. Branches hung into the water forcing me to wade out onto the mucky slope. The sun was high and the pool danced with glints of a golden glare caused by the disturbance created by my wading.
As I approached the sketchy zenith of my traverse there they sat. On the bottom of a mucky delta in front of me, in about four feet of water, sat two massive brown trout big enough to eat any one of the fish brought to hand until now. One fish was clearly larger than the next. Amplified by the angle and the water I’d guessed they both were in the mid 20 inch range, a true trophy trout and for many a once in a lifetime driftless spring creek catch. My heart lept out of my chest as I struggled to maintain balance. I slowed the rate of my traverse to an imperceptible shuffle to avoid spooking my weary prey. I began to contemplate my plan of attack during my slow approach.
Because of the tree stretching overhead my back cast was impeded. A roll cast would certainly spook the pair. I couldn’t wade any deeper. Hmmm. As I imagined a number of impossibilities both fish, with a swift flick of the tail, bolted into the depths along the opposite shore. I lost sight of them along the submerged boulders ahead of the beaver hut (which sat opposite of that damned tree). My heart sank into my boots for a brief moment before returning to its anatomically correct position, when the smaller of the two fish slid back into view. Although my casting lane was diminished I figured a gentle roll cast (a near impossible maneuver with my soft, medium action rod and a waterlogged, tungsten beaded streamer) would work. With the flick of my rod the fly plopped ahead. After whipping a few feet of line out I reached up, tilted the rod back, and as soon as the line slacked, rolled a cast above the trout. He didn’t move as the fly bounced along the bottom past his face. I repeated this cast with the current carrying each opportunity past the fish at slightly different trajectory. I tried the dead drift, the slow twitch, the fast twitch, the moderate twitch, the long mend, the short mend, I stood on one foot, I closed one eye, I crossed my fingers, I said a prayer but nothing would entice the fish to eat. I was not about to give up.
Finally, after a cast and drift no different than the others the trouts mouth opened, the fly disappeared, and the fish shot forward. The fish ran hard to the head of the pool and before I knew it he was on the reel. He put a serious bend in the four weight as I struggled to turn his head out of the current way at the head of the pool. I managed to turn his head and he drifted back toward me. I was astonished to have the fish come calmly to hand after so quickly. This fish marked my largest brown trout! My hands shook and my heart beat out of my chest as I fumbled with the camera.
After a fast photo session I placed the fish in the water and supported his belly to aid in revival. He immediately launched back into the depths. As I washed my hands of his slime I spotted the other, larger trout drift into a somewhat fishable position.
I though no way could I land two massive trout on the same day, from the same pool. I couldn’t make another impossible cast without spooking the beast. Not in these conditions, with my heart rate through the roof and my hands shaking in the afterglow of such wonderful luck. Not after Beazer and the chicken bone and the newly drained savings account. Of course I had to try!
I stripped a goodly sum of line from my reel, enough to start a roll cast. I reached back and flicked the fly forward, caught it mid air, and sent it behind me into a false cast. I stripped and cast line until my sidearmed backcast became impeded by that damn tree. I hopelessly launched the cast and tossed another four feet of line which the four weight smoothly delivered just ahead of the resting giant, but to no avail. I tried again. And again. And again. I considered continuing on, feeling bested by the beast, but decided to give it a few more casts, thinking how often do you get the opportunity to sight cast at 20+ inch fish in the driftless?
Finally my cast landed just right. The fly dropped percipitisly toward the shadowy figure. It felt like hours before the fly approached him but it felt right. My body was just recovering from the adrenaline of catching the last fish when my pulse again quickened and my hands resumed shaking. Just before the fly bonked him on the forehead I pulled the line around 6 inches causing the fly to jump up and across the trouts field of vision, only inches from his crooked face. With a flash of his mouth and a sharp jolt through the line and rod and into my hand the fish struck. I struck back by yanking the line harh and pulling the rod back, sinking my hook into the fishes protruding jaw. He took off like a bolt of lightening doubling over the 9ft fly rod and threading line through my fingers. In a flash he was on the reel. We played chess as he drove for submerged rocks and logs. He noticed the beaver dam and with a powerful gesture pulled me in that direction. I knew quickly that this was the largest trout I’d ever quarreled with, and wiley as well. I countered by dropping my rod to the left, then right, and back, and forth applying side pressure to control his furious head shakes. After an eternity I called checkmate and the brute came to hand (and leg).
At well over 20 inches this was my new personal best brown trout, landed only five or so minutes after my previous personal best! With adrenaline coursing through my veins, my heart pounding through my ears, and my hands shaking to the point of worthlessness I fumbled the camera into taking a few awkward pictures before releasing the beast. The fish hung his head in defeat as he slithered back to the bottom of the pool I had conquered. With my head held high I hiked out of the bush, knowing that despite ending the day considerably less financially secure many fishermen would pay much more to travel to an exotic location, take weeks off work, and follow the expertise of a guide to best, then best again their personal best!