Is there a fish in this water? Will I catch one? It’s these questions that bring hope and wonder to the process of fishing. Sight fishing changes things. We see a fish, cast to it, and because we have eliminated the one giant variable that we are constantly dealing with when fishing, we expect to catch the fish we see. Or at least our frustrations peak when we don't. It's called sight fishing for a reason, but the observation has just begun once we find the fish we’ll cast to, and there’s wonder in hope in that as well.
We've all been there. Sometimes it's hard to remember our beginnings in fly fishing. We can forget the things we take for granted. When I began fly fishing I was "dry or die" out of ignorance, not preference. The mechanics of fly line, leader, and tippet were foreign. Tactics were nowhere in my crosscheck. I wish I had learned so many things, so much faster. The importance of a natural drift. Getting my flies down while nymphing. When to switch flies, or just switch water. And so many other tools I have picked up and am still gathering. About the only thing I had going for me was reading water (thanks Pop). But that's part of the journey isn't it? Filling the toolbox. Still, being in that place, and seeking progress, made a kind word of advice from another angler that much more special.
On the surface Phil’s experience on the Dream Stream and my own seems anything but similar. Phil Tereyla is a professional fly fishing guide, born and raised in Colorado, who loves targeting big brown trout on the Dream Stream section of the South Platte River. My time fishing the Dream Stream was twenty years ago, as a beginner fly fisher going to school in Colorado, who was more concerned with catching ANY fish, let alone big browns. But the Dream Stream gave us both something very much the same. A challenge. And a hope for a great fish, that could only be caught by embracing that challenge.
We all go to the river for different reasons, but there is a solitude we all seek from fly fishing. In some way, at some time that solitude haunts us. Through the patterns of wading alone in the natural world we come to know ourselves. That experience is a treasure. Shall we give up on it because of pressured waters? Or will we keep walking?
Nymphing had been good that morning. Enough takes and a few landed fish combined with being back on the South Platte River in surprisingly relative solitude made the sun seem a little warmer on my skin. When the blue winged olives began lifting in clusters across the river, I was reminded of how picky the trout can be on the South Platte and began slipping slowly into soft head shaking head and a smile that was part frustration and part commitment to figure these fish out.
We saw their tails first, walking up the river with hands on boulders, and watching the water with each careful step a little further ahead. They swayed in the current. The river bottom was gold pebbles. At first squinting helped pick out the black spots on their backs. A touch of blue swirling in the seam just behind the eyes and then long red that waved like flags planted in the stones. I cast to them while my friend watched. Beautiful rainbows in a beautiful canyon. He moved back to the sand along the bank and watched while I made my casts. Standing there, he waited, then moved upstream around the bend.
“There’s four nice fish in this hole.” He said it as we pulled over along the side of a narrow dirt road. I did not ask how he knew. I am a bit envious of the fly fisher who knows a stream inside and out. Those that have re-caught fish. That know all their spots. Where they tuck in behind rocks or sway downstream from dead drifts. That name the trout they catch. Each day on the river is still discovery for me. Maybe someday I will know a stream that well.
I had two goals on the river that day. First, catch trout. Nothing new there. Second, scout a place to take my five year old son fly fishing. My first objective influenced the second. Thus, I drove the shortest distance possible to a Colorado trout stream and sought a shallow stretch of water that would be close to the truck and fish well.