Originally published Sept. 28, 2019
We drove along the Provo River looking for a good spot to stop and fish. From the passenger seat I caught glimpses of the water over the guard rail between the curves in the highway.
A dilapidated concrete bridge spanned the river to a railroad track that ran along the far side of the river. Boulders steeply sloped down to the water on both sides and rail ties filled a small yard below the bridge where the river wrapped around and sped up, opening to riffles and finally slower water.
“Up here?” I asked slowly.
My father touched the brakes, slowed the car and slipped over the white line to park in a small pull off beyond the span. The sun was dipping below the canyon walls. Without much light left, this would be as good a spot as any.
I stepped out of the parked car and we both laughed as I threaded the rods from the floorboards, careful not to tangle the lines or hook the seats where they crossed and jutted out the back window.
Crossing the bridge seemed like the right thing to do. Grass was growing from the cracks. It had been blocked from vehicles for years.
Standing on the railroad track on the other side, my father asked, “Whatchya think?”
“Walk a ways?” I replied.
“This spot looks good but okay.”
“Yeah, just a little.”
We walked a hundred yards downstream examining the river before I stopped, and he looked at me. We both looked at the river.
“I think we should go back and fish that spot.” I said.
We crossed back over the bridge and followed a small footpath along the retaining wall of the highway to smaller rocks and stones that became a sand. I waded out from the sand downstream of my father. He fished a white dry fly closer to the water below the bridge. I could easily see it on the water.
My seam was the edge of slow water. The current was fast along the opposite bank and I hoped to find fish where the two flows met.
I tied on what they said in the guide shop. Then the next. Casting across and upstream with one large mend and then smaller ones.
My father did not call out when he hooked up. He does not call out on the river when he catches a fish or moves spots. But I saw him with the bent rod.
When I fish with my father, I watch him, so I know when he has hooked up or moved on.
A nice rainbow jumped from the water. I reeled in faster and ran against the current towards the shore to drop my rod and help him land the fish. I was not wading and I was struggling to move without stumbling. Rushing to help land his fish. I had the net and I knew he was not waiting for me. My shin smashed into a rock under the water, but my legs were cold so it did not hurt. That night it would hurt badly, but by then there would be beer and a nice bed, and the river had iced my legs without waders so now I kept moving towards him. He had a nice fish and I had the net. My shin throbbed.
After he fought it, the fish splashed on the surface as I scooped him into the net. My father stood holding the rod and I crouched down and removed the hook.
He bent in the river and wet his hand as I lifted the net with a rainbow trout arched. He pulled it from the net and held it out as if to bring it to focus. It bent in his hand. I was close to him so that when the fish thrashed about, I stepped back and watched it fall and splash again in the river we pulled it from, and then it was gone.
“Was that on a dry?” I knew it was a dry.
“Yeah. Let’s catch another.”
I went back to my rod and my reel on the bank and waded slowly back to my spot in the river. I knew there was fish there. The drifts were good. There had to be fish.
I had been dedicated to catching fish on dries. The trip had been for dry fly fishing. We hoped to have great fishing with dries. I tied on another. The casts and drifts were solid, but no luck, and the fly became harder to see as the river began to embrace the shadows and fade darker into the coming night.
“I’m switching to nymphs.” I hollered. He cast again. I cupped my hands. “I’m nymphing.”
His narrow brimmed cowboy hat nodded. It was too late for him to switch. He knew I would fish here until dark. That was our last day.
I was down to the end when I found a fly that changed my luck and gave me a theory of fly selection that I took with me. It was a lonely fly. A big, bright, lonely orange fly. It had no characteristics that I looked for in a fly. I had never used it and forgotten how it found its way to my fly box beside the other nymphs. The orange scud.
Back then, I kept only a few scuds in my fly box. The fly shop had mentioned scuds, and pointed out some good patterns that might work. I had tried them all, without luck. The ones they offered were smaller and more tactical than this clumsy, silly fly that I knew would not work.
I pinched the orange scud from myfly box, then paused. I should not tie on this fly. I tied it on.
No time for droppers. I was hunting for a fly and running out of time.
The water was deep where I was fishing. I had all the spit shot I needed and the strike indicator sat high on the leader. My fly would reach the fish in the bottom. I made sure I cast far enough upstream.
At first it was the same. Then a slight pause in the strike indicator’s drift and a hook set. It was a soft take, but the rod bent after the orange scud caught the in trout’s mouth.
My father had come down to watch. It was too dark for him to see his fly and I was catching fish now. My father loves to watch his sons fish. I believe he goes more to watch us than for himself. He will row and travel and search with us. And fish.
He watches my brother and I fish with a full heart and pride that comes from knowing that he brought us to the river years ago, and like him we go back.
As light continued to fade, I set the hook more by feel than sight. Raising the rod tip and pulling the line tight just slightly. Predicting and guessing the takes. The hook sets were light. If I missed, I would let the fly settle and keep drifting. Missing, then letting it go. Sometimes I connected on the second hook set. I brought them to shore or held them up for my father before releasing them. Almost all browns. Nice fish but no monsters. I did not need a big fish. Before I had nothing and now a long shot on a new fly was working like magic.
I landed a nice brown and called to my father, “Come check this guy out.” He walked over and looked down at it with me in the net, in the water.
“That is a beautiful fish.”
I did not answer him. He knew I agreed. I crouched in the water and held it lightly, just above the net on top of the dark river. It was the most beautiful brown trout I have ever held. Because it was brighter, and more vibrant. There were more red spots and those were blood red. And because it was the last day and because of the way it had played out.
I fished until it was too dark to fish, and then I still fished. When the cars headlights made shadows on the cliffs, I stopped.
We walked back carefully in the dark to the car and drove down to the hotel. That night we drank beer and ate pizza. My shin hurt badly. We talked about the orange scud and laughed as we re-lived the story. We remembered the beautiful brown that becomes brighter and bigger and more special every time it is recollected.
There are times on the river when admitting that I do not know as much as I think pays off. It pays off other places in life too, I’ve found. On the river, though, letting go and trying something new somehow makes fly fishing more rewarding. I know that there is nothing certain on the river and that liberates me to try new things. What worked one day may not work the next. Every cast is different. Every drift.
Sometimes it pays to try the orange scud. That is the Orange Scud Theory. Even if everything inside you is telling you that it will not work, do it. You might just catch some fish. Wadeoutthere.
When did you try something new that paid off? Share in the comments below.