I am constantly surprised by the river. It keeps me busy. Tying on flies and tippet and casting to a fish, watching for a strike, I can forget that nothing on the river is certain. I begin to expect some things out there are the same. It was a day like this that the Chewuch River and a small rainbow trout reminded me that the river is never the same.
Only the deep pockets and faster water around boulders keep you from freely traversing the Chewuch’s passage down from the Cascade Mountains. I had waded out as far as those barriers would allow, fishing along the other side of the river.
I saw the fish. I knew that at least. He swam in place, methodically swerving out into the faster water with a quick flip of the tail, eating insects that traveled down from around a bend in the river and a large stump that made the pocket of slow water that he returned to and lingered in until the next step out into the current. The water melded his movement into the stones and riffles.
He appeared neither big nor small, but like every trout, he seemed worth catching.
I cast to him, working my flies closer to the edge of the stump and a longer drift that would carry the nymphs downstream for long enough to give the fish a chance to see their approach.
“You didn’t like that one, huh?”
A wide smile grew on my face. I picked up the line and cast again.
“How about this? C’mon buddy”
Another cast. I fished this way, watching the line travel to him and timing the invisible fly to where I thought it might meet the trout and entice a bite.
I saw the flash before the strike indicator, and I knew he had taken my fly when I raised the rod tip. A tight line and a nice little rainbow hung on the end. He splashed in the fast water and moved back downstream tugging my line in the seam. A little more fight and I lost him.
I reeled in, reached out, and gathered the line with my free hand. The tippet had broken, and both my flies were gone. I should have kept an eye on it, but I had not suspected. The fish had not been particularly large. I was more disappointed that I had allowed myself to fish with weak tippet, than to lose the fish. I tucked the butt of my rod under my armpit, pulled up the line to my chest and my nippers and snipped off the tippet completely. I used a new spool of tippet to be safe and then got busy tying on a set of the same flies that were lost.
He was gone now, like my flies, but I cast to the same spot. It was not a large seam from top to bottom, before it met another rock, and broke off to another pool, so I would fish it completely and methodically. A cast beyond, on top of, then short of the break in the current where the fish might be. Two careful steps down stream and repeated. Wading this way, I fished every place I thought a fish might lie.
This time I did not see him in the water, but my strike indicator was good enough. It was another nice fish, and he fought like the one that got away. Except this fish made it to my net.
I squatted in the water and my used my pliers to remove the olive hare’s ear. I had lost a grey version of the same fly earlier. And then I saw a grey nymph on the other side of the trout’s mouth. I began to laugh. I laughed hard and long, so that twice I dipped the net back in the water to keep the fish wet.
I never thought it was possible to catch the same fish, but that is the way it goes. We wade the river expecting one thing and it gives us something else. The only thing we can ever really count on is that we cannot count on anything. Maybe that is part of why we love it.
I am constantly surprised by the river.