If there is ever a time when there's not something to do that's needs doing, I don't know when that is. However, sometimes on these winter days – mornings in particular, when I'm sipping coffee and watching light snow fall while redpolls and grosbeaks try to clean the sunflower seeds from the feeder – I get to sort of daydreaming and recollecting some of the times I've had; the game I've taken, dogs I've followed, fish I've hooked, things I've seen. Whether we mean to or not I think we all head for the woods and water more for the memories than anything else, though we may not admit it. Recalling those memories is good for the soul and gets our minds off the other stuff, which in my case is the firewood I should be cutting and the bookshelves I said I'd build.
Lately I've been thinking about a rainbow trout. A certain rainbow trout that I came across over a year ago. Chris, Scott, and I were working our way down a little wilderness river that required us to wade and pull our raft part of the time and relax and drift with the current the rest of the time. Even in the shallowest riffles there was always a narrow deeper run next to the cut bank that held rainbows, dolly varden, grayling, and spawned out red sockeye salmon. I believe it was the second day of the trip and we weren't making a lot of progress because there were just too many good places to stop and fish. I suppose fishing from the raft was possible, but it just wasn't for us so we'd beach it on a gravel bar and proceed in our waders. We'd often get pretty spread out and sooner or later one of us would go back up and get the raft.
Scott and Chris had wandered downstream out of sight so I hiked back up and brought the raft down. I found the two of them casting into a nice stretch of water so I floated by them and landed the boat just above a narrows. With rod in hand I walked the shoreline through the narrows and came upon the prettiest little plunge pool I've ever seen. The pool may have been thirty feet long or it could have been less. I don't believe it was any longer. No telling how deep it was but the first five or six feet were crystal clear before turning a opaque aqua blue with it's depth. The river fell into this pool, settled, and rose up again to form a rapids at the tail end. Tangled willows lined the banks. I could have sat and peered into the water on another day, but we were all caught up in a deep-in-our-bellies kind of latent frenzy to catch more fish.
Fishing a very ordinary egg-sucking leech pattern and enjoying extraordinary results, a short cast was dropped into the current feeding the pool. I watched the black bodied fly with pink yarn head slowly sink as it drifted through the pool. I don't know if I've ever seen a fly so clearly in the water and it was interesting to see if nothing else. It reached the end of the pool and I lifted and cast again. Again the fly drifted slowly, it's rabbit strip tail pulsing with the easy current. Then it happened.
Out of the aqua depth rose the trout. An outrageous trout that made my breath stop. Never had I seen a trout so large, so colorful, and I was to find out, so wild. The fish rose under the fly to within inches. Apparently unimpressed and relaxed, it lazily turned away and eased down out of sight. I stood there slack-jawed wondering if I'd seen what I'd just seen.
I may have been shaking or not, I don't know the angling equivalent of buck fever, but I was half laughing when I called upstream to announce what I'd come across. Can't say my companions heard my words but Scott could tell something was up and he grabbed the net and started my way.
My mind was racing, wondering if I should add weight, change flies, or try a different approach. The trout wasn't spooked, though, and I was too excited to do anything other than cast again. I can't remember if Scott was close enough to see the fish appear again but this time it opened it's mouth took the fly in no hurry, like, I suppose, it had taken hundreds of meals drifting through the pool. It's a miracle I didn't jerk the fly from it's mouth. As a matter of fact, I think everything went right and I lifted the rod to see the fly grab the corner of the rainbow's mouth before feeling the tug. “Got 'im.”
Scott was next to me now and the fish bore deep before racing up to the surface to jump and head downstream. We watched it all and because of a hefty leader I was able to bring the fish back to the pool where we saw it dart back and forth before peeling line and aiming downstream again. I pulled as much as I thought I could. The trout pulled back. Scott readied the net.
A couple of attempts with the net proved futile – too soon, the outsized trout was just beginning it's fight. Back and forth with the fish of a lifetime! Oh, I wanted to land this trout, get my hands under it's sagging weight and peer at the brilliance a truly wild rainbow wears; to measure it, with Scott's help, and verify this fish was indeed 30 inches or better. Keep calm, keep pressure but not too much, tire this monster of a trout and bring it to hand. Would the leader hold? The knots slip? The rod snap?
The fish was downstream in the current but coming back and would soon be ours. Scott had the net low and ready but at the last moment the powerful rainbow shook it's head and suddenly turned to accelerate away, with no return. The popping sound of monofilament a harbinger to a moment of silence. Scott held the empty net and I looked at the limp line dangling from the end of my rod. What went wrong and what could have went right? It didn't matter. I hooked and played the fish until it escaped. It wasn't the outcome hoped for but was the outcome handed to me that day. And another memory was made.
I don't know if I'll ever get back to that pool – it's not an easy place to get to and takes some time and effort to pull off – but sometimes I dream about returning and camping on the bar just above that very hole where I'd stay and try for that big trout until satisfied bringing it to hand or convinced I never would.
Well, there were a lot of rainbows caught on that trip, but none that compared with the one lost, though as the days passed we floated into bigger water downstream and came into absolutely huge dollies and soon after found the reel-screaming silver salmon. There were bears and caribou and wolves to watch and I hardly gave another thought to the one that got away. If I try I can recall other big fish in other places that I might have landed but didn't, and there will probably be more in the future. But that one rainbow trout stands out as a great fish in a great place, and that's the one I'm thinking about now.