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I’m not inclined to tell fish stories, but there are times…
Last year, during Hendrickson time in the Catskills, Roger and I decided to try a favorite pool. We were on the river about 15 minutes when the first Hendrickson’s appeared and fish started to rise. Leaving Rog at the head of the pool where he’d hooked a large brown the previous year, I moved down to a slower section, where large trout have been known to feed. It is a bit tricky to present a fly here because a tree hangs over the water; the trout feed next to the bank, making drag an issue due to different current speeds.
When I’m in place, I notice that the hatch has picked up a good number flies. Then, next to the bank, there’s riser! With a #14 Hendrickson knotted to my tippet, I wait. It’s my job to get the fly under the tree and close to the bank. My first cast is accurate, but suffers with “drag.” The next cast is better; no drag, and the fly floats on, a nose appears before the fly disappears. I tighten and all hells breaks loose.
The fish immediately heads down river and jumps, ripping line from my hand. I’ve hooked a number of large trout in my life, but none like this! At the end of my leader is the biggest trout ever—my heart starts to pound. On the first run, it takes about 70 feet of line; I follow to keep out of the backing, then it is back upstream. I reel like crazy to gain line; next it’s back down, and on it goes. I’m using a new bamboo rod from Chris Raine in Northern California. It is an 8-foot 3-inch Spring Creek Special. This is its first fish.
The tug of war goes on for about 15 minutes, and I sense the fish is tiring. I call to Rog, and ask him to bring the net. He wades in below me, net ready. The fish is near the surface and uses all its weight to hold against the pressure of the rod. For the first time, I think there is a chance. Suddenly, my fly line goes limp as a very exhausted trout sinks into the depths. At that instant, I thought, “the tippet broke.” Upon inspection, I find a series of little curls where my fly was. The knot slipped! A bone head mistake and entirely my fault.
Fast forward three days: Rog and I, the same section. I’m by the tree again, and a fish is rising in the same spot. This time I have Chris’s 8-foot 6-inch rod. I cast to the rise, get the float right, and I’m into another very large trout. There is no jump this time, but I can tell by the weight, and the length of the runs, that it is another heavy fish. Rog is waiting with the net, but this fish doesn’t fight as long. He nets it and when he holds it up, I see what a huge brown it is! We carry it near to shore, place the net in a shallow area, to keep the fish immersed, and measure. It is 24 inches, and we guess it’s more than four pounds. When I turn the fish over, ready it for release, there is a #14 Hendrickson in its jaw—my fly from the last trip.
So to a degree, I’ve been avenged. The River gods have smiled upon me, but in the future, I’ll always be sure to check my knots.