With its missile-shaped head leading the way, the brown trout rocketed out of the water several feet in the air. It splashed down into the South Platte River and took more line. Standing just upstream from the Deckers Bridge hip deep in Ray's Run I did my best to stay calm. I thought I was doing OK, but then the line went dead. No longer was it transmitting signals from one of God's more beautiful creatures. Instead, there was nothing. I had the deep sinking feeling then -- which proved hours later to be all too correct -- that I was once again going to test the theory that real fishermen just like being on the water, catching fish is secondary.
When it comes to stream trout, and sometimes steelhead, I test that theory more often than not. The first time I fished with a guide, he kindly pointed out that he could only show me where the fish were, he couldn't land them for me. He made the observation after I'd lost the third or fourth steelhead of the day. While I've gotten better at landing steelhead over the years, I still need a lot of work on stream trout. I fought a half dozen or more fish in three hours on the South Platte, but not even my able guide Jesse could help me land them. Each time the hook pulled out after unremarkable runs. I could blame dull hooks, but as my fingers can attest they were plenty sharp. I could blame bad knots, but the lines always held strong. I could blame the added pressure of trying to land a trout so my wife could try out who new Nikon, but that's really not any pressure, at all. Simply put, I'm not that great when it comes to setting the hook, and I'm worse at fighting fish...particularly if the hook size is 18 or smaller.
I could cite my lack of practice ... of late I've only been able to stream trout fish a few times a year. In two trips to the South Platte this year I've landed a few fingerlings and have lost more than a dozen nice trout. I had a much better ratio in a recent trip to State College, Pa., but nonetheless the skill is lacking.
All I can hope for is that once the steelhead show up in the local rivers that my performance improves.
Now about that saying that fishing is what matters, not catching. Don't believe it for a moment. The point of fishing is to land the creatures we spend our time pursuing. Sure I love the places where trout hang out, but I choose not to simply hike (or stand in) the streams. I fish for a reason. To catch fish. Not catching fish is understandable and part of the experience, but it's not nearly as much fun.