Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sight Fishing Stress

Sight fishing for trout pushing 10 pounds can be -- to say the least -- nerve wracking. Fly anglers on Elk Creek are used to having their nerves rattled. The freestone stream clears quickly and holds an inordinate number of steelhead -- of the synthetic, but substantive strain.

On Saturday the creek was clearing as the afternoon sun moved across the treeline on the far bank. I expected to start to see fish moving through the narrow chutes and cuts that appeal to steelhead as they move south through the creek that has a bottom that is mostly flat shale. Fresh steelhead -- thanks to their olive back and silver sides -- are almost invisible in slightly murky water that turns green as it clears.

Most of the deep holes -- too deep and murky to see into -- held fish, and as I walked from one hole to the next I kept checking the chutes, but all appeared empty, and my drifts came up empty. Inside a narrow cut in the shale, a trout showed itself by moving its tail. A waving tail is often the only hint that the appealing dark spot is actually a fish. Of course fast moving water can create an optical illusion that persuades the angler that the rock is a fish. And after a dozen or so unsuccessful drifts through the run, I was beginning to wonder whether the dark spot was fish or fractured bottom.

I peered hard into water, hoping to cut through the glare and reassure myself that I wasn't wasting my time.

I adjusted the weights trying to make sure I was getting to the bottom of the cut without getting snagged. Each drift came up empty, adding to the anxiety. It had to be a fish, didn't it. Why wouldn't it take my fly? I was debating whether to move on or change flies when I finally got the drift right. The fish moved, inhaled the minnow fly and its head shook in response to the Mustad piercing its mouth. The shaking head sent vibrations up the line, through the 10 foot fly rod and up my arm. Anxiety turned to adrenaline as the steelhead rocketed out of the water and peeled line off the reel as he headed downstream.

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