Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On the Dangle

The word "dangle" has two definitions that meld together as one while swinging big flies for big trout. Definition No. 1 is to hang or swing loosely. Definition No. 2 is to offer an enticing incentive. For the fly angler, the dangle is that magical time when the fly is hanging loosely at the end of a swing and undulates just enough in the flowing water to entice a strike from a giant trout that had followed the fly through the current.

When a trout hits on the dangle it is like being grabbed unexpectedly by the arm by an old friend while walking through a dark hallway. The adrenaline rushes through the system, a moment of confusion and then joy. The adrenaline is caused by the sheer weight of the fish. A nine pound steelhead crushing a loosely hanging fly can rip the rod out of the arm of the relaxed angler who is focused more on the next cast than the likelihood of a strike at the end of this one. The confusion is caused by unexpectedness of the strike. The drift is over. The fly is just dangling there. Sure you've gotten strikes on the dangle before, but that doesn't mean you expect it on this one. After all the fly has already been dangling for a bit -- maybe it's just a few seconds -- so why would the fish hit now. Should I let it dangle even longer? Using that logic would I ever cast again? No, it's time to cast again. No, I should wait a few more seconds. And finally the joy arrives because you've got a big fish hooked. It's the perfect way to end a long day.

I'd promised myself that this would be a one-and-done steelhead commute. I'd swing through the pool just once and if I hooked (and landed) a fish I'd head home to pack for the conference in Cincinnati. One pass through the pool or one fish. The low-angled sun had already dropped below the cliff upstream and my uninsulated legs were starting to go numb in the 36 degree water. The conditions were perfect for swinging; melting snow added to the flow and gave the river a heavy green tinge. The weighted, black bunny leech hooked on the bottom only twice as I swung through the top half of the pool, and though my casts were ugly they were getting better. As I headed into the back half of the pool I wondered whether I should break my promise and try a second pass. I looked downstream at the fly line hanging in the current and wondered what I always wonder at the end of a cast, has the fly dangled enough? Then the steelhead hit. She rolled on the surface nearly 15 yards downstream. I tightened down the drag and worked the fish back upstream. Usually the long spey rod provides plenty of leverage and the fight is relatively short, but this fish was sturdier than most and put a large "C" bend in the rod as she ran upstream and I tried to turn her back. After a few anxious runs, I landed her in the shallow water. I removed the hook from the corner of her mouth and eased her back into the current. I picked up my rod and went home to pack. Thinking about the dangle.

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