I eagerly approached the hole, my heart beat quickening as I scanned the water. This could be it! Large downed cottonwood, deep run beside it, narrowing to a chute between it and another log, rootwad facing me, creating a holding spot for a large trout. Throughout the day, we had been finding trout in slow, deep water, taking shelter from the record high water of days past.
It was the end of a long day, that began at 8 am. We had battled incessant rain, cold weather, high water that stayed high, and mud in the water as it rose. The other two fishermen and I had caught a few fish already, with some really nice 20" fish, but no true hogs. We were on the last water of the day, and we were finally finding some pockets with more than one fish in them. The color had gone back out of the water, leaving it almost clear. Ron had just lost a fish that I estimated at 24". I got a very good look at it as it stopped 6" short of the net before turning back into the stream and throwing the hook! We had a final hole to look at; one that promised deep water and some breaks in the current. Everything was different, so it was with bated breath that we approached the final corner, hoping it would hold fish, and be fishable.
The downstream edge of the hole looked great. Sweeping turn, then a split to left and right, with logs edging the outer edge of the left turn, and a classic riffle/drop on the right bend. Both pools were small, but easily fished and very promising. One angler set up on each; I continued upstream.
There it was! A new channel forked off into the woods across the river from me. A beaver splashed downstream, warning me away from its newly built dam. A fast run beside a fallen, limbless tree trunk, funneling into a chute between it and another downed tree and its towering root mass. The chute ran another 15 feet before spilling into a slightly wider pool, then opening into a small pool created by a beaver dam and flood debris at the tailout; perhaps 100 feet away. It would be a tough spot to pull a fish from, once hooked. The log on the left was floating over a deep pool, with drift debris stacked along its left side, and the deep run on its right. Downstream of it the beaver pond extended into the woods, with only a guess at the depth of its black, leaf shrouded waters. Access to the log was cut off by swift water flowing 4 feet deep and sweeping underneath the log. I couldn't cross, either, as the current was swift and the channel, though narrow, too deep. Even if I could cross, the log was away from the bank, and downstream of the log was a deep pond spreading between trees where the bank used to be.
I like to look at what's downstream of me when I fish. As fish tend to run downstream, it pays to have a plan before hooking up. The only option I could see was to stop the fish's downstream lunge, and get far enough upstream of the root mass to guide it across its face into the slower water of the pool to its left.
I began to cast, keeping my line of drift to the inside of the log in front of me, and just inside the cluster of brush that loomed out of the depths beside it. Because of the brush and reaching tentacles of another log beneath the large one, I couldn't drift as close to it as I'd like, and the path of drift took me into the downstream root mass instead of beside it. I repeated the drift, mending the drag out of the line, feathering the path of the indicator past the roots, instead of into them. Suddenly, just before the point of no return, the indicator stopped, and I lifted the rod. Fish! I stripped and reeled furiously, trying to keep tension on the fish, and put the line back on the reel! I still hadn't felt the fish, and had no idea what it would look like. It was moving upstream, though, which was great!
It was very near my rod tip, now, and I began to put the power of the rod to it. The rod surged downward, and the fish turned downstream, rolling toward the surface as it did so. I gasped. There was so much of it! It disappeared again in the depths, and surged away from me. Just as it hit the pocket by the roots, it turned, holding. My rod pulsed, the taught fly line singing in the rushing water. The fish shifted toward the side, and the mess of limbs there. I countered by shifting my rod, and it returned to the center of the chute. Slowly I worked it back upstream, then I began to wade upstream as it cooperated. If only I could get enough space between me and the root mass, when she turned downstream again I could guide her across its face and into easier water! There! I felt elation surge through me as I widened the gap, and when the heavy trout turned downstream, I held my rod to my left, guiding her that direction. She was running hard, nearly at the narrow passage between the shallow riffle and the root mass, and then she turned back into the deep chute. And kept going. Down the second log, nearing the final tree before the river widened into the beaver pond. I frantically weighed my options. Can't go left; no way to get onto the log. Can't cross; get swept downriver, and no shallow water to eddy into if I'm swimming. Upstream: its at least a hundred feet, and black water between the gravel and the log. Making the crossing would tangle my line in the end of the log, too. I'm trapped; the only way to land this fish is to force it to swim back to me!
Mark had arrived at the scene, and began watching the battle. He left his rod ashore, and waded out toward me, 16" capacity trout net at the ready. I was so focused on the fight I barely acknowledged him. I didn't even laugh at the pitiful inadequacy of his net! The fish turned, but was tiring, so stayed broadside to the current as she turned. My reel sang. I changed rod angles, trying to bring her head around and get her to dive. She turned, but wouldn't dive. I pushed my rod into the water, nearly touching bottom with it. It worked! I gained line, feeling the tension ease, and reeling in some line. Lifting my rod, I quickly submerged it again, as her weight began taking line again. I gained more line. I had gotten her back upstream of the roots again, and now I moved back upstream, too. I considered trying to bring her to net in the fast, deep water at my feet, but quickly gave up that line of though. The current was too swift, her weight too great. As she swam upstream, she slowly crossed the stream, nearing the shelter offered by the downed log. Suddenly she was amongst the brush; the submerged branches of a small willow. My heart sank; I eased off the pressure, and tried to guide her back downstream. Amazingly, she cooperated! The bush hinged my leader; I could see the pressure of the branch upon my line, and the golden flank of the trout as she hovered below the bush. She slowly dropped back downstream, and the line suddenly straightened as the branch released it. And now she was back in the chute, laying in the black depths at the base of the roots. Mark watched, waiting his chance to net this fish, enthralled by the battle.
I slowly moved her back upstream, trying ever to bring her across the face of the root mass. It was a narrow slot, perhaps ten feet wide, 4 feet deep, between the shallow gravel I was standing on and the roots. In the middle of this slot lay a bare tree trunk, perhaps a foot in diameter, with its base buried in the gravel and its tip lost in the roots. I had to lift the fish over this tree as she swam through the slot.
Suddenly I had my chance! She turned downstream, and when I moved my rod over my left shoulder, she swung with it, swimming fast across the face of the roots! I did it! She was headed into the other hole, the one that continued downstream, with a bank I could follow, albeit I would have to scramble over several logs and thread my pole around some outthrusting trees, but she was swimming where I wanted her to! Then it happened. I saw the trout rising toward the surface, thrashing her head to and fro, the line angled up from the bottom, trapped beneath the log. I let tension off the line, rushing toward the log. I thrust my hand into the numbingly cold water, feeling for my line. It was now that I could see there was no free end to this log. The only way to free the fish was to bring her back under the log, hoping she didn't break the line with a sudden burst of energy, and that the wood had not frayed and weakened my line. I grabbed the line, and felt no tension. My heart sank. Not like this. Not after such a fight!
I pulled in a few inches of line, then I felt a twitch. YES! We were still hooked up. I pushed the line down the log, into deeper water, and slowly pulled it toward the pool. My net hung tantalizingly close to my left hand, and now the fish was right there, a foot away, struggling against the hook in her mouth. The temptation was there, i might be able to do it! But I kept pulling on the line, and suddenly felt the tension from the log release! It was just me and the fish again! I quickly stepped back, guided her to the left, and put tension back on my pole. Now Mark had seen the fish. He looked at his net, then the fish, and said nothing. Squaring his shoulders, he eased toward it. Now I spoke..."use my net!" Then- "I just have to untie it!" I had a much bigger net, only it was hooked onto my vest with a double half hitch. After 11 hours of fishing in the cold and rain, with adrenaline surging through me, I attempted to untie my net with my left hand. Amazingly, it came free! I quickly handed it to Mark, who then moved toward the fish. The fish was now on the surface, so close to the net! Agonizingly, though, every time Mark would move toward her, she would lazily turn her body, and the current would force her further into the pool.
Mark was getting deep, and I had no control of the fish. Her weight and the current were too much! I told Mark to move into shallower water, and move left; I thought I could gain a little line and swing her that way. It worked! A sudden lunge, and mark had her in the net! By this time Ron was watching, too, and we all watched in awe as Mark came over with the net. What a fish! There was no net shrinkage. She was legendary.