Monday, September 20, 2010

Back into Cold Water

Sunday had me off work and on the road. Ronnie (his blog here) and I headed out early, leaving STL at 4am. Anxious to get there, I didn't exactly obey all posted speed limits, and the places where it wasn't posted I just made up my own. We were nervous about the rain having screwed up the water to some degree; it poured and stormed the night before and was still raining when we left. A handful of miles down the road revealed that we would almost certainly be fishing rain-less, and later found out that it had barely rained where we were headed.

Montauk is a drive for us, at least on the way back. Somehow when headed there it always feels about an hour away, even though its actually more than twice that, but leaving feels more like five. We made good time on the "Rollercoaster Road" that marks the last stretch and pulled in early. Way early. We usually give ourselves 30 minutes to rig up and get our spot before the buzzer sounds; this day we had more like an hour--start time changed to 7:30 Sept 1st.

While we waited very impatiently, talking and making plans for future trips trying to distract ourselves from the wait, we couldn't help but look intently around. We each sighted fish immediately, but the real game was studying them and having a particular 'bow selected to work once that damn buzzer did sound. The minutes ticked by with watch-checks every 30 seconds or so to confirm that time really had slowed down. We knew our fish--had a good idea of each's personality, habits, behavior and feeding lanes. The only thing we didn't do while waiting was name these fish. When the buzzer sounded (40 seconds late, by the way), we loosed our flies from our fingertips, cast and immediately began watching the drift that we had pictured and planned for the past half hour. Before the buzzer stopped sounding, we were both almost about to release our first fish of the day. Oh yes, this would be a very good day.

I don't want to paint the picture that I am a superstar trout fisherman who has any clue what he's doing; I really don't. I'm a warm-water transplant everytime I go trout fishing, and a lot of what I do out there is just imagining these trout are just oddly shaped BG, asking myself, "What would a Bluegill do [i.e. WWBD]?" Even in my novice, greenhorn status I started getting bored with the action in the park. Ronnie did too. The fish are very uniform in size, fairly predictable, too damn numerous, and too well accompanied by other fish hunters. In a simultaneous glance, quick nod, and immediate stowing of gear, we were off. We headed to the Catch and Release area for some bigger, tougher fish. We found 'em. Well, Ronnie found the bigger fish; I found the tougher fish.

Ronnie hooked up with one of the bigger trout that haunt that spot and I got called over in an excited voice for a photo. I ran over ready to assist and capture the moment. It was fun to watch him slide the fish onto the reel and fight him off that, plus this fish put up a spectacular fight with a lot of cycles in and back out.

He landed the 18" bow, lost his hopper in the onshore battle that ensued, and released it back.

He landed the bow relatively quickly; he's a good conservationist and knowing this was a C&R area wanted to make sure the trout would easily recover. So the onshore action was as lively as the water-fight; amazing how powerfully these fish can "wriggle." As he slipped back into the water, he immediately and confidently swam off--always a good sight. You don't have to be a good conservationist to at least gain some respect for the fish during the fight to land him, but it doesn't hurt anyone when you already are.

I landed a few there, none very large and all hard earned. I fished another small section and unhooked some number of trout that seemed to be addicted to small C-backs and Bob's Flys; what a hoot! I nearly landed a real hog, but net-less had him break off my 6x when I dipped my hand down to him.

We left the C&R area altogether after two very non-conservationist males (they were grown, but hardly "men") showed up and began to be human weeds. One set up directly behind me and made it difficult for me to cast and dangerous for him to stand. I didn't move and didn't catch him; a testament to my strengthening casting skills I suppose...and my stubbornness. The boy over by Ronnie was a little more offensive: he hooked into a nice rainbow and proceeded to rail it in and intentionally drop it from chest-height onto the concrete access walk. He just dropped it! On purpose! Another quick glance and nod between Ronnie and me and we were off again.

We moved to two access points outside the park that we know have Browns, fewer but bigger bows, and far far far fewer people. More our style.

We split up as soon as we hit the water; Ronnie stayed upstream to work a beloved pool and I ventured down. As I walked out of sight I soon became all by myself on the river. I reached a great looking pool bordered by a riffle, and since we were after Browns, I stopped for some casts. I looked at the water, hoping to at least see some signs of life, a rise or shadow maybe, and saw a flash of some real color. It was the largest bow I had seen at this access, and may stay that way for a while. I was intimidated by it, even if only by the brightness of its color. The overwhelming desire to hookup with this fish set me up for massive disappointment, I knew, and I had just lost my last EH Caddis that, until I lost it a few casts earlier, had been terrorizing the far bank. I inspected my little #18 Humpy, willing it to be Caddis-like and prepared myself for the disappointment as I stretched out a cast. The drift brought the little Humpy just on the far side of the bow and I saw him rise, turn, and sip it off the film. You're kidding!

I was happy to be on 5x, but I still went to the reel after two screaming runs stopped my heart. The fight lasted somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes, plenty of time to lose that fish. Weighing the exhaustion level of the fish in the balance of landability and health, I brought it in for a try (remember, I'm net-less today). Nope, not even close to ready.

He tore off again, this time dangerously into the fastest part of the current. As I worked him out back into calmer stream, he eyed a nice downed limb. Sure enough, he fired down the current, looped back under the tree and paused long enough for me to wheel around and begin dealing with the problem. We were both upstream of the limb, but the line took a terrifying track downstream to it, under it and back to the fish. I momentarily tried to pull the fish back downstream and under the limb, but didn't want the strain on the already-tired tippet that would have created. After a second or two of stalemate, I decided I had to act and moved down to the limb, loosened my drag and threaded my whole rod under the limb and back up out of the water. I was losing to this fish, but had at least I was back on level ground in the fight.

I tried again to hand-land him, and this time was successful. I looked hopefully upstream for a sight of Ronnie to return the photo-favor, but I was alone. Totally alone. It hit me then that this entire episode that had completely defined and filled my life for the past 10 minutes had been completely contained to one small area of the stream and just two characters--the fish...and me. I struggled to cradle the fish and snap a few photos and rushed to get him back into coldwater for some reviving spa time.

A minute or two in the calm flow was enough, and this trout that had been the only life I knew for a bit was ready to swim off. I gently lowered my hand from underneath him and he took position just beside me to finish his rest.

I stood there and admired the view for another few minutes, and then we both left. I went back upstream in search of Ronnie...and we were off again to the next access point (which will probably end up as Part 2 to this post).


  1. Excellent post, Buddie! I wish I coulda been there but I'm glad you caught the big one! Way to go!

  2. Will
    You have walked where I would have loved to have been. I am glad you was able to get into some nice trout, with some great looking scenery. Enjoyed the post. My offer still stands on the invite to fish for the spots on Smith when you are down this way again. Spring is the very best.