To be a certified member of that ancient and noble order of the Brotherhood of the Angle, one must be something of an eternal optimist. After all, what angler, when he expectantly sallies forth to the lake or stream, doesn’t secretly harbor in the back of his mind the idea that today could possibly be the greatest day of fishing in his life? And who among us doesn’t have the eternal hope that the last pool up ahead may be the one that harbors that huge monster just waiting to be caught, or that his last cast may be the one that catches the biggest fish of the day. Indeed, that’s why we make that “last cast” at least a dozen times before grudgingly putting our rod away for the day. That optimistic spirit was definitely in play on the day of the following tale.
It was early summer and I had just received a “new” antique reel that I wanted to try out. It was a Hardy Perfect from the 1930’s, the quintessential high-end fly reel of that and many a succeeding decade. Made in merry old England, it was a desirable collector’s piece and there are fanatical collectors out there who can tell which one of the over 100 variations it was just from the sound of the click. But I always like to use the reels in my collection, so I put on a 3wt silk line and mated them with a willowy 7’ bamboo rod and planned to go in search of brook trout, one of my favorite prey. The night before I had carefully put a new coat of flotation wax on the line, an ancient and sacred ritual of yesteryear that your grandfather and possibly father remember, if they were fly fishermen.
Early the next morning, just after sunrise, I eagerly ventured forth to the nearby stream, which shall remain nameless for obfuscations sake. Suffice it to say that it was one of those little clear, cold mountain streams, born from hidden springs way up in the Catoctin highlands, that cascade down the mountain amongst tunnels of mountain laurel and rhododendron in an epic series of achingly beautiful waterfalls, plunge pools, and riffles, to finally flow easily on the flatland below. There was a parking area on the side of the road so I pulled in, geared up, and went downstream aways so I could fish my way back up to the car.
It was finally warm enough for wet wading so, unencumbered by waders or hip boots, I fished the pocket water and small pools heading upstream. I prefer to use dry flies almost exclusively for brook trout, so I was fishing a small Royal Coachman, about size 18. I managed to catch and release a couple of beautiful brookies in the 5-6” range, which was standard for this stream, but the action was sparse.
I had gotten back to the parking area and was tired and hungry and ready to call it a day when I saw something I hadn’t noticed before, a deep pool right below the cars. It looked to be about 3’ deep, which was unusually deep for this stream. Being right off the parking area, it looked like it probably had a larger population of beer bottles than trout. But I thought I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye, so I sat down for a few minutes to watch. There, in the middle of the pool, I saw a large fish rising.
After excitedly watching the fish rise a few times and figuring that a larger fly would catch a larger fish, I tied on a size 12 elk hair caddis. I approached the pool from downstream, staying far enough away so as not to spook the fish. I nervously started false casting and letting out line so I could daintily drop the elk hair caddis in the pool where I has seen the fish rise. Before I could do that, of course, my excitement got the better of me and I got caught up in a tree behind me. So I went back, retrieved the fly, checked the leader, and sat down to compose myself a little before making another attempt.
Finally, it was time to try again. Sneaking back up to within casting range, I again started letting out line, being extra careful to avoid any hangups. When the proper amount had been let out, I dropped the fly into the middle of the pool. There was a quick flash and large splash and the fish was on! I could immediately tell that this fish wasn’t the standard 6” brookie. It even crossed my mind that it may be an errant rainbow trout that had somehow managed to get where it shouldn’t be. It put a big bow in my little rod and did a few laps around the pool. I moved up past the tail of the pool so I could bring it in. I had to be careful, as I was using a 7x leader. When I finally and oh so gently coaxed it to the bank, I saw that it was a gorgeous brook trout about 12” long! I was surprised, since I didn’t know that they got that big in these tiny streams! After snapping a quick picture, I carefully unhooked and released him back into the pool, hopefully to be caught again another day. I sat down on the bank to rest and feel gratitude for the fish, the stream, and the day. So, I guess the moral of this fish tale, and yes there is a moral, is to fully embrace that eternal optimism that is part and parcel of the true fisherman’s character. Fish that last pool up ahead, even if it is right by the parking lot. Stay on the stream just a little longer, even if it is getting dark. And make that last cast as many times as you can. You never know when it will pay off and, after all, that’s the whole point.
By Kevin Haney