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Make the Cast

This is a short blog about the fish that got away. Some of the guys around the Shop call it the LDR – Long Distance Release.  Really, though, this blog is about the cast.

Public lands are our lands.
Earth Day, 2022. Public lands, public landowner.

Friday on the Arkansas River in Bighorn Sheep Canyon was a beautiful early Spring day. In the morning, the winds weren’t horrible; I’d describe them as breezy with an occasional attention-getting gust. I had just purchased a 10’ Orvis Recon and was enjoying my second time out with it. The morning was productive throwing FB pheasant tails and Juan’s High Def Baetis.

 A little off-color but what a great stretch of river.
A little off-color, but what a fun stretch of river.

One More Run

On my drive out, I decided to fish a stretch of river upstream from Pinnacle Rock. The river narrows through a short, boulder-lined channel, and then tails out into a run that is usually pretty productive.  I kept nymphing for about half an hour but the fishing had slowed in the mid-afternoon.

Looking west up the canyon, later in the day, the mountains were somewhat hazy by dust in the air, so I knew the winds had become stronger.  In addition to this steady wind, gusts every now and then blew my line downstream, the strike indicator tugging at the line, and mends were of little use.

Across the tailout, maybe thirty or forty feet (considering the length of my rod), a fish was steadily rising right in the foam line. He moved up and down stream maybe about five feet either direction, but he was steadily rising. Friends kid me that if I see even just one fish rise, I will switch to dries in a heartbeat.  I gave myself some credit here. I waited several heartbeats before I tied on a caddis to throw to the rising fish. 

In all honesty, and I know honesty is contrary to the stereotype of anglers stretching the truth sometimes, I didn’t think I could get a cast to him. There was enough brush behind me that a big back cast was nearly impossible. Any roll cast I tried, I came up short by about three feet of the foam line. And in this off-color water, I wasn’t even sure what he would take.

That fish, though. My casts were finally reaching the foam line. The challenge was anticipating when I could make a cast between gusts. A few of my casts, carried by the breeze, had fallen downstream of the rising Brown. 

The Cast in the Foam

Finally, I had the cast right in the foam line, right in his feeding zone, and I watched as he took the fly. The Fight was on.

You know by now that I lost the fish. I managed to move him through the current, fought him through a run he made when he reached the deeper channel in the middle, and guided him through a small rock garden near the bank. He was larger than I suspected, 16” or so.  As I turned him toward the bank and reached for my net, the line sprung back and went slack. I may (or may not) have cursed. No, I’m pretty sure I did. 

In his short story, “Big Two-Hearted River,” Ernest Hemingway writes about Nick Adams losing a big fish. “The thrill had been too much. He felt, vaguely, a little sick, as though it would be better to sit down.”

I didn’t feel sick, but, man, that was a nice fish. “God, he was a big one. By God, he was the biggest one I ever heard of.” I’m not sure about all that with this fish, but he was a beautiful fish.      

I reeled in my line and stood on the sandy bank holding the fly in my right hand and the rod in my left.  The adrenaline rush that came with the thrill began to fade.

I didn’t think I could make that cast, in these conditions, to achieve a natural drift. I looked downstream and imagined that fish hugging the bottom somewhere in that rock garden.

What I want to remember is the cast. In that moment right when the Brown took that fly, everything came together. Sometimes we define success on the river in ways not captured in a grip and grin.

Instead I took a picture of the foam line.

It almost seems better this way. 

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