On a whim, we decided it was the perfect day to float the river. The name of the game was salmonflies, and our plan was to toss big dry flies in an attempt to entice a quality trout to feast. Aussie Mickey, Belen, and I rotated between working the oars and casting the big bug close to the banks. Hummingbird-sized naturals buzzed around us as we drifted downstream. It was not only the perfect day to be a fly fisher, but it also felt like it was the perfect day to be alive. Birds were chirping, the sun was out, and we had the usual Montana breeze to keep us comfortable. When I set out that morning I had one goal in mind: catch a quality fish on a big salmon fly dry pattern. “Just one”, I told the guys, “just one big eat from a quality fish.”
Early on, our day was mostly about fighting through the wind with our casts and with the driftboat, untangling our flies from the bushes when we tossed them too close to the bank, and listening to Mickey raise his voice in frustration each time he missed a fish. Wave-trains came and went, and we fished on. Every time we passed an overhanging bush someone would say, “There has to be a fish there.” We knew it was only a matter of time until that statement would ring true.
Over the years I have discovered that there is a vast diversity among fly fishers, and their angling goals. Some anglers are out to catch as many fish as possible, some want to catch only big fish, and others are in it just for the sake of being outside. And, some anglers have more elaborate goals such as catching a specific species of fish, maybe on a specific body of water, or on a specific fly. Goals vary and change regularly, and it is not uncommon to change them multiple times within a trip.
The more I am out on the water the more I find myself in pursuit of new (to me) goals. If my varied pursuits have taught me anything it’s that fly fishing is not always about catching high numbers of fish. Don’t get me wrong, I love days where it seems like I can’t keep the fish off of my flies even if I tried. But, fishing for numbers isn’t the only thing that makes this sport worthwhile. On this specific day, for example, I was pursuing one specific “eat” with one specific fly.
Mickey was on the oars, Belen was up front, and I was pulling duty as the “tailgunner.” We were coming upon one of those infamous fly-hungry, overhanging bushes. Mickey slid the boat into position as we approached our target. “Get it in there! Get it in there”, Mickey repeated. Belen took the first shot and barely missed what we all thought was the feeding lane. It was my turn to take a swing. We were halfway past the shadow being cast by the bush. This was my window. I plopped my false Pteronarcys down on target and it floated into the shadows right off the bank. All of a sudden there was a wake and a fish’s body halfway out of the water coming at my fly. It hit the dry like a freight train and before I even had time to think I was locked in with a fat female brown trout. We all jumped and hollered with excitement as I fought the bulldogging fish.
With that “one quality fish” on the big bug in my hands I found myself overwhelmed with satisfaction. We conducted a quick photo shoot as I held her in the water to regain strength after our brief encounter. I admired the sheer beauty of this fish. Her buttery-brown skin glistened in the sunlight and her belly spilled over my fingers, filled with salmonflies. She swam away as quickly as she ate my fly leaving me with wet hands and an incredible memory. After multiple high-fives and a few moments of reliving the event we pressed on downstream. We rose a few other fish that day, but nothing compared to the strike of that brown beauty.
No other feeling in the world compares to the feeling of accomplishment. That feeling of being on top of the world and nothing on Heaven or Earth can tear you down. To me, that feeling is one of the main reasons why fly fishing is such an addictive sport. As anglers we find ourselves in relentless pursuit of fish, and often times that pursuit is riddled with failures and near successes. It’s these trials that make the successful days that much more satisfying, because we know how much work it took to find ourselves in those moments of triumph. On this particular summer day I found myself basking in triumph. From the moment we launched the boat that morning I knew what I wanted that day to be all about. That day was all about the eat.