I was floating with some friends, not guiding, just fishing together. Everyone had caught some nice trout including one really nice rainbow that was a personal best for the angler. I had spent a lot of time on the oars, more interested in watching my friends catch fish than fishing for the most part. For one section, though, I was willing to give up the oars for a short 200 yard stretch. A large brown had shown itself repeatedly on previous trips, and I was determined to catch him.
Sure enough, as we were drifting peacefully along, I suddenly saw a
In the end, there was nothing anyone could do because it was over before I even had much chance to think. Both the rower and myself had done everything right (or at least had not done anything obviously wrong) but the fly simply popped out.
The next day on the river, I was floating with my buddy Tim and his friend Andy. They scored what may well be the Double of the Year. That was the highlight of the day at the time, but something else would prove to be even more important a couple of days later. We were floating through an area that always holds a lot of trout. Several quality brown trout were spooked by the boat but that is not unusual. What captivated my interest was one large fish in particular. I made a mental note of where the big fish was hanging out and vowed to return...soon.
On Friday I was finally free. Fishing time for myself always gets me excited, and I took full advantage of the lull in my schedule. Getting to the river right as the water was dropping allowed me to get in and start fishing before the crowds got too bad. I worked my way down to where I had spotted the nice fish. Another angler was nearby so I didn't head right in to fish for the hog.
My original plan was to fish with a dry fly and midge dropper but the higher flows made that difficult. Soon I switched over to an indicator rig which allowed my flies to get down to the level of the trout. That brought some results, but still not the big trout I was hoping for. Finally, after one particularly long drift, my indicator shot down and when I set the hook a big fish immediately started cartwheeling. The pink stripe told me that I had a big rainbow trout on the end of my line. In between the jumps, I was able to turn the fish and assumed I had a good shot at landing it. Then, suddenly, it started to take off, and I could no longer turn it.
About that time, a drift boat edged in behind me and dropped anchor. I turned to see my good friend David Perry jumping out with a net. Suddenly, my hopes revived. I might have a chance with a little help.
As I slowly fought the fish, I realized my problem. On one of the jumps, the top fly had snagged the fish near the tail. In the ensuing commotion, the little midge that had originally hooked the fish had popped free. A 20" tail hooked rainbow is one tough customer. Eventually, I worked the fish in close. Close enough that I was starting to think this might actually happen. Then, the fly simply popped free. There was nothing much to say. David P. jumped back in his boat to continue the float with his two clients. I was left with a memory of a big trout jumping across the river and a screaming reel.
By this time, I was resigned to probably not finding a large trout. Luck seemed to be against me on this week. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and things were definitely not looking promising. About this time, the angler below me worked up a little closer and made some comment about a huge fish cruising around where he was fishing. I knew it was probably the trout I had come looking for but bided my time.
Eventually, obligations pulled him away from the river and I was left to check on the big trout for myself. I waited a little longer as another drift boat was moving down behind me. They moved through the run without noticing the shark lurking under the surface. The fish was still mine. Noticing some risers nearby, I changed back to my dry fly and midge dropper rig to work the nearby fish. Resting the big fish a little more, I finally couldn't stand it any longer and made my way down.
Almost immediately I spotted it. The fish looked even larger than I remembered. Long enough, for sure, but extremely thick. I wanted to catch that trout in the worst way. My position was good for a clean drift. I was up and across from the fish which made a down and across slack line presentation the best option.
I made the cast, tossed a couple of mends and some more slack in the line, and the flies were on their way. The big fish saw my midge and moved confidently over. I saw the mouth open and set the hook...and the fish spooked. Somehow the fly didn't, catch but the fish definitely realized something was wrong. He bolted for cover and disappeared quickly.
Spotting some other trout, I cast to them for a while, hoping for a consolation prize. At this point, I would have been glad to see any fish just to take the sting away from missing such a great fish. In all the excitement I had not really noticed, but now that I wasn't focused on the big brown trout I noticed that my toes were numb. This helped me to remember why I never wet wade on the Caney, even in the heat of summer. I considered heading for dry ground to let me feet recover some warmth and then glanced back to where the large fish liked to feed.
This sounds unbelievable, especially if you know anything about large trout, but the big brown had returned and was again chowing down on midges and blackfly larvae. Fate had intervened to give me another chance. Not willing to risk having someone come by and spook the fish, I quickly made an almost exact replica of the previous cast and drift. The fish moved over again and inhaled my flies, and this time the midge stuck firmly in his jaw.
I almost regretted fishing my 7'6" Orvis Superfine Glass rod at this point. The four weight was no match for the big brown as far as power was concerned, but in the end it was the soft tip of the glass rod that protected the 6x tippet long enough to give me a chance to land the trout. The fish quickly ran me almost into my backing while I stumbled along down the river behind, walking on numb feet and slipping on the algae covered gravel and small rocks. Throughout the fight, I had to remind myself to keep the rod tip up. My arm was getting tired!
Finally, after numerous last minute surges, each of which made my heart stop, the big brown trout slid into my spacious net. Even in the big net this fish looked big. It was also very heavy. I stumbled towards the bank, keeping the fish in the water as I went. Just then, a passing canoeist asked if I would like a picture. He didn't need to ask twice. This blessing enabled me to get a couple of excellent pictures of the big brown, something I probably couldn't have accomplished on my own while keeping the fish in the water well enough. When I measured the fish against the net, he stretched out to between 23 and 24 inches. That made the picture that much more meaningful: this was my personal best brown trout on the Caney Fork. Thanks again to Bob Mansolino for kindly stopping and taking a picture for me!
Photo Courtesy of Bob Mansolino
When I released the fish, he swam off strongly. I'm already planning on catching this fish again in the near future, or better still, helping one of my friends catch him. After losing all those fish last week, redemption was sweet. While I had been fighting this big brown trout, I promised myself that if I landed the fish I would call it quits for the day. After watching him swim off, I remembered my numb toes so keeping that promise was even easier. I walked away from the river while the sun was still well up in the sky, completely satisfied with my few hours on the water.