Photo of the Month: Bycatch

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The One That Got Away

Fish stories seem to revolve around the "one that got away" and yesterday I lived that story to the fullest. Being close and accessible, I've been fishing the Caney quite a bit lately. I would prefer to fish in the Smokies or perhaps some of the other east Tennessee tailwaters, but the convenience factor has overruled those desires for the most part in the last couple of weeks. The river is in a state of flux right now and is fishing differently than it has in the past. The numbers of brown trout seem to be up while the rainbows seem to be down.

I've been enjoying the experience of trying to figure out what the fish want which often turns out to be a dry fly! read that correctly, a dry fly... Before you take off for the river immediately, I need to make myself clear. The fish can be taken on a dry right now and most days have produced some good hatches of midges and blackflies. However, actually catching them on dries seems to be difficult at best and requires very light tippets and tiny dry flies. The dedicated dry fly fisherman will find some success but probably just using standard Caney techniques will help you catch more fish.

My standard dry/dropper rig has changed to a much smaller dry, but that is not always the answer. Yesterday I was working a favorite stretch of water where I caught a good fish last week. Moving slowly up the river, I watched for tell-tale signs of feeding trout. A very slight boil on the surface alerted me to the presence of a trout holding in a big hole in the weedbeds. I carefully stripped enough line off the reel to make the cast and started false casting, working out the line as I developed a nice rhythm with my casting. Shooting the last 15 feet of line, the tiny dry and midge dropper gently dropped to the surface 5 feet above the feeding trout. As the flies drifted over where I last saw the fish, I waited expectantly but nothing happened. Then, just as I was about to pull the flies out to cast again, the dry slowly sucked under. "Probably snagged the weeds" I thought to myself but dutifully set the hook anyway just in case.

I have never hooked a freight train but if I did, I think it would probably feel about like that fish. "I've got a big one!" I hollered to my buddy. Upstream, across the river, downstream, back towards me, there was not a single direction that the fish did not run in the course of the next 10 minutes. My three weight fly rod was getting the workout of its life and I think I might have as well. I chased this fish up and down the river unlike any fish I've ever hooked. Eventually the fish started a determined run towards the far bank. Throwing all caution to the wind, I charged across the river after the beast. At this point I was going crazy shouting again that I "have a beast on." My buddy had long since reeled all his line in and was watching me from shore.

Finally the fish seemed to slow down but my concern started to rise as I saw the huge weedbed it appeared to have vanished into. Slowly, I stuck the fish again and again trying to encourage it to come out. The fish materialized out of the weeds right before my eyes and I realized how big it really was. Just as I thought it might be tired enough to come to the net, the fish took off again into a deep hole just below the weeds. I figured it would be just fine if the fish wanted to run around in there for a little while but what I didn't figure on was the next big weedbed that was closer than I realized. Again I felt the dead weight that signals the fish has immersed itself in the weeds. I went through the routine of sticking the fish in an effort to get it out of the weeds but this time nothing would budge. A dark cloud of doubt loomed on the horizon as I tiptoed through the deep water. The cool river was lapping at the top of my waders before I felt the bottom coming up to meet me again with another close call under my wading belt. Pulling straight up with the rod, I still could not see any sign of the fish so I grabbed the net and scooped it through the weeds were my leader and tippet disappeared. Nothing...sadly I pulled my flies out for inspection and both were just fine. The fish had outsmarted me...

As many fish as I have lost over the years, I probably should be used to it by now, but that is not the case. Still, I know where the fish lives and can always try again. Honestly I would not trade the experience for anything. Some of my most memorable fish are the ones that got away. If I hooked and landed every single fish I try for, the sport of fly fishing would get boring soon. This fish will join a parade of other fish stored safely in my memory from past years including the monster brown on the Frying Pan, the huge rainbow on the Gunnison, and an unbelievably large Caney Fork brown, all of which outsmarted me and left me wondering what had just happened. Some break me off and even more threw the flies. In the end, the ever changing face of the river along with the puzzle of discovering the "flavor of the day" is what keeps me coming back. Each fish lost is knowledge gained. One of these days the stars will align and I'll catch that fish....


  1. yellow stone.... two days..... see you there

  2. so just how large was this monster?

  3. I sympathize with you David!! I lost a HUGE Oconaluftee 'bow last Friday. I was hoping he would be "the one that didn't get away"...So it goes...It's part of fly fishing.


  4. Trevor, I got a fairly good look at the fish and would estimate it to be in the 22-24 inch range...on the three weight it felt like 30 though!

  5. I've never lost a big trout before (only ever caught one that was about 14-16 inches long) but I have lost MONSTER large mouth and MONSTER smallmouth before. I agree with you completely, its the "ones that get away" that keep us vying for the next opportunity to hook a big one.

    Hopefully next time you'll catch him and he'll be featured as the photo of the month.