Big Brown Trout

Rumors began to circulate around the local Orvis shop about a huge brown trout that lived in the deep dark pool beneath the bridge on Whiskey Creek. The creek had been so named back in the days of prohibition when the mountain folk used the cool clear waters of the creek to make shine. Several people had come into the shop after the trout season opened talking about a huge brown trout that they had only revealed itself with a golden brown flash in the pool. The locals were all excited because big brown trout are rare in this area. Most are wild brooders from out of state waters that are released by the fish hatchery after they striped them of their eggs.

Early Saturday morning the shop owner creeps ever so carefully around the bridge and inches out onto a small sandbar. He is there just before sunrise, moving stooped over so that the huge brown doesn't spot him. This early in the season the only flies that are producing are small gold ribbed hares ear nymphs. Dressed in his Orvis vest, with his trusty 7-foot Battenkill 2-piece rod and Battenkill reel, his Wonderline 4-weight line and 6X tippet, he knows he is more than a match for any brown trout. He deftly ties on a number 16 Hares Ear nymph, tied with the fur from a Hare rabbit as it has been for centuries. The only alteration was using a small pinch of gray phase grouse tail feather fibers for the tail instead of the traditional guard hairs from the Hare. This fly he had tied carefully to match the Hares nymphs that swarmed the creeks bottom. This was also his special fly, not one he offered for sale in his shop, but one he used only when chasing rumors of big browns. He laid his first cast at the head of the pool and let the small nymph sink slowly to the bottom to be carried in the current. He mended his line to keep the drag from pulling it unnaturally. He was an expert and didn't need to rely on strike indicators, preferring to rely on instinct and his cunning to feel when a big brown had the fly in its mouth. His fly drifted through the pool unmolested, not a feather was disturbed. Not put off by the refusal of his first perfect cast he made another, and another until he had combed the pool. This is what happens sometimes when you chase rumors, he figured the big brown was just a figment of somebody's imagination. He climbed the bank making sure his 3mm neoprene breathable waders didn't get snagged on a stupid sticker bush. He paused on the bridge before walking back to his car, as he turned to leave he thought he caught a faint golden flash in the corner of his eye. He focused his full attention on the pool, searching its depths with his Orvis Clearviews sunglasses. Nothing, it must have just been hope trying to see the big brown.

That afternoon one of the shop regulars that had heard the rumor in the store, but who had dismissed it as folly in the hopes nobody else would follow up on the lead, began his stealthy attack on the pool. With his new Sage Graphite IV SPL rod, his Abel reel and 4 weight Advanced Shooting Technology Wet Cell sinking shooter taper and a 9X tippet. He had observed a few caddis resting along the brush beside the creek. He figured the big brown would fall victim to a size 16 Umpqua CDC transitional dun. The CDC was special as it was made from the very few feathers on a duck that surround its waterproofing oil gland in front of its tail. These feathers float very nicely, and just a few little fibers from them allows the transitional dun to float just below the surface as if it was just getting ready to emerge. He began as everyone else would, as he had been taught by all the fly fishing videos he so seriously scrutinized when he wasn't fishing, at the top of the pool. He allowed his CDC fly to be carried by the current, drag free of course, past every conceivable holding position he thought a big brown would favor. Nothing, not a single bite, not a bump or even a swirl as his fly made many trips across the pool. He to climbed the bridge to peer down at the pool that had rejected him. Through his Action Optics sunglasses he saw a dark shape dart from where his shadow had fallen on the water. It had to be the big brown, and now he had spooked it. He would come back again another day with an even better fly.

A novice fly fisher in his first year who had been hanging around the shop asking all kinds of questions, stupid and otherwise, but who was tolerated because he bought everything the experts suggested in the shop, had overheard the hushed whispers about the big brown in the creek. He knew if he was the one to catch the big brown then he would finally be accepted as an equal to the others that hung around the shop. He might even be in line to offer them some advice on how to go about catching a big brown. He had studied Matching the Hatch until the books pages were dog-eared and worn. He noticed a small hatch was in progress. Eagerly he scooped up one of the newly hatched flies and studied it carefully. He noted the position of the wings, he measured the length of the antennae to determine the genera, he counted and measured the caudal filaments. He noted that the forelegs were long so he had a male, remembering the section of the book based on sexual dimorphism. With all his observations written down in his notes he carefully determined that this was a hatch of Royal Coachmen. He had tied some special Royal Coachmen for this trip, they had the finest white breast feathers from a male wood duck, and he had carefully screened all his peacock herl until he had selected those that showed the greatest sheen and color along with the proper barbule length. He cast out to the front of the pool, expertly mended his floating fly line to keep the fly floating freely as if it had just fallen out of the air like a snowflake. He went up and down the pool several times, impressing himself with each drag free float. But it was to no avail, the big brown proved to be too much of a match, his skills were not up to the standards required to catch such a trophy. He climbed the bridge and looked thoughtfully into the water. He knew he had properly matched the hatch, he knew he had a drag free float. He heard a big splash under the bridge, and knowing it was the big brown mocking his amateur attempts, decided he would forget all about fly fishing and take up bass fishing instead.

Rumors continued to pour into the shop about the big brown. Now it had become common knowledge. Men dressed in their nice clean Orvis and L.L.Bean fly fishing vests, wearing neoprene and rubber waders, with their split bamboo and graphite fly rods, their Fenwick nets and creels (the creels held their lunches, not for holding fish nowadays) and a hundred different kinds of flies lined up along to road to have a chance at catching the big brown. They waited as each took a turn sneaking down to the bank, making sure to not make any sound. The took pride in their drag free floats, in their minimal mending of the line. The looked into each others fly boxes while they were waiting and began to make fun of each others flies. Saying the heads were not even, or that the stripped peacock herl bodies were not evenly wound, with the narrow part not in proportion to the wider parts. Tempers flared as a debate broke out among the dry fly purists and the wet fly fanatics. Someone showed up with a Muddler and was ridiculed right off of the stream.

One guy with a Dan Bailey tied Pale Evening Dun nymph finally got a strike. The fight only lasted the several seconds it took for his 9X tippet to be snapped like a gossamer thread. Arguments broke out whether it had indeed even been the big brown, some accusing the angler of striking at a snag and popping his line. The grumpy crowd of fly fishers moved as a group down the road arguing over who had the best presentation, whose flies were the best, who had the rarest feathers in their flies. As the crowd wondered down the road the only person left was a youngster who had just wandered down to the creek from the mountain to see why so many people were trying to fish there. They told him they were trying to catch a huge brown trout that lived under the bridge.

He now had what had to be the best spot in the river all to himself. He tied on a number 6 hook and threaded a couple of kernels of corn onto the hook. He tested the drag on his Zebco 303 attached to his new shiny fiberglass rod, the reel was fully spooled up with new 10 pound line, it was his first ever rod and reel and he was going to give it a try where all the adults had failed. He didn't know that big browns are supposed to be hard to catch, otherwise he might have given up after a few minutes. His line twitched, the all of a sudden something tried to yank his rod out of his hand. His rod bent over double and the drag screamed. The boy held on for dear life until the runs stopped. He then began cranking on the reel, slowly gaining line back inch by precious inch. He could see gold gleaming from his fish still in the deeper part of the pool. As it surfaced for the first time he thought he was going to blow it he was so excited.

The fish was huge, it was beautiful. He carefully picked it up and ran home with it in his arms. He showed his father, who had never ever fished before, the huge fish. He marveled at the huge scales, the large eyes, the beautiful golden brown of its skin. He wondered what the little bits hanging down from its big lips were for. He stroked the huge yellow tail. He declared to his father that he didn't want to each such a big pretty fish. They decided to weigh it and then let it go. It weighed eight pounds even. They figured a big brown trout like that should be let loose in the river so nobody else would catch it and eat it. When they made it down to the river the let the huge brown go, he named it Ralph after his dog, and waved good bye to it as it swam away.

Oatmeal Jack
April 2001