Uppermost House: But, they can’t be caught

By S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

I love flyfishing. Full of birdsong and watergurgle and meadowscent and forestcool and windhiss in the trees and the gentle swishwhoosh as the line goes out and back and behind and out again carrying its tiny attractive tuft at the end of a transparent hair; it’s no wonder it’s called “The Quiet Sport.”

It’s the only occupation I know where two guys kneeling together in knee-high sagebrush along the bank of an icy stream, alone in a valley so vast that a rifle shot from the base of the distant mountains would never be heard, would still feel compelled to lean in close and whisper.

It’s also a technical, esoteric sport, full of lingo (often in Latin), and tiny details (What color is the thorax of an adult female Ephemerella dorothea?), and (lots of) very expensive equipment, and the need (okay, intense desire) to travel to exotic places, sometimes in a floatplane.

This time of year, with the mercury dipped so far down that spit crackles and the streams and lakes are gagged with ice, the only rational option for a desperate fly fisherman is to use explosives or take up ice fishing. A friend of mine once enthusiastically invited me to dredge up some lake trout through the ice with him, said he’d supply the smelts and everything. “But I don’t drink,” I said. “Oh,” he said.

I once spent a day on the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam in northeastern Utah. Even though this is in what amounts to the high desert, the huge river draws from the bottom of the dam so the water is ice cold even in August; and the water chemistry creates just the right soup of pH and minerals and nutrients and weed growth to grow really big trout — upwards of 15,000 of them per river mile.

And so I spent a pleasant summer morning casting a fly called a “Chernobyl Ant,” which looks like it was invented by a guy whose day job was designing pinball machines, to eager rainbow and brown trout so big it's hard to lie about them. I was fishing a small nymph as a dropper fly, which hung 24 inches below the giant ant, and at one point, for something like 15 chaotic seconds, I had a big trout on each fly. “I’m holding onto almost four feet of trout,” I said aloud. The lower fish (a rainbow I figure at four pounds) broke off, but I did land the little 22-inch brown trout that grabbed the ant.

In the late afternoon, I wandered upstream, shuffling along the dustyred trail below towering, dustyred cliffs, giving my arm a break from all the hauling. I came around a bend and found a lone fisherman on a sandbar at the inside belly of a wide, deepgreen pool. His tackle, waders, and backpack were lying in the gravel and he was kneeling at the river’s edge, staring down into the water.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” he said.

“You getting’ em?”

“Yeah.”

And so I stood behind my new friend, peering with him into the river. Fifteen feet in front of us was the dark blurry hulk of a submerged boulder about the size of a VW Minibus. I started to say something else, to carry the conversation along, but my friend held up his hand. A few heartbeats later an enormous shape loomed slowly up from the downstream end of the boulder, hung there in the waving current for a few seconds, turned its head, flashed open and then shut its huge white mouth around something microscopic in the soup, then dropped back down into the emerald water, disappearing into the shadows as if being slowly pulled back into the earth by something invisible. The trout seemed about the size of a spaniel.

Once more I started to speak, but the man held up his hand again. “Wait,” he said. A few seconds later, farther downstream and a little to starboard, a shape rose anew. “Hey, there he is again!” I said, unable to contain myself. My friend stood and turned to me, his face a wrinkled mess of sweat and dust and smile. “Nope, that’s the other one,” he said; and when he saw my eyes bug open he just laughed and clapped his big paws on my shoulders. “Yeah, buddy, there’s two of them. But they can’t be caught, so don’t even think about it.”

As I write this, the mercury is heading toward the stupid side of zero and spring seems a distant taunt. I’m freezing my butt off, and I’m still in the house. But I get a certain comforting warmrush knowing precisely where the boulder rests that is home to two elderly brown trout, each the size of the blade of a canoe paddle. Here are their GPS coordinates: 40.897508N, 109.367372W.

But they can’t be caught. Don’t even think about it.

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