Friday, December 23, 2005

Rocky Ford Creek

It looked like a perfect cast.
Perhaps 27- to 30-feet of
line settled onto the water at a
45-degree angle upstream. A
split second later, almost as
an afterthought, the tiny dry
fly touched down and stirred
half a dozen minuscule circles
within circles on the stream's
surface. Line and fly floated
almost imperceptibly on the
invisible current.
It looked like a perfect day,
too.
Ravens sailed high over
head, their ``Rrrrr-Rrrrr'' calls
surprisingly clear despite
their altitude, and redwinged
blackbirds chuckled in the
cattail thickets along the
stream's banks.
Sun warmed the left side of
my face and the backs of my
hands as I lifted the fly rod tip
a tad and gathered slack line
slowly in my left hand. My
eyes squinted to see the fly on
the sun-bright water.
I'd left the sunglasses in the
car, of course. Heavy clouds
covered the area when I first
arrived at Rocky Ford Creek.
A blustery wind had
whipped riffles across the
water and rattled the desic
cated cattail stalks while I
rigged up the fly rod.
I removed the weary old
leader and tied on a brand
new 9-foot 3x leader. A 3x
leader, according to the infor
mation on the packet, would
withstand 5.8 pounds of pres
sure from a fish.
Rocky Ford Creek holds
rainbow trout bigger than
that, not that I've caught any.
But you often see them swim
by the bank while you fish _
six pounders at least.
Anglers may not wade in
this stream, by the way, be
cause of the sensitive banks
and bottom. In addition, ang
lers may use flies with barb
less hooks only. They may
keep one fish, and they're
supposed to stop fishing when
they do.
Anyway, I figured, with my
9-foot, 5-weight graphite rod,
even a 10-pounder would
have a difficult time breaking
5.8-pound-test line.
As I stood among the rat
tling cattails with my back to
the breeze, I opened my fly
box and selected a very small
nymph called a chironomid or
midge. It looked like someone
had wrapped thin copper wire
around a No. 18 hook with an
almost invisible bit of feather
near the eye of the hook.
With my spectacles perched
on my nose, I slipped the
leader through the hook's
hole, made a loop and twisted
the hook 10 times. This
wrapped the short end of the
leader several times around
the long part. I slipped this
short end through the loop in
the leader twice and pulled
the fly and the long part of the
leader to make a knot.
As I clipped the extra
leader, a raspy voice said,
``Where you from?'' A man
holding a fly rod stood a few
feet away.
``Huh?'' I said and blinked.
``I'm from Omak.''
``Oh. I thought maybe you'd
know where to buy dry flies
around here,'' he said.
Then, feeling a bit guilty, I
told him about the fly shop
and liquor store owned by a
man named Don Davis in
Soap Lake, less than 15 min
utes away. But he'd already
been there.
``He didn't have any small
enough,'' the man said. And
he reached his hand under my
nose.
``It's a No. 20,'' he said. A
blue pinhead-sized spot dot
ted his fingertip. At dusk the
previous day, the man said,
the trout had been rising, and
he'd tied on the tiny fly and
hooked three fish in a matter
of minutes.
``I didn't land any of them,
but they sure took after the
fly,'' he said. ``And this is the
only one I have left.''
I showed the man what I'd
tied on, and he said it looked
``pretty big.'' But I shrugged,
and he left.
My watch said it was 10:31
a.m., and I began casting.
After an hour, I realized I was
casting into the wind and that
by walking half a mile down
stream and crossing the
bridge, I could cast with the
wind.
So, I did. And the sun came
out and the breeze stopped.
That's when I could've used
the sunglasses but didn't want
to walk all the way back to the
car.
I fished another two hours
or so without a hint of a strike
when two men walked up to
fish on the other side of the
stream, at the very spot I'd
fished.
Yes, one of the men hooked
a fish almost immediately. It
jumped and ran and splashed,
which surprised me. Most of
the lunkers I'd hooked in the
stream had been heavy and
strong but lethargic. The
man's fish pulled free before
he could land it, but it prob
ably weighed 3 pounds.
As he continued fishing, I
studied the man's technique.
It dawned on me that he
fished with a dry fly. I could
tell by the way he pulled the
rod tip back slightly to let the
fly float down after the line
landed on the water. And he
didn't let it drift very long,
either.
Although I didn't see fish
rising, I eventually noticed
tiny insects flying over the
water _ very tiny.
When the men on the other
side moved on downstream, I
pulled out my fly box and
searched for a tiny blue dry
fly. I found four that appeared
to be tied on No. 20 hooks.
Vaguely I recalled buying
them when fishing in Monta
na. Pale Morning Duns or
Blue-winged Olives, or some
thing.
As carefully as possible, I
tied one on and rubbed gooey
stuff on it to make it float
forever. I cast maybe two
dozen times without results.
Then, a fish bumped the fly _
actually rose from the dark
water and bumped it. It made
my day.
Minutes later, the same
thing happened again. All
right! I'd obviously made a
major breakthrough.
Then I laid out this perfect
cast, and the fly rode high and
floated slow. Squinting, I saw
it clearly, about 25 feet away.
Then, ever so lightly, I
raised the rod tip and a small
circle of waves surrounded
the fly. It looked like an insect
had wriggled slightly on the
water. I waited a few seconds
and moved the fly again.
The water boiled and the
line snapped taught. My eyes
bugged. I pulled in line. Then
the fish pulled back and
ripped the line through my
fingers. The rod arched, the
reel screeched and the fish
jumped.
I retrieved 15 feet of line
before the fish jumped and
ran again. It ran four times in
the next few seconds, strip
ping line from the reel with
that screech that makes hair
dance on the back of my
neck. And it jumped three
times.
Finally, the giant rainbow
trout languished within reach
_ 18 to 19 inches long and
31/2 pounds, at least. The tiny
fly looked like a gnat on its
upper lip.
On my knees in the mud, I
removed the fly without
touching the fish. Then, when
I pressed the fish's dark green
back with a finger to see if it
was too tired to swim, it shot
away into the weeds.
That happened at about
1:38 p.m.
Other anglers will under
stand why, although I didn't
hook another fish, I cast and
cast and cast. And why I
didn't make it home in time
for supper.

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