We fished upstream from what we call “the dogleg.” It’s a section that is often productive. The water is mostly riffles. The fish like to hug the banks where the water’s a little deeper, but when there’s a hatch on, even a small one, the entire stretch boils. Yesterday, the entire stretch boiled with a mayfly hatch. They were cream colored and about the size of nickels. We all tied on different mayfly imitations and got hits, but not as many as we should have. Brad stretched a seine over his landing net and found that in addition to the mayflies, there was a small, black midge coming off, too. That must have been what they were feeding on. We scoured our fly boxes for something small and black, but nothing really changed. Eventually, Brad broke away and fished a side channel. Chadd and I stayed on the mainstem and hugged the banks to conceal our shadows. We cast to rising fish but had trouble connecting. I finally pulled in an eleven-inch brown on an all-black gnat, size 18. Chadd had a promising take that shook off. I pulled in another small fish and then lost my fly to a tree. We inched our way up to a pump house. It was the last spot we could fish conveniently–so we tried, but we both felt defeated by now. I was trying bow-and-arrow casts not out of necessity but out of boredom.
I think I may have been more surprised than the fish. Right up against the pump house a fish rose in the aerated water and snapped my Purple Haze. I set the hook. He broke my line. Instantly. I cursed my bad knots. Chadd climbed the bank and went to try somewhere else. Brad showed up while I tied on another fly. I flung the the fly into the same mess and nearly instantly a fish took the fly. My rod bent into a U and Brad jumped down the bank to help me net the fish.
He wasn’t the biggest fish I’ve ever caught, but he was easily the biggest fish I’ve caught on a Tenkara rod. He wasn’t long (maybe fifteen inches or so) but he was fat. He had a hump on his back just behind his head. I couldn’t fit my hand around him (and I’ve been able to palm a basketball since I was twelve). I’m sure I would have lost him if Bradley wouldn’t have been there to net him.
On the way back to the car, Brad told me that I should write about that, about fishing the water that I knew was good, while not catching much, only to pull in a lunker at the last possible spot. I agreed that it would make a good story.
But I’m not sure it would. It’s too easy, too on the nose. Too perfect. To supplement my fishing career, I teach writing. I don’t know how many times I’ve drawn a story arc on a whiteboard. I label the parts, “exposition,” “rising action,” “climax,” “falling action.” My pump-house-trout story has all that. All of it. But fishing usually doesn’t follow that pattern. It’s almost always just exposition and climax. When a fishing story follows the story arc too perfectly, something seems off. There’s something not right about telling a true fishing story exactly as it happened. Maybe that’s one reason we lie about fishing–because we need to make it less perfect.