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Eternal Stocking Truck of the Troutless Mind

The river was wide. Wider than any eastern trout river I had ever been in. It was so wide, that I had to turn my brain off to the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to fish every pool. Not every pool in an upstream/downstream manner, mind you: I wasn’t going to be able to fish every pool from bank to bank.

That might be a bit of hyperbole, but that is how it felt. After an hour or so of flailing around, changing flies, and feeling overwhelmed, I decided to make a mental adjustment. I quit. Well, I quit looking at all of the river. So, after I turned my brain off to the vastness of the water before me I decided to cheat. I didn’t get out treble hooks or dynamite. My specific form of angling gamesmanship entailed going to the easy spot.

In any given river, bridge pilings are often the  natural barrels in which one can shoot a fish. The bridge itself provides a false sense of security to the fish. The construction creates a swift run, below which a deeper pool forms.  Furthermore, little critters like bridges. And trout eat little critters.

Positioning myself just downstream from under the bridge, I endeavored to nymph the opaque green hole. A few casts in, I caught a rainbow. It was the first fish of the day, and a hair above ten inches. On my very next cast, I caught another fish. Another rainbow, also about ten inches. For the next half an hour or so, I didn’t go more than three casts without catching trout. All rainbows; all just shy of a foot in length.

Suspicion  began to creep in. But I shoved it down. I put myself in a great spot. I have been doing an excellent job of presenting my fly. I can’t control what kind of fish are in the river – I am just catching what is there for me!

As if on queue, during some such defensive internal dialogue, I looked up and caught a glimpse of a truck passing  overhead. It was the state agency responsible for stocking the river with trout, and it was equipped with a hose for shooting them into the water from the bridge above.

Now, this story would be much more exciting if I would have been showered with hapless hatchery rainbows. It would even be riveting if I said that I got a good scolding from the truck driver for preying of dumb, cloned trout. But the truck just slowly passed by. All I did was I stand there, knowing what I had accomplished was inadvertently stumbling upon the spot where the stockers get dumped in.

I’m not too good for stocked fish. I am, however,  not going to catch 100 ten-inch fish that would just as soon eat my strike indicator as the finely tied pheasant tail I was drifting.

Abandoning my bridge piling hole was necessary if I wanted to catch a fish any bigger and any more stream-savvy than the trout I had been popping left and right. But abandoning my bridge piling hole meant venturing back to the big river.  I went back to  flailing around, changing flies, and feeling overwhelmed. It hadn’t been my most shining day of angling. Not only had I gotten a late start, but I spend a good chunk of time messing around with illegitimate fish. The frustration of not catching another fish was heightened by the contrast of the all the stockers I had netted.

I was feeling bad for myself. On the river. While fly fishing.

How stupid was that? Not only was I doing what I love to do, but I was faced with one of the best parts of the sport: a challenge! Instead of facing it and reveling in the opportunity to read the water, discern where the fish would be, and figure out what they would eat, I was pouting. Add to all that, I amassed this bizarre guilt because I wasn’t catching wild trout. Even though I had no intent to catch those ten-inchers, I felt bad that I had!

Stupid, indeed.

Clear as anything, I remember snapping out of it. I had to head back to the car soon, but I could fish my way over to the bank. As soon as I began to walk, I noticed a slick seam passing under an overhanging branch.  In what has become one of my favorite tactics for medium to large river fishing, I mentally eliminated all but the twenty feet of river between myself and the bank. The wide river was now just a normal trout stream. Moreover, it was a normal trout stream with a very good looking lie.

It was a warmer day, and so the branch elicited the use of a beetle. Off went the nymph rig, on went the little foam bug. The first cast was taken with a splashy rise. Could I have just fished that way from the start? Yes. But I let myself get frazzled. A new river. A big river. A trip with expectations of many large trout. It not only frazzled me, but it handicapped me.

The fish was more colorful. It was longer than ten inches, too. 16 maybe, and much more rotund. I could have very well been a stocked rainbow, but some time out of the hatchery raceways and a diet of real bugs brought out the wildness of this fish. This fish brought out the appreciation of the wildness of the river, even with its artificial elements, to me.


  1. Great article. I have caught some big beautiful stockers but they just don’t have the attraction wild fish do. I guess it is the fact that you can catch them on everything from pieces of mops to rubber bands. Where I live we have a lot of delayed harvest streams and I will continue to fish for the easy access stockers but give me a little more time and I will hike to the wild fish every time!

  2. I really enjoyed this Matthew. I’m a small stream guy mostly. Back in the days before fly fishing and catch and release it was a joy to find the stocking truck at your favorite water. Thankfully I outgrew that.

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