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My Friend, The Trout

I’ve known fish, personally.

Now, before you call the nice people with the straitjackets and happy pills, let me explain.

Over the years, I’ve fished in certain places with such regularity that particular fish are identifiable. Sometimes it is by where they are stationed, other times it is by their feeding activity. There have even been a few trout and bass that have distinctive patterns or shapes that make them easy to single out.

I know I’m not alone in this.

Sometimes, a fish of renown is familiar to an entire community. Everyone knows about “old one-eye” that lives by the submerged Volkswagen off the peninsula. Everyone has hooked him and brought him in close enough to see that he has (you guessed it) only one eye. But no one has landed him. Except grandpa. Apparently, he did – back in ’78.

Folklore and fables aside, aquatic acquaintances are a thing. If you are on the same beat over and over again, you’ll encounter a fish multiple times. Fish, be they brook trout or smallmouth bass, prefer to stay in one safe place rather than moving from safe place to safe place. As long as their safe place isn’t disturbed, or they aren’t edged out by nature or anglers, they’ll lay claim to their feeding lane.

This means that if you’re conscientious, you can repeatedly observe, cast to, and even catch the same fish throughout the season.

More likely, you’ll have a complex and unhealthy love-hate relationship with an animal sporting very little in the way of cognitive function.

One such complex and unhealthy relationship that I have enjoyed was with a large brown trout on a small spring creek in Pennsylvania. This fish, like any self-respecting spring creek trout, found a spot where he could safely gorge himself on floating insects. It was protected on the top and sides. The currents pushed every natural right to him but moved in such a manner that any leader or line would drag as it passed over his snout.

Day after day I would watch his humped back breach the water as he slurped in mayflies. Day after day I would cast, cast, cast, and then spook him. I’d try to place my midge on his nose. I’d try to put a pile cast a foot in front of him… three feet in front of him… a foot behind him? I’d try to skate the fly across his field of vision.

My calculations told me that one cast in 500 would put my fly in the right place at the right time.

I can’t remember if it was cast 462 or 463, but it happened. I cast, it drifted, he gulped, and after a short fight I landed him.

I like to think that I’m always careful when handling fish. Keeping my hands wet, holding them in the water, quickly removing the barbless hook – all of that. I was extra careful with this fish. He had earned it. I even contemplated how meat-fishermen, whose legal activities I really don’t frown upon, would approach a situation where they bested a fish they had developed a relationship with. Can you eat your friend?!?

Out of personal conviction, local statute, and kinship, I released the brown back into the creek. I snapped a picture as he hung in the current a few feet in front of me.

I saw him many times after I caught him that day. I even made some attempts to catch him again. Truth be told, they were much less frequent than they were prior to our meeting. Moreover, there wasn’t the same focus or gusto in my approach.

Every fly fisher should know a fish. Knowing a fish means that you probably are fishing a lot. It also means that you’re reading the water and paying attention to your surroundings like you should if you want to get the most out of your fly fishing. On top of all that, it is fun. It might not be the same as grandpa and his buddies’ yarns about “old one-eye,” but it will be your story. And your fish.

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