** This post is from contributing author, Pat Burke. **
I looked out over a productive run as the rain accumulated on the brim of my hat and rhythmically dripped onto my lap. I had just lost my best fish of the year after a lengthy fight. The struggle was difficult due to the stream bottom make up where the fish was hooked. The river quickly went from shallow knee deep riffles to water well over my head. The fight ended on a shelf that extended into deep water where I could no longer pursue the fish. The beast ran into a large undercut bank as I watch helplessly. That was it. Broken line, cursing, retying…
The rain picked up in intensity as I sat there rigging up my tandem nymphs. After losing a big fish, it’s hard to really get your head back in the game. A fish of that length is extremely rare in our waters.
I went right back to the same location where I had hooked the last fish and positioned myself to drift through the same seam. My next cast was a good one. I checked my rod tip driving the nymphs deep. I had the perfect amount of line in my hand and I was able to pick up the slack and have a controlled connection almost immediately. And that was all it took. The sighter hesitated slightly, I swept the rod downstream and across, felt weight, followed quickly by the recoil as a large brown trout broke the surface.
I felt I fought the previous fish well, but just ran out of room. This fish on the otherhand was a disaster. It ran upstream tearing line off my reel, followed by running straight back at me. I feverishly stripped all the line to my feet, just to have the fish turn and run straight for the same chute where I lost the last fish. While the line at my feet was flying back up through the guides, a loop formed and somehow wrapped around my line hand. I reacted instantly, realizing the precarious situation. Both hands went straight up and towards the fish as I chased him in the direction of the same ledge I lost the last fish. The fish was moving rapidly as I attempted to gain ground while I worked unsuccessfully to free the line from the tangled mess on my wrist. My downstream acceleration, coupled with the force of the current and my badly worn down boot soles, resulted in me sliding down the ledge and right off the lip.
I frantically poked with my feet trying to regain footing, but the bottom was beyond reach. Now I’ve fallen in many times over the years, but I’ve never ended up in water in excess of what I could stand in. Amazingly, it was no where near as bad as I had envisioned. That large clunky chest pack I wear, coupled with my camera dry bag on my back, both trap a lot of air. I was buoyant. It felt as if I was wearing a life jacket as I slowly floated downstream a short ways before regaining my footing on another rock shelf.
Unbelievably, the fish was still on through all of this and the loop that had encircled my left hand had magically come undone while I backstroked to the rock shelf. The remaining water as far as I could see was easy to navigate. I crossed on an angle, following the fish downstream, and eventually cornered him in shallow water. The big fish I had just lost was a distant memory. Cold, wet, and happy, I hoisted his smaller brother.