This post is from contributing author, Pat Burke.
It had been a while since Dom and I fished together. Contrasting work schedules, running around with the kids, and family obligations make it difficult to find enough overlap time needed to make a trip worthwhile. However, with the extra time off during the holiday weekend, we managed to find time to float a local river.
When we arrived and began gearing up, we could see the recent heavy rains had the river flowing well above average for this time of year. This probably worked to our benefit. Otherwise, many more guys would have been on the river making it difficult to float without disrupting their fishing.
Being that this was 4th of July weekend, I ran out the previous night and picked up an American Flag to fly from the boat. In hindsight, I should have spent more time thinking through the best way to mount the flag on the boat. We resorted to a couple wraps of duck tape to hold the base of the flag pole against the transom mount. The flag tilted heavily to the left. Dom took one look at it and disapprovingly commented that it was never going to make it through the float. We jammed the cooler up against it to pinch it further against the transom mount and wrapped a bungie cord from the bottom of the casting platform around the pole. You can see our handy work in the picture below. Note Dom was doing his best Hacksaw Jim Duggan impersonation with the 2×4 he found on the bank.
So we were now ready to push off. What could possibly go wrong with a giant six foot high flag hanging off the back of the boat on a river with a dense canopy?
Dom and I started the float with streamers. On most summer days you will only get a few short hours of good streamer fishing in the morning until the sun blankets the water. Then the practice of streamer fishing is nothing more than working on your retrieve and casting, while watching one good holding lie after another pass you by and wondering where all the damn fish went. Luckily this was not the case today. Cloud cover hung on until the very end and we successfully stayed hip to the strip during one of the fastest, most intense streamer bites I’ve witnessed from the boat.
In fact, we ended up only fishing nymphs for a half an hour just to see if we were missing anything. It resulted in a couple fish. Unfortunately, most of the time was spent hanging up on the bottom and dealing with the headache of having to back paddle very hard back up river to get the snag out. It didn’t bother me much because I was fishing. However, I looked back at Dom on numerous occasions and I could see he was struggling paddling through the heavy water. Dom is notorious for saying, “Fuck him, he’s not me” and that’s kind of what I was thinking at this point in time. Beads of sweat were developing on his head, veins were popping out of his neck, and his face was beet red. Quite frankly, I thought he was going to keel over with a heart attack. I suggested we pull off and switch back over to streamers. Not really because I was concerned about his well being, but mostly because if he had a coronary, we would have to leave and miss out on this crazy streamer bite.
It is downright exciting to streamer fish for wild browns out of the boat. When standing on the casting platform, you have an elevated view on the water and you can see everything go down. All of the chases, attacks, misses, and of course… the pure annihilation. It’s the kind of thing that can make a quiet, keep to himself kind of guy, start yelling profanities when he panics and rips the fly away from a big fish in the process of inhaling his fly. Not Dom though. He has nerves of steel. The fish below followed for ten feet before finally laying into his streamer.
And with every good fish comes the celebration. In the past we’d take a sip of Jameson from the flask. While this was great for celebrating the moment, too much Jameson and strong craft brews makes you sloppy with a rod in your hand. So we instituted a new troutbitten tradition. For every good fish, we will be pulling out our brand new blowing horn. This blowing battle horn was an ingenious gift from my kids on father’s day. It has found a permanent home in my boat. Listen closely next time you are on the water. If you hear the deep belting of the battle horn off in the distance, you can be assured that a troutbitten member just netted a good fish.
As the day wore on, I was becoming more confident that the flag was going to make it through with no incident. Letting your guard down can be dangerous though. The rigging of the flag was by no means secure, and it was still leaning hard to the left. Dom aptly named her Old Glory.
Probably the most enjoyable part of the day was when we paddled past the campgrounds. Since it was 4th of July weekend, they were packed with families getting away for the holiday weekend. Reaction from the onlookers ranged from whispering and pointing, to old timers standing at attention and saluting Old Glory as she floated by.
Then tragedy struck. I got careless going through a section of rapids with overhanging trees. I realized my mistake after it was too late. Old Glory hung up in the trees enough to pause the boat in the current for a split second, causing tension to build, and ultimately the duck tape and bungie failing. Old Glory catapulted skyward, spinning in true eminence, before finally falling helplessly in the river.
I stood up and turned the boat in the direction of the now lifeless limp flag floating downriver. We scooped up the pieces and stowed it away in the boat. We were nearing the end of the float anyways. Ironically, the streamer bite withered away about the time we lost Old Glory. Until next year Old Glory…