Anything at Anytime | Meet Honey Bunny

by | Dec 6, 2016 | 11 comments

austin_dando_tree_roots

Photo by Austin Dando

I approach from downstream, making daring casts into the brush pile, probing a dark network that’s shaped by collected seasons of tangled roots and half trees. A heavy current crashes into the pile and is redirected outward, and I wade into the bottom part of that channel. Formed by the unyielding force of the river, there’s flow, depth and protection here — the perfect combination for a rogue trout.  

I’m exploring miles below what’s considered “trout water” on this river. It’s something I like to do in the months when these wild trout procreate. Fishing the bigger, deeper water is my way of staying away from spawning fish. After the summer heat, this water is cold again, and if I’m lucky, some good sized trout will have migrated back in. I’ve never seen any redds this low on the river and I doubt I ever will. Spawning takes place many miles above, and mostly in the tribs, so I’m not surprised the fishing has been slow, and that’s alright by me. This kind of fishing isn’t a numbers game; it’s more like hiking with a fly rod. No one’s ever around, and I usually hole-hop from one trouty looking spot to the next. I target the prime water with nymphs in each location, and then switch back to streamers for the flat stuff in between.

These aren’t spawning fish or club fish. Down here they are just lucky fish, and that’s what makes them so much fun. For me, this is the game — finding rare, big river wild brown trout. Sometimes I don’t even think it takes much skill — just patience and persistence — because anything can happen at any time.

The brush pile produces nothing, but that’s no surprise. It’s the kind of spot that’s either gonna give up a bunch of average fish or is dominated by one big brute, and if you don’t find him in the right mood you’ll come up empty.

I come up empty.

So I turn my back to the bank and wade onto the ledge facing a great rock …  

— — — — — —

Somewhere in the persistent flow of indexed memory a singular moment surfaces above the rest. Another river in another life — fifteen years ago.

It’s nearly dusk on a June evening in 2001, and I’m standing with my back to another brush pile watching Sulfur mayflies lift off and take flight from the riffles. To my left, in some backwater, I see tiny rings formed by trout slurping mouthfuls of expired insects. Sometimes the fly fisher’s favorite bug runs into itself — hatching mayfly duns dry their wings and lift off from the same launchpad where their brothers and sisters lay dead and spent, following their mating and egg laying duties.

When the hatch coincides with the spinner fall, trout notice, and remarkable things can happen.

Wearing waders, long sleeves and a big smile, I’m cold and getting colder because I’ve hardly moved my boots in the last hour. One trout after another is fooled by a simple #16 Adams, and whether I cast blind or cast to rising trout doesn’t seem to matter. I guess this is what catching fish “hand over fist” means.

Then I hear a noticeable pop to my left. I look upstream to see a ring much larger than the rest, and I make a cast to the tip of the brush, just twenty feet away. Then another slurp.

What follows is the most adrenaline-filled ten minutes of my fishing life.

My gear is suited to brook trout and small tributaries. The short, light rod bends in half and my simple click-and-pawl real shakes as the fish tears line from the spool. Later, I understand that the cheap reel has no counterweight to offset the handle. It feels like the reel will explode in my hands. It was never intended for such a fish, and the powerful fight is tremendous.

I’m shaking, sweating and disoriented when I finally land the biggest wild brown trout of my life. I look up at a colorful sky and gasp for breath.

Among the last glimpses of sunlight, I lay the wild brown trout next to my rod. And with a small, streamside rock I scratch a mark in the lacquer before slipping the fish back into the river and watching its tail kick off into the darkness.

austin-dando-pocket-water-1_1200x

Photo by Austin Dando

— — — — — —

Do you know how many casts I’ve made since then, in fifteen years of fishing trips all across this state and beyond? I’ve even gone through phases of chasing big fish for years at a time, trying to find another wild trout that large. Sure, I’ve caught a bunch of Whiskeys and a few Namers, but at that size, the difference of an inch or two is massive.

Fifteen years and more have passed since that fish blew me away. And I remember thinking at the time, “Wow, this is pretty fun, I bet I’ll catch a lot more trout like this if I keep exploring.”

Naivete.

I surely haven’t met another fish like that, until …

— — — — — —

My back is to a brush pile again.

I’m about to switch to nymphs, but I toss a few more casts with the streamers; I’m taking my time, enjoying the scenery and the solitude. I throw a long, arching cast all the way into the stall behind the great rock. Letting it sink for a bit, the line bellies in the current while I start my lazy strip — just a soft, twenty-inch pull followed by a few seconds of pause — nothing to scare trout or get them too riled up and territorial — just a look of available food for any trout feeling opportunistic.

I imagine my three-inch sculpin pattern is a little off the bottom as I make the fourth lazy stip and feel a thud — a jarring tight-line jolt that stops time. In slow motion, I trap the line and set the hook into something heavy.

I’ve waited a long time for this.

And then chaos. No more lazy anything.

I pull hard. And when I realize I have the momentum,  I keep pulling — maybe just to get a good look at what I’m attached to. I see gold, yellow, brown and something big — really big.

I still pull, and just before it reaches the surface, my trout flips the momentum with a series of rolls.

She splashes on the surface and tangles in the line. So I rush downstream toward her, rod tip high as she jumps, and she somehow rolls back out of the tangle. She then dives deep into the water and swims hard for the brush pile. Clearly, she knows the area.

I’ve lost too many good fish in brush piles.

Up to my waist in swift water, I lunge toward the brush ahead of her, stripping frantically to recover line, staying tight and keeping the rod high. Somehow, I win the race to the brush and cut her off. She puts on the brakes with me in front of her, and she looks up as if to say, “Well, you bastard.”

She pivots, and time stops again.

At my feet in waist deep water is the size of a trout I haven’t seen in fifteen years, and it’s on a ten-foot leash extending from the tip of my rod.

She swirls in slow motion, but I lift and she rises, hovering a foot below the surface and poised for an imminent return to the depths of the great rock.

I recognize the moment — an opportune chance to make a quick fight out of a big fish. I grab my net, lift the rod with all the remaining pressure I can manage and take one swipe down into the water.

She’s surprised again.

With her head in the net I lift the frame to the surface. Her back half doesn’t fit, so I drop the rod and grasp the tail in one hand and the frame in the other. I just landed my biggest trout in fifteen years.

I stand there beside the brush pile, looking up at the white sky, and I exhale slowly.

honey-bunny-2

Size #6 Bunny Bullet, all chomped up

Fifteen years ago, I shook with adrenaline as I held that twenty-six inch wild brown trout. This one was a half-inch shy of that mark.

Life has changed in those fifteen years. I knew next to nothing about the game I was playing back then. Every amazing moment was the first.

I miss that innocence. Fifteen years ago, after releasing the enormous trout, I stopped fishing and walked out to share the tale with my friends. This time, I released her and she swam into the brush pile — then I kept fishing. I also didn’t share the story with many friends. There’s a collected burden of secrets I feel I must keep — for myself and some others.

There wasn’t much adrenaline this time either. I’ve learned from prior mistakes, and I now fight fish with calculations instead of blind instinct and luck.

I miss the way it was fifteen years ago, but I don’t know how to get that back. I don’t think I can. Knowledge and experience have permanently dulled the emotions of these times — even for a moment this rare.

 

honey-bunny-1

Meet Honey Bunny

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 600 articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers
Your support is greatly appreciated

– Explore These Post Tags –

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

More from this Category

River and Rain

River and Rain

A Blue Winged Olive hovers and flutters next to River’s face for a moment, and he sees it. (River doesn’t miss much.) Tilting his head, he’s just about to lunge for the mayfly when a large raindrop knocks the hapless Olive from the air — more confusion in the life of a puppy. I chuckle, and River relaxes while I start to tell him a story . . .

Rivers and Friends

Rivers and Friends

Through all my life, these watery paths and the lonely forests accompanying them have offered me a respite — a place to escape a world full of people. And all the while, these same rivers have enabled my deepest connections with a few of those people . . .

VIDEO: The River Doesn’t Owe You Anything

VIDEO: The River Doesn’t Owe You Anything

Today, I’m proud to announce the launch of Troutbitten videos, in collaboration with Wilds Media. The journey begins with a video adaptation of, “The River Doesn’t Owe You Anything.” This story has been a Troutbitten favorite since it was published in the spring of 2019. . . . The river gives you what you need. The river gives you what you earn.

Riverside

Riverside

Smith and I hopped the guardrail as traffic whizzed by at sixty miles an hour. Smith went first, with his rod tip trailing behind, and he sliced through the brush like a hunter. I followed with probably too much gear for a three hour trip and a puppy in my arms. River is our family’s eleven week old Australian Shepherd, and with a name like that, he has no choice but to become a great fishing dog. Time on the water will do it . . .

Aiden’s First Brown Trout

Aiden’s First Brown Trout

Hundreds of times Aiden has snagged the bottom, pulled the rod back, and either asked me if that was a fish or has told me flatly, “I think that was a fish.”  This time, he finally experienced the certainty that a couple of good head shakes from a trout will give you . . .

Waves and Water

Waves and Water

. . . But when all of that dries up, when the travel seems too long, when dawn comes too early and when chasing a bunch of foot-long trout seems like something you’ve already done, then what’s left — always — is the river . . .

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.

11 Comments

    • Domenick, it’s snowing again this morning and I haven’t fished in two, three weeks. Feels like forever but I’m tired and sore from working too many hours in too few days. This morning is mine though, dog on lap two cups of coffee so far and only a couple of chores that can wait until afternoon. Usually a Troutbitten story makes me antsy, gives me the wanders. This morning I fished vicariously. Another coffee and fifty pounds of mutt climbs back onto my lap.

      Reply
  1. What a fish!! I look forward to every post.

    Reply
  2. That was one heck of a story Domenick and what a gorgeous reward!

    Reply
  3. You are an excellent story teller Dominick, bravo

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

Recent Posts

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

Pin It on Pinterest