Smith emerged from the hemlocks with a saunter, and he paused at the shade line to find me. As he scanned up and down the river, I noticed that his rod was broken down and tied in half for transport, the way we’d been doing it for years. Either Smith was so satisfied with the day’s fishing that he’d hung it up or he was frustrated enough that he’d quit early. Considering the casual, light saunter I figured he’d gotten into a pile of trout.
My friend closed the distance until he stood across from me, fifty feet away and on the bank, as I waded up a heavy run that averaged thigh deep but sometimes pushed at my waist.
Fast, heavy, deep runs have always been my favorite water type to fish. I can spend a full day in the big stuff. I love the mind-clearing washout of whitewater. No average sounds penetrate it. And the never ending roar of a chunky run is mesmerizing. I also enjoy the wading challenge. The heaviest water requires not just effort, but a constant focus and a planned path to keep you upright and on two feet. Constant adjustment is needed to stay balanced, and one slip or misstep ends up in a thorough dunking. It reminds me of the scaffold work I did on construction crews in my twenties. I always enjoyed being a few stories up, because the workday flew by. When every movement means life or death, you’d better stay focused. I always liked that.
Over on the bank, I sensed that Smith was still waiting for me to acknowledge his presence. He also had a question that he wanted me to ask, and he desperately wanted to answer it. So I played games with him. I started by ignoring my friend completely. After a minute or two, Smith found a mossy log that had been lifted from its home and relocated bankside during the last flood. He sat there for a while watching me fish. Until eventually, Smith couldn’t take it anymore.
“Hey, how’d it go?” Smith hollered across the whitewater.
I looked over and feigned deafness, pointing to my ears and signaling that I couldn’t hear him over the wash of the river. And so Smith doubled his volume and sharpened his question.
“Did you catch any trout?” Smith bellowed my way, leaning forward from his seat on the green log and cupping his hands over his mouth.
This time I nodded and replied, but I kept fishing.
“Sure I did!” I told him. And I continued casting into the deep, green slots between limestone rocks, trying to will any trout of any size to eat the fly while Smith sat there. Surely a fish had to eat somewhere in this prime seam.
But Smith wasn’t having it. And his next question forced me into submission. None of my good fishing friends lie to each other. We want the facts, because above all else, we want to learn. And good data is precious.
“How many trout did you catch, Mister?” Smith yelled. He knew my game by now, and he added the mister to play along.
“Three!” I hollered back, holding up three fingers with my line hand. “But I could have caught more if I really wanted to.” That too, was another Troutbitten gem.
I saw Smith nod out of the corner of my eye, and I watched one beautiful drift after another go unanswered in the juicy seams I’d worked so hard to pull fish from. Five minutes later, I surrendered. I brought the flies to hand, looped the point fly to the hook keeper and reeled up the slack. I navigated the heavy water between me and Smith and pretended to hang my head low and slog to shore when I got close.
“Aren’t you gonna ask me how many I caught?” Smith poked.
“Ha!” I laughed as I lifted myself out of the water that had pushed against me for two hours.
“Yeah,“ I nodded. “How many trout did you catch, Mister?” I asked Smith.
“More than you,” he told me with a grin, graciously sparing the number.
“Where were they?” I asked.
Smith knew by now that I wasn’t asking what bend in the river, what log jam, what undercut or what specific piece of the stream he’d caught trout from. When I asked where, Smith knew that I meant what water type. Did he catch them from the pools, the heavy runs, at the spillouts, the tail outs, the pockets or the side water? And were they in the sun or the shade? Were they bankside? And if so, were they on the outside or the inside bends? All of it matters. And if you catch enough trout through the day, you can eventually identify these patterns. I don’t mean fly patterns, either. No. More often than not, it’s more about finding what water type trout are feeding in most. And when you find that, they’ll probably eat half of the patterns in your vest.
“Skinny stuff,” Smith said, motioning downstream to where my favorite heavy run went around a bend and widened out.
“Huh,” I mused. “That’s exactly the water type that I didn’t fish at all this morning.”
“Yeah,” Smith nodded and held his palms apart vertically, showing just ten inches of space that equaled the depth of the water he’d been fishing with success. “Real skinny.”
“No kidding . . .” I said, trailing off. I turned and found the narrow path that would lead us back to the truck, because our morning trip away from our families and job responsibilities had come to a close.
“All morning?” I asked after we’d walked a hundred yards or so.
Smith replied with confidence. “Oh yeah. They were on it right from the get go. And they were still feeding when I quit to come find you.”
“Damn,” I whispered. I’d been so sure that they’d eat in the heavy stuff, because they’d been doing the same thing all week long — every morning.
Smith caught up and took pace beside me when the path widened and spread into a field of tall grass. I walked with my friend, and we sliced easily through the green blades, step after step, hearing the repetitive sound and finding a cadence together. With the sun high, the haze over the field looked like a low fog, and small insects buzzed like helicopters within. It reminded me that summer was finally settling in.
“Ya know,” Smith said, “the trout might be hanging out everywhere in the river, but sometimes they’re only really feeding in one water type.”
That is so true.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N