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Lazy Sunday Morning Musings With a Side of Doughbellies

Started by Yallerhammer, June 09, 2020, 20:14:54 PM

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Wherein we discuss Real Fishing, reading, religion, and how much is enough?

I thought about going fishing this morning. I thought about it for a good while. I was lazy. Too lazy to drive somewhere and hike back into a real trout stream. That would be a lot of work. I thought about it while eating a good lazy breakfast.

I thought more about it after breakfast, sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee reading a couple more chapters of John Gierach. Sometimes, reading about other people fishing is as good or better than doing it yourself. Especially when it's Gierach. This guy has more interesting fishing trips than me, and catches more and bigger fish, anyway. And even if he didn't, he could still make it sound a sight more interesting.

He does real fishing. He fishes in real trout streams, the ones out west. The ones that people hop on airplanes or drive for two days and nights to get to. The streams that are filled with real fish. You know, big, fat rainbows, cutthroats, and browns that always seem to be 18"-20" long or more. Real fish in real places, where there are real hatches-millions of bugs coming off on regular, cataloged schedules, where you have to use specific flies matching the hatch to catch the fish. If the fish aren't rising to a hatch, they apparently don't fish out there. Real fishing involves seeing a fish rising, then casting to it, and catching it. When fish aren't rising, they drink beer, tie flies, write books, think deep thoughts, and stuff.

That doesn't happen here much. I probably don't see twenty fish a year rising. There aren't many hatches. Our fish here are redneck fish. They eat about anything that comes floating down the creek if they're hungry, from mayflies to spring lizards and globs of nightcrawlers and niblet corn. Our real trout streams are back in the woods, beautiful small crystal-clear creeks. And our real fish are little. Adult native specks probably average 5" long in most of the water where they live. A 9" speck is a huge one. Wild rainbows? Average 5"-8" in most creeks, anything around 11"-12" is a very nice fish indeed. Browns get bigger, but you don't catch many of the big ones, except in certain places under certain conditions.

Then, there are the other creeks, not the real ones. Those creeks. They run through cow pastures and trailer parks. The water is not crystal clear. The banks are lined with stuff like Chinese bamboo and multiflora rose bushes and riprap. There may be junk cars and mysterious pipes in the creek. But there are fish there in most of them. Some of these creeks are stocked, some aren't. And the really sad thing? The trout in these silted-up, unattractive creeks are bigger than the ones in the beautiful, pristine, clear, real creeks back in the woods. Usually much bigger.

I finally decided to go out this morning and fish one of those creeks for awhile.


When I finally headed out from home, it was about too late to go out for good fishing. The fog was starting to lift quickly, but there were still a couple rabbits alongside the road.

My destination was a creek about three miles from home. One of the creeks that I cut my trout-fishing teeth on. I've probably fished it more than any other creek over the last forty-some years. I've fished there enough that I can about call the locations of the strikes, and guess pretty accurately what species of trout it will be. I know about every stretch of water on the creek well from its headwaters to the point many miles downstream where it dumps into the river. Minor changes occur every year due to floods, construction, and whatnot, but I am still catching fish here in a lot of the same little tucked-away spots that I did decades ago.

This creek is stocked occasionally, but it also has a good population of wild and holdover fish, some of them big. I've caught more big trout over the years out of this creek than any other, including several browns over 20". The fishing can rival some of those real streams out west if the fish are in the right mood, which they usually aren't. They might have been for the first couple hours of daylight this morning, but I was too lazy to find out. Anyway, I wasn't real fishing today. I have never seen a single fish rise on this creek in my life that I can remember. And if I ever do, I'll probably leave it alone, because I'll assume that it's touched in the head. Trout just don't come to the surface and delicately sip mayflies on those creeks. It's not becoming, or in the local culture. But I've caught probably tens of thousands of trout here over the many years I've fished it. And I knew I could usually catch at least a few fish here almost any time.

When I parked at a bridge and got out of my truck to look at the creek, the sun had already burned away the last of the fog. The creek was high, almost too high to fish well, but not quite. It was slightly off-color. I rigged up my 10' 3 weight with a pair of heavily weighted nymphs-the point fly a big, dark, rubber-legged stonefly imitation, and the dropper a smaller nondescript fly of my own design that I refined to suit myself long ago from the favorite nymph pattern of the old man who got me started fly fishing and fly tying. I call it the Verlin Deluxe, and it has been one of my go-to flies since I was a teenager. It imitates nothing exactly, but everything passingly. It looks buggy, it's yaller, and the fish eat it.

I waded about a quarter-mile downstream through unappealing ankle-to-calf deep riffles that I knew had some good water below them that isn't fished much. As I waded, suckers and darters scattered in front of me, and a kingfisher followed me downstream, cackling and rattling continuously like a thing that has been wound up tightly and then released.


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Cropping. It's what photographers do to their images to get things they don't want in them out, and to scale them for the most interest. I realize at some point that I have learned to do that on those creeks. After I have made a few casts, my ears crop out the noise of the four lanes of traffic a hundred yards away, and my eyes crop out the electric wires, houses, large sunken metal artifacts, and anything else that doesn't belong on a trout stream. After a while, it begins to look and feel like a real stream, without any conscious effort on my part. Because the trout are there, and I am there casting to them. And that is enough sometimes.

If I do enough cropping, I can even make myself feel like this stretch of water is one of those real trout streams out west that I've never fished. But I've seen the magazine pics, the Youtube videos. If I crop really hard, maybe I'm standing on a side channel of the Frying Pan or the Henry's Fork or the Madison. This creek doesn't look like our real creeks here in the wide, shallow stretches: it's too open, too much grass and willows along the banks, no overhead canopy for miles in places, and wide sandbars with beds of pebbles and smooth, round river rocks at every bend.

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I approach a little hole under some tree limbs that usually holds a fish or two.

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Before my flies get far, there is a sharp tug, and a fish is on. Not a real fish, but a fish. It's a pale, washed-out standard issue 10" hatchery brook trout.

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I release it and cast back to the same spot, and catch its twin. Nobody else home, so I head upstream.

This hole has done me right over the years. Before the big tree was cut down and the riprap added, there was always a good brown in the teens lounging somewhere in there.

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Today, it's full of stocker rainbows. I catch about half a dozen while standing in one spot. They fight harder than the brooks did, and one even jumps. But, still, not real fish.

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Women want me, doughbellies fear me. - Little Debbie Prostaff


I head upstream to another stretch of water that I have caught good fish from over the years. This stretch of creek is deeper, with big boulders, and overhanging trees.

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Today, it is home to a few stocked browns and a pretty nice holdover foot-long rainbow that jumps once and fights almost like a real fish, but still isn't quite one.

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I come up to a familiar hole, an old friend. Once, almost 35 years ago, on a magical May evening after a thunderstorm, I caught a 26" brown here. It still hangs on my living room wall. Nowadays, I would more than likely turn it loose. Back then, I was still fishing for the fish, instead of fishing for the fishing. I was usually in a hurry, fishing long hours, fishing for big fish. I hardly ever stopped to notice things. I kind of regret the mount sometimes, but other times, I'm glad that it's there. It's a reminder of my evolution over the decades from a young gunner to a semi-old codger who now fishes slower and thinks and notices more. The big flood back in '06 washed a lot of the depth out of the hole, and removed the big log that used to lay against the bank in the deepest spot at the turn. But even to this day, I still seem to fish this hole slower and more carefully than other holes, and with more expectation. Who knows, maybe the stars will align again and magic will happen. Or maybe not. Especially this late in the morning under a bluebird sky. But the hope is still there, and springs eternal, as they say.

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As my nymphs drift through the deepest spot, the leader twitches and I set the hook. There is weight there, and the fish bores deep and fights well. It is a foot-long holdover brown that is beginning to learn to be a real fish, but isn't quite there yet.

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Women want me, doughbellies fear me. - Little Debbie Prostaff


As I fish upstream, I pass a streamside church with a service just starting. Despite the COVID issues, the parking lot has quite a few cars in it, and I can hear strains of "Come Morning" drifting out the windows and down to the creek to where I, the heathen fisherman, am conspicuously absent from formal religious services on a fine Sunday morning. My fundamentalist Baptist upbringing rises up and makes me a bit ashamed for a moment. But then I realize that I usually feel much closer to God out here standing knee-deep in flowing trout water than I do in a building full of people. This is my church, and I am in it. I was not born of Hebrew roots, I was born of these mountains. And like the Cherokee who lived here before me, I sense that the pathways to the spirit world of this place are the creeks that flow down from the mountaintops. Even those creeks, with enough cropping. It's hard to drown or silt out a spirit.

Besides, I've already been baptized, in this very same creek. Once, long ago, formally- with a brace of preachers praying loudly as they held me underwater for what seemed a very long time in a nice trout hole while trying to wash the sin out of me. Probably spooked all the fish in there for the rest of the day. Many other times over the years, I have inadvertently refreshed the baptizing while trying to wade through too swift a current on slippery rocks, or trying to inch out one more foot to reach that nice hole on the other side or get my fly unhung from a tree limb sticking out from the opposite bank. I decide that my soul is in good hands, and that I am already in communion with my Creator in the manner that works best for me. I attempt to telepathically beam a mental request toward the churchhouse for "Shall We Gather at the River." It apparently goes unheard.


I fish upstream a while longer, catching and releasing a fish here and there. Mostly stockers and holdovers. The wild fish are off today, only represented by a couple of small browns in the 7" range. The sun is now high overhead, and it is getting hot. Even though I am knee-deep in cool, flowing water, spots of sweat are sarting to pop out on my shirt, and my polarized sunglasses keep fogging. I come to a small waterfall cascade, with a nice, deep run above it. The kind of place that should hold a nice fish. By wading out as far as I dare, I can get my flies a drag-free drift on the other side of the raging current tongue that bisects the pool.

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Halfway down the run, there is a hard, solid tug. A fish hits my nymph like it owes it money. When I set the hook, there is solid weight there, and my long, whippy 3-weight bends sharply as the fish immediately darts out into the strong current above the little falls, and bores to the bottom. I apply as much side pressure as I dare, and then it shoots to the surface and jumps three or four times. When that doesn't work, it bores to the bottom again, right in the middle of the strongest current. I know that my tippet can't handle much more, so I put it on the reel and give it the creek and let it go on over the little falls, stripping line. I chase it downstream, and where the pool below fades into gravelly shallows, I finally net it. I admire it for a moment. A probably hold-over rainbow about 14" long, solid-bodied, heavy and streamlined at the same time. Not a big fish, but what most folks would universally call a "nice fish," even out there in some of those real creeks. Not colored quite like a wild fish yet, but getting there. It has been living here a long time, becoming a real fish. It's doing a good job at it. I try to take a good picture, but it doesn't cooperate. It has fought its heart out in the water, and continues to do so in my hand. After I drop it once, I decide that it isn't worth killing it for a pic, so I put it back in the net in the water, let it revive a minute, then carry it back upstream to the run where I hooked it, and plunge the net to the bottom. It hovers there over the net for just a second. Then, in a flash, it is just gone, disappearing like a streak back into the depths.

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I straighten up and look around. I look at my watch. It is exactly noon. I have only been out here for a little over an hour and a half. I look upstream, and see another good looking hole. And I realize that I don't want to fish it. I realize also that the rainbow I just caught was the fish I came after this morning. A real fish. It felt right. To continue fishing longer or catching another would be pointless, and would only diminish that moment and that fish. Maybe real fishing is there wherever you seek it. I cut the flies off my leader, break down my rod, and head back to the truck.

Women want me, doughbellies fear me. - Little Debbie Prostaff


"Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
 Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change? "
Kelly's Heroes,1970

"I don't wanna go to hell,
But if I do,
It'll be 'cause of you..."
Strange Desire, The Black Keys, 2006


Big J

Good write up Yaller.  Enjoyed the read and pictures with some coffee this morning.  Thanks V:; 


I enjoyed your write up. Fun looking water


Good report

 Several of those bows look like holdovers with good colors.
Thx for sharing




Good stuff. Fine writing as always, Yaller.


Nice pictures and report. 
Old fishin' holes are like old dogs...
Always there in your memories.

-you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.  Robert A. Heinlein.

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