We were kicking around the morning’s successes and failures, and crunching roadside gravel under our wading boots enroute to the truck, when Latane froze stock still, sudden enough to alarm me.
“You alright?” I asked.
“Hole… Lee… Crap,” came his hushed reply.
“Huh?” I asked.
“Pig,” he breathed in a reverent tone.
I stepped beside him to the canyon rim and followed his gaze a hundred feet to the river below. There, suspended in the blue green water, in plain sight, for all the honest world to feel, finned a long sturdy shadow, an alpha trout of the first order, the kind of fish we all play with in our fantasies.
“Oh… my,” I managed, frozen now myself.
Our plans had just changed. We understood that much. The new plan still needed some figuring though.
Foremost in the calculations was the fact that we’d each fished that hole earlier in the morning – hard – and come up empty. The blue bird sky and gin-clear water factored in too, along with a devilish mix of currents between bank and big dog. Sudden turns, lazy strafes and flashes of white tongue made it clear that the fish was actively feeding, and willing to move for the right morsel. What those munchables were remained a complete mystery though. His depth was hard to triangulate too, but we guessed somewhere mid column, maybe four or five feet down.
We crouched to watch and spitball ideas.
“Seems like dead drifting a nymph buffet is the ticket,” I offered.
“Sure. Think you can get one of those tickets?” said Lat.
“Probably not,” I admitted.
“Race a streamer cross current?”
“Maybe. I threw a pile of meat in there earlier though… nada.”
“Swing something from above, soft hackle maybe?”
We brainstormed and enjoyed the show (which before long we realized also featured an impressive supporting cast), before finally arriving at something that felt right. We worked out our terminology, agreed on names for all of the pertinent landmarks and fingered through fly boxes. Lat would descend to the river and try to stick the elusive line. I’d stay put and use the view to talk him through it, like an artillery spotter. Hopefully between the two of us we could get the distance, depth and drift dialed in just so.
I had butterflies in my stomach on his first cast. It reminded me of those unbearable moments between the national anthem and kickoff. Our opening bid wasn’t even close, but the fish didn’t seem to notice, or care if she did. The next offering was better, but still no match for the midstream boulders and tangle of opposing seams. Cast by cast, we walked it in – a few yards longer, a bigger first mend, an earlier second mend, a touch more weight, extra patience through the backstretch – until I realized Lat’s rig was finally going to drift through the strike zone with passable nonchalance.
“Good, line Latane… good… that’s the one… good, good, good” I called, trying to sound calm as the hair stood up on the back of my neck.
Lat stripped slack perfectly. My face flushed hot. The fish turned, easing into the current like a state trooper from a speed trap. I held my breath. The fish opened his mouth, closed it, and for a moment… nothing.
“Set!” I yelled.
I’ve thought long and hard about how to explain what happened next. I could say that the fish ran fast and ran deep, then threw the hook. I could also describe an ill-fated bull ride as a guy sitting on an animal for a few seconds, then dismounting. Both portraits would be accurate, strictly speaking, but each omits some fundamental color. And neither captures the immediate, visceral humbling that attends the witness of such a spectacle.
I’m just glad no one was hurt.
In any case, my understanding of speed and power has a whole new category, as does my appreciation of team sight fishing.