Wednesday, November 9, 2016
I don’t begrudge my fishing partners’ success when I’m struggling. Poor fisherman that I am, it happens most of the time. And I tend to not fish with folks who'd begrudge me mine in the rare event that I get a leg up on them. But I think that, after my seventh or eighth unanswered pike, Steve was getting a bit pissed.
Due to a snafu in weight planning, we were forced to leave a significant portion (actually, most) of our duffels and gear on the runway at the final outpost airport. We grabbed what was truly important for the day, our rods and some rainwear, and lifted off for the backcountry with assurances that the rest would be retrieved later that evening. Always uncertain about TSA’s disposition towards big, gnarly fishhooks, I'd buried my streamer boxes deep within my checked bag and didn’t relish the idea of throwing everything out on the hardpack to find them. Steve grabbed one of his more accessible boxes and assured me that he had us covered for the day.
After the final hop and a few moments for introductions at the lodge (without our luggage, there was nothing much else to accomplish) we jumped into the Crestliners and went in search of our first spring Northerns. As advertised, Steve had grabbed a well-stocked Bugger Barn and, after he took the first dig into it (selecting a shallow-running chartreuse streamer), I picked out a lengthy red-and-white Dahlberg diver, snapped in onto my wire pike leader and let it fly.
I'd chosen wisely.
The pike were all over the Dahlberg's action, that push of water and three-inch shimmering dive, and red-and-white turned out to be the color of the week. I was whackin' them, straight away. But Steve’s chartreuse just wasn’t cutting it and, after watching me boat a handful of toothy critters, he went back to the box only to find nothing like the fly I was throwing. I’d grabbed an anomaly from that particular box. A one-of-a-kind.
So he shrugged and started trying everything else, but nothing worked like mine. Each successive delve into the barn was accompanied with louder grumbling and an escalation in expletives. Of course, between fish, I offered to switch flies with him, but, ever stubborn, Steve grumpily declined. After a while, it got a bit tense so I returned to my casting and tried not to whoop too loudly as yet another pike crushed the Dalhberg. At the end of the day, the deerhair was in ragged tatters but the pike kept coming after it. Steve’s flies remained in mint condition.
Dinner was quiet that evening, until our abandoned gear finally arrived. Steve tore into it like pike on a red-and-white Dalhberg, digging out his other fly boxes and loading up all of the shallow runners he could find for the next day. And he wouldn’t take back the shredded deerhair that I’d plucked from his kit, the only fly I'd used all day. His pride, I suppose, would not allow it.
I guess that I should have felt bad about the whole thing, kicking his ass like that with his own fly. But, in the end, he fished circles around me - around all of us - for the rest of the week. He dialed it in and brought more to the boat than even the guides thought possible. Red-and-white, chartreuse, blue. He caught pike on them all. He was a monster. I like to think that I motivated him that first day.
As for me, I fished that poor Dahlberg until it was unidentifiable, no more than a limp red-and-white string, finally losing it in the jaws of a beast of a Northern when my leader failed, three days after our arrival and my fateful selection. It broke my heart to see it go. That fly was destined for permanent display when it got back home. Red-and-white remained my colors for the week, but nothing caught fish like that first diver.
And besides, it was Steve’s, making it all that much sweeter.