Monday, April 12, 2010

The Hole

The locals are sure to have a name for it. Something like Frustration Pool, Heartbreak Hole, Fisherman’s Folly... You get the picture. There are, no doubt, other names, probably too impolite to be mentioned here. I suspect that if I had a dime for every curse that has ever been uttered over this short stretch of water, I’d be a wealthy man. Heck, I might afford a nice new 5wt with the payout on my discourse alone.

Every angler that’s ever fished this part of the river knows the hole and has stood, bug-eyed and slack-jawed, gazing at the spectacle of trout, big trout, stacked like cord wood in its deep waters. And once the initial shock is over, with shaking hands, each has floated a dry fly, swung a streamer, or bounced a nymph through it. Many have done all three. Few have hooked a fish.

The fish here – brooks, browns, rainbows – are huge, and they got that way for two reasons. First, they are smart. As every fisherman in the region has taken their best shot, these fish have seen every fly in the box, hundreds of times over. Drift something over them, they don’t budge. Under them, the same. Put one on their nose and they simply slide to the side a few inches, let it pass, and resume their original position. It's maddening.

It would be fun, if you understood trout language, to hear their comments on the offerings drifting by. “There’s an Adams, pretty well tied I’d say. A Deceiver's coming. Who picked those colors? Watch out for the San Juan!!! It looks like it’s being drug by a bus. Another olive woolly bugger?!?! You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Granted, most of us would return any fish we caught to the hole, but I suspect no small number of poachers have tried their hand here as well. These fish have undoubtedly passed on juicy worms, kernels of corn, and any number of savory tidbits that less scrupulous anglers have tried. As knowledgeable fly fishermen might say, these are PhD fish.

The second reason they are huge is that, while they are wild fish, they don’t have a wild diet. You see, this honey of a hole sits immediately downstream of the hatchery. On a regular basis, once cleared of their fingerlings, the hatchery sloughs are emptied through a long pipe into the river, carrying along uneaten fish food. Fish steroids, no doubt. When the pellet hatch arrives, the river boils with the rises of the fish blimps. It’s shocking to see and has prompted more than one fly tier to create their own version of a pellet fly, usually foam pieces, looking somewhat like a small kibble of dog food with a #12 barbless surprise. Reports of success with this deceit are scarce.

The hole comes to mind as I revisited it this weekend with my blog buddy, now fishing friend, Alan. After several weather-aborted trips this past winter, we finally hooked up for a day of spooking trout in the Asheville area and had a simply marvelous time. It was a perfect Carolina spring day and, while the fish were uncooperative, the company was grand. After a few unproductive hours on the lower, tighter stretches of the river, we found ourselves near the hatchery and, out of reverence, revisited the hole. And, if you have a fly rod in your hand, you simply have to cast.

To give you an idea of the level of confidence I had in actually catching a fish, I did not worry that I had only a 2wt. Hooking one of the pool’s large residents with the slight stick would be like tying my tippet to the bumper of a departing pickup. I’d be as likely to turn the truck as one of these leviathans. Besides, fighting a big trout with such a small rod would unnecessarily, and dangerously, tire the fish – something a catch-and-release fisherman would be loath to do. I need not worry. It would never happen.

Instead my goal was to simply make one of the pool's torpedoes move, either by successfully drifting something into his face or, perhaps, by actually enticing one enough to make him follow my fly, even if briefly. I could have cheated and moved a "small" eighteen-inch brookie - dark backed with brilliant white fin edges, gleaming like the headlights on a Ferrari - languishing at the edge of the pool in front of me, by poking it with my rod tip. He was, obviously, not too worried by my close proximity. I resisted the temptation.

So while the fishing was tough, the day was a pleasure and the sight of the pool’s denizens stirred the angler’s heart in both Alan and me. We, of course, heartily agreed that, even without catching a fish, the day was a joy. But, as I returned home that evening and resumed reading Thomas McGuane’s fine collection, The Longest Silence, I happened upon the following passage.

"Cast the fly, you are told, right along the bank and the trout will rise to it. So you cast and you cast until presently you are blue in the face and the appealing syllogism you started with is not always finished. When it does not work, you bring your vanquished person back to the dock, where there is no way to weigh or measure the long face you have brought instead of a fish. At the first whisky, you announce that it has been a trying day. Then someone else says that it is nice just to get out. Irrationally, you wonder how you can get even for that remark."

I think that, despite our better selves, we all know what he means.

The hole can do that to a man.

Postscript: Since originally posting this, I have learned that the spot is widely known as Humble Hole. The name fits.


Dan Short said...

Nice story Mike. It reminds me of an experience I had on a well known creek in VA last summer. I was standing under a bridge casting to several large fish when someone walked out on the bridge above me and tossed a bunch of pellets into the creek. The fish went nuts and, you guessed it, I couldn't resist. It was terrestrial season and I had a box full of beetles and ants in my pack, so I tied on a brown foam beetle and cast out. About 3 casts later I hooked and landed one of my best trout of the year. I felt a little guilty but I was gonna release him anyway...

Mike Sepelak said...

No need to feel guilty, Dan. You simply matched the hatch.


Hey Mike...It's kinda like that "All roads lead to everywhere" thing. Those fish, those arrogant and self-important trout had heard through the "waters" that they were in jeopardy; that two very accomplished anglers had their sights set upon them and as a result they, through a yet to be discovered process, took on a severe case of Lock-Jaw. It wasn't our fault at all. We'll get 'em next time buddy! I have a plan to disrupt their communication systems.

Anonymous said...

Well-written. But it does make me long for the virgin forests of the Great North where the fish haven't been overhandled. These fish are a bit too knowing! If you pull them from the water and they look like they have gone in too much for lip-piercing, it's time to move deeper into the wilds! :-)