I peered through the willows that lined the bank of a small, clear creek and watched as a 12-inch cutthroat trout moved from side to side, picking small dark mayfly nymphs from the current.
I was rigged with a brown stonefly imitation which had proven effective on this creek for years. I found a small opening that provided enough room to cast and crawled hand and knees up next to a sizable tree. I slowly stood up keeping my left shoulder snug against the tree; blending into the setting as best I could. I lengthened my line with false casts to allow the fly to float down into the trouts feeding lane.
The cutthroat continued to sip nymphs as my stonefly landed about ten feet above him. The fly drifted down toward the trout as I mended line to keep a natural float. The fly was right on target and came directly into the trout's view. My arm became tense in anticipation of the fish's strike. The cutthroat did not move as the fly passed his snout. I let the fly continue to drift past the fish and began a slow hand-twist-retrieve so I could cast again.
I didn't want to disturb the water by a quick pick-up and risk spooking the cutthroat, so I slowly worked the line in and brought the fly up into the shallows on the creek edge. Suddenly, I noticed a flash of color a few feet below my fly and watched wide-eyed as a different trout raced toward the fly. The fish slammed into the fly with its back exposed, out of the water, producing a wake that sent the cutthroat trout racing upstream for cover.
I set the hook and stared with amazement at the 18-inch brown trout thrashing up and then down stream. This was a powerful fish and was not interested in giving up. Again, the fish tugged line as it tried to head down the creek putting pressure on my shoulder.
I held the brown for a second to admire its length and girth. It was a beautiful trout. I sat it in the shallows and watched as it caught its breath. I was doing the same. It moved toward the middle of the creek and deeper water. I thought I saw it roll its eyes back and pause for a second--maybe not. I waved goodbye anyway.