Dancing With Trout
It was opening day 2003. My friend John Armstrong drove up to Wisconsin to fish with me. John is a Pennsylvania angler displaced a couple times over due to job changes.
John called me 4 times on the way up and interrogated about the weather conditions. The 4 degree weather up here was really not very inviting to a Georgia native. John and I have been fishing buds for quite some time. He use to manage Madison Outfitters on Madison's west side. His wife works for Oscar Meyer. One fine day in September 2003 John's wife was involuntarily moved to the Atlanta office.
We hit the stream at 8am. We parked his truck at the beginning of the area and we planned on fishing about 2 miles up to a very deep hole. I called the final hole the sewer hole. It had a large spillway and was the first obstruction on that waterway. It was a perfect wintering hole.
We were having fair luck and John could put his arms to his side. I still tormented him and kept saying "You will shoot an eye out with that thing." The temperature did not get warmer and the robin's egg blue sky didn't help at all. We were cleaning ice out of the eyes about every other cast.
John had never fished this stretch before and was growing wary due to the slippy banks and excessive clothing. I told him we would go back to the truck after we fished the last hole on the stretch. I told him it usually held a big one.
The end is in sight. John sees the hole and thanks me for not letting him turn back. He has a little more spring in his step now and the prospect of a big trout is very real. John said he need to change his leader and his entire set up. He wasn't walking all this way to hook a big one and have it school him. I watched as John put a new 11 foot leader on. He was using 3x before but switched to 4x here with an indicator.
John's rig has a size 6 hornberg on the end. A brand new leader without tippet tied to it. There is moldable tungsten placed above the fly about 12 inches. Tungsten not a split shot..John said. The split would cause a nick in the line and a decent trout would break off. The last part of the rig was a bright orange stick on strike indicator at 8 feet up the line.
We made the battle plan. John was out in the water to about his crotch. He was hesitant to go any farther due to the extreme cold conditions. He had the left lane of the hole. I was to block the trout if he got one on that would try to escape out the right side of the hole.
John is a pretty good caster and has his hornberg up in the sweet spot below the spill in short order. John explained to me that because of the cold the trout would be on the bottom holding tight and any fast action by the fly would be ignored. John called it the dredging method. John even paused a couple times for long periods during the retrieve.
I can remember it like yesterday. John is at the end of his retrieve and just taking the fly out of the water. He is telling me he calls the last part of the retrieve the most important. In cold weather conditions like these when he takes the fly out he does what he calls a Shake and Bake. The action mimics a bait fish swimming to the surface. It is a slow upward lift of the fly and pauses and stutter shakes are used as the fly exits the water. A very slow meticulous thing.
John is an excellent teacher. He is looking right at me when he is talking and explaining the Shake and Bake. He just had told me how important it is to watch the fly come out of the water because lots of times a big one will hit it at the very last moment as it breaks the surface. John readjusted his view on the fly as he did the final lift.
It was like it was choreographed to happen. John showily did his Dance With Trout and the surface erupted as his fly hit the surface. The surface was alive with a big trout directly at John's feet that had NOT been tired out by a battle. The trout was on about 4 feet of line and giving all it had to escape from his captor. It got off the surface for a moment and tried to dive and run out the side of the hole. John reached for his net and did a right side step all at once. He lunged at the trout with his net fully extended. The only problem was that to John's right was about 3 feet deeper and when John side stepped his right foot found nothing but deep water and John fell over like a tree.
It happened in slow motion it seemed. There is John with that nice brown in his net and he stands up out of the water and one side of his body is wet and I can see the ice forming already on his clothing. John is shaking uncontrollably but still wants a photo taken of the trout and him. One photo and off we go on a full jog back to truck.
We are about 150 yards back towards the the truck and we come up to a dairy farm. We are talking all the way. John doesn't know if he can make it all the way back to the truck being wet. I suggest to find the dairy farmer and warm up in his house or maybe John should find a warmer place in the barn and I would run and get the truck. Luck was with us a little this day and we found a farmer right away and he gave a ride to John's truck. We sat in the guy's truck for a while so John's truck could warm up.
Out John hopped and went directly to the back of his truck to his bin that had his extra clothing and long johns in them. John stripped down to his birthday suit right there on the roadway and put on warm clothing. The farmer bid us a fond farewell and John and I looked at my digital camera while sitting in his truck while he warmed up. I can remember him saying. I sure the heck hope you got a good photo of that trout with all the DANCING I had to do. The photo turned out fine.
Later that night I can remember us sitting in a local water hole and reliving the experience and sharing the photo with the bar patrons. John said at the end of the night: "This is what it all about........Fishing with good friends......catching big trout.....sitting around talking smart with whoever will listen and Dancing With Trout.