With each carefully presented dry fly ignored by the fickle trout, I felt the tension rising as we pressed on further up the crystal-clear creek. How could these tiny-brained fish figure out that our feather-and-fur offerings were not the same as the light brown mayflies fluttering above the water’s surface? More importantly, why did I feel so nervous about proving my abilities as a fisherman just to catch a half-foot-long brook trout?
As a surprise gift in celebration of my birthday, my wife Hilary had hired the services of a professional fly fishing guide to go after wild brook trout in the steep mountain streams of Shenandoah National Park. On a Friday morning in May, we met up with our guide and drove to a secluded stream that tumbles out of the hills near Syria. (Divulging the name of this water might be considered sacrilege to protective anglers seeking to keep the crowds away, so we will let your cartographical mind wander all over the map.)
Turns out the surprise was on me, as my first-ever experience being guided for fish had me wound up tighter than a clinch knot. Nervous and oddly unsteady at first, I asked the guide to take the first casts on our adventure.
“Let me show you how to present the fly to the fish,” he said in his delightfully smooth and confident Southern drawl.
In the first 10 casts made with the premium-quality Orvis fly rod, several golden-colored flashes of trout bursting towards the fly showed that indeed our quarry inhabits these waters. Our guide did not hook any of these fish, probably out of courtesy to his awestruck clients.
“Well this should be pretty easy,” I thought. Three frustrating hours later, my faith in catching fish was in serious question. While patiently trying careful casts and approaching each fishable pool with a fresh outlook, I must admit I felt a bit frustrated. My wife had paid hundreds of dollars to provide this experience for me, the guide had delivered us to waters full of trout, and somehow the fish continued to elude our best efforts. Was this birthday boy really going to strike out on trout?
An eruption of water at the site of my drifting fly jolted me out of my inner mind-game. An aggressive strike by a brookie finally connected the hook with the corner of the fish’s mouth. After a brief battle that featured jumps and twists (by the trout and not this jittery angler), the seven inch-long trout slid into my hand. With crimson fins outlined in bold white, the palette of colors and patterns on this trout rivaled a Monet watercolor.
“You finally caught one!” my lovely wife joyfully noted. For the first few hours, I had barely spoken to her as we both kept trying to break the trout drought. With fish in hand and photos taken, now we could smile and laugh.
Would you believe that in the next three hours I caught a dozen brook trout, a feisty brown trout, and a monster 20-inch rainbow trout that made our guide howl with delight? You might doubt the story, unless you are also a victim of the seductive challenge of fly fishing. While the trout win the game most of the time, we have the photographs to prove that sometimes the persistent anglers come out on the winning side.