One of the endearing qualities of fly fishing for wild trout in beautiful places is the often unpredictable, humbling nature of the pursuit. It seems to me that when I arrive at a fishing destination with certain preconceived notions or expectations, the place and the fish often throw a curveball or two my way, as a reminder that I need to watch and learn some more.
Such was the case in early March when I made the trip back up to the walk-in at Lees Ferry for the day, and received my medicine in more ways than one. I came with expectations of many fine rainbows being brought to hand, and landed a fine fish in short order near the Paria River confluence to start the day. However, I followed with more fish missed or lost, mostly through a comedy of errors on my part, than I care to mention here.
Some days, or parts of days, are just like that at times with fishing, when the timing is a little off, the powers of observation are not as keen, or the mind just wanders, too wrapped up in the surrounding frenetic pace of the world. Thankfully, by early afternoon on this particular day, I slowed down, tied on a #12 beadhead red San Juan Worm with an egg pattern trailing, and worked methodically up through the boulder gardens towards the upstream end of the walk-in area. I dead-drifted the double rig on a short line, and cast into as many likely seams and pockets as possible.
I only connected with a few fish, and of these, two were brought to hand, but they were both spirited wild rainbows, including this healthy female stretching just past 15".
As the day wore on, the red and pink cliffs turned brilliant with the sun's late afternoon light, and reflected on the river's surface like a giant flowing stained glass window. The rhythm of casting and wading through this landscape was mesmerizing and otherworldly, making me feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
I continued to lob the patterns upstream, and after one cast to a rather unremarkable pocket created by a subsurface boulder, the line tightened quickly, and I found myself firmly attached to an unyielding, ponderous weight. A heavy fish had grabbed the San Juan Worm, and proceeded to head-shake and use the strong currents to full advantage, wearing down my arm in the process. I could eventually see that I had hooked my best fish to date at Lees Ferry, a football-shaped rainbow that peeled off line every time I tried to coax it towards the shallows near shore. The trout had to be one of the toughest I've fought in recent memory, displaying that raw and spooky strength where you don't feel entirely in control of the outcome. Instead, I just hoped the fish didn't decide to blast away downstream and snap the tippet like an afterthought.
Fortunately, after what felt like an agonizingly long time of tug-of-war, I managed to coax the big trout close to shore, and gazed down at a thick slab of male rainbow, measuring just over 18", a dark olive fish with vibrant crimson gill plates and side stripes--truly one of the more stunning bows I've caught in some time.
I admired the beauty of the bruiser male for a few more moments as he revived in the cold clear currents, and then watched as the fish charged off, seemingly unaffected by our brief shared encounter.
It was an unexpected and welcome finish to a day that had mostly not gone as planned. I suppose a lesson lies there somewhere, but at the time I just felt glad to be knee deep in a river sweeping through a stunning landscape, and graced with a beautiful rainbow that calls Lees Ferry home.