The dry fly skitters across the pool. Then a huge boil and full body rise of a large steelhead breaks the stillness of the glassy tail out. The fish fully missed the fly but he has now given away his precise location."Did you see that"? my dude says,hardly able to contain his excitement. "Yes! That was the target species" I say jokingly. "I told ya it would stop your heart" "You were not kidding! he says trying to regain his composure.
We rest the fish for a minute or two and he sends the skater back out for another drift through the same lie.Nothing doing. I tell him to shorten up his line and step a couple stems back up. I tie on a small purple wet fly and he starts through again slowly lengthening line to reach the lie of the fish that rose. He makes several great drifts in the zone and no fishy. I grab his line and change flies again tying on a tiny little skater and have him start in again, 20-25 feet higher than where the fish is laying. I want to make sure we are well above the fish and slowly work the little skater down to him. This extra distance also allows the fish to calm down and the fisherman also to settle down and make good casts. It allows the fisherman to get in the grove again working his way into the fish and not throwing the first cast out to the spot on a bad cast and blowing the fish out of there. Shortening up also allows for the possibility that the fish was actually holding up much higher than he showed himself at. Fish will sometimes turn and follow a fly down 10 or more feet and then rise on it. I want to make sure all our bases are covered. This process also allows for the fact that another fish may have moved into this area of holding water or that for some reason you did not get a drift that enticed the fish in that area. This last scenario was what we found and was a good lesson for me to step back up and shorten up and recover old ground again when working a risen fish.
He starts back in with the baby skater and on the second cast another fish rises to the fly. This is well short of the first rise and is obviously another fish, it was easy to see this fish was smaller. He sends the baby skater out again and nada. I change the fly to a purple muddler and we replay the chess game. He casts,he swings, I change flies multiple times and he covers both lies and neither fish will commit to the eat. After 40 minutes or so and much excitement we wind up and go to another spot, knowing full well we gave the fish all we could.
You don't win them all,but seeing an angler that is new to the river light up when he see's a steelhead come to the surface after his dry fly offering was satisfying indeed.
This game we play with these fish is an obsession. Sometimes they get the upper hand but it's all about the process. What we see on the surface and what really goes on underneath can be two totally different things. True in fishing and true in life.
Joe Walsh says it well in the song The Confessor:
If you look at your reflection in the bottom of a well what you see is only on the surface If you try to see the meaning hidden underneath the measure of the depth can be deceiving
The bottom has a rocky reputation
The bottom has a rocky reputation
You can feel it in the distance the deeper down you stare From up above it's hard to see, but you know it when you're there On the bottom words are shallow - on the surface talk is cheap You can only judge the distance by the company you keep