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Mark Stangeland - NUFlyGuide
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Battle Royal

Posted by Mark Friday, May 2, 2014


 Parting shot (* note red fly being thrown right as the shot was taken)

I never really got to tell this story and it is worth telling.......

I had the opportunity to fish with Marty Sheppard on the Sandy recently. The last few years April Fools day has been our day. A time to reconnect and a time for Marty to unwind a little from a grueling winter schedule and get in some much needed fishing time for himself. It's always a fun day on the river and we always seem to find a fish or two. It is an unhurried and mellow vibe as Marty is always gracious with his knowledge of the river and how to fish it.This trip was no different but stood out as special because of one particular encounter.

Another good friend of Marty's was along for the ride today and we all had a great time blabbing about various topics from skiing to fishing to families as we made our way to the put in to drop the boat. Laughing and hearing great stories was the goal of the day. Fishing was the glue that held us all together and kept those stories and laughter coming all day. The fish would do whatever the fish do.....

There was no one at the ramp and it was just starting to get light. Water levels and clarity were perfect and we all had high but realistic hopes that we would find a fish on this day.

Marty is so gracious with his friends that he often tries to put us in the best water all day, that's cool but I want him to fish as well and we have to argue with him to get him to fish sometimes. I love to watch  people fish their own rivers and learn valuable lessons every time I do. Both Steve and I were gonna make sure that Marty got to fish and insisted that he fish first water. That first run produced a solid yank for Marty but his hook had become fouled somehow during the cast and drift and he reeled in to find the hook cleanly around the eyes of the hook rendering the fly useless for hooking purposes. Hey it happens!  I followed behind with another fly to see if we could get another sniff, no such luck.

I think we fished one more run and then came to a weird tail out that is hard to fish. It looked perfect and Steve and I both told Marty "You fish it Marty, it's all you! Marty did his usual, "Are you sure?" We both said "Yes! We're sure! Now get your butt out there and fish it"! Marty says sheepishly, "OK, if you guys insist"

He steps out of the boat and into a spot perched away from the shore. A difficult and deep wade at this water level.  Steve rows the boat into the shore and we watch Marty from there masterfully cast and swing line, getting closer and closer to the bucket. Steve and I are watching from shore and can see he is just about into the prime holding water. Marty sends a lazer beam out and towards the far reaches of the tail out and Steve and I look at each other, Steve says " That was the one right there" Sometimes you just know when you are about to see someone hook up. Both of us standing on the bank had that feeling, I can't explain it but it only comes around every so often. The fly swings slowly, we watch Marty and his every movement waiting for any indication that a fish has struck his fly. The fly swings into the juice of the bucket, nothing has happened, Marty stands like a statue. Then slowly, ever so slowly we see Marty's rod hand move slightly as he slowly directs the rod to the bank. Still nothing happens and no sign from Marty that anything is actually happening.( As we would learn later, Marty said the fish was just chewing on the fly forever but would not turn with it)  With the kind of patience that only comes with experience, Marty waits for that eternity to pass before the fish has turned on the fly and hooks himself. This was not a situation where striking the fish was gonna work. The line was tight, there was a bit of weight but he could tell that the fish was swimming and chewing on the fly and a quick set would have been the wrong move.  After what seemed like a minute we finally see the rod go vertical as he raises the rod. He had a ton of line out and at the initial hookup it was hard to see what size of fish he had encountered. We saw a disturbance in the tail as the fish broke water. Still looking for clues as to the size of the fish we watch as Marty tries to keep a tight line on this fish as it is well aware of it's predicament now. Then we see the long low arc of the rod reaching to the cork, flat lining, indicating a large fish. The big, slow throbs of the rod confirm to us that this is no ordinary fish. We watched from the bank as the fish decides to find another gear and leave the playing field, holding temporarily at the end of the tail before plunging downstream into the rapids below.

We yell to Marty " You need us to come get ya ?" already knowing the answer as he is in a closeout wading position and will be swimming if he tries to go down or towards shore. We jump in the boat and Steve gets us out to Marty and I grab the rod from him as he scrambles aboard on the fly as we have no anchor. Steve gets the boat to shore and we pull it in. Marty jumps out and resumes fighting the fish. The fish is pissed off and taking line, finding refuge in the various deep pockets between the rapids. Chasing this fish will be hard as wading is sketchy at best and there is a lot of stream side vegetation to maneuver around. We all lend a hand passing the rod back and forth in and through willows and alders, wading nipple deep in the fast pocket water and over logs as we follow the fish downstream. All of us have had the rod and felt the power of this fish and it is awesome! We finally get through the worst of the bank obstructions and Marty grabs the rod to make a stand in a small bay. It's now or never and Marty pressures the fish as hard as he dares testing the limits of his tackle and terminal gear. The fish finally tires slightly and it's time to get a look at this thing. Multiple times the fish is right out in front of us and then gives a couple tail wags and is gone into the depths yet again. Marty puts the wood to the fish one last time in an effort to make something happen, he's fighting this fish hard. Really the whole fight from the time we picked him up in the boat to this point way down the bank has lasted  maybe 5-6 minutes. The fish rolls onto it's side and we get to see the true girth of the fish. An amazing wild buck in the upper teens, possibly into the low 20lb mark. Just a mammoth specimen that is perfect in every way. Steve grabs the line and slowly the fish comes to hand. He goes to grab the tail and it is just too big to get a hold of securely. The fish wags that tail a couple times and Steve valiantly hangs onto it with one hand like a bull rider trying to hang on for the full 8 seconds. He gets to about 4 seconds and the fish gives a mighty flip of his powerful body and Steve is bucked off and left in the dust. With that final tail flip the hook pops free and the fish heads for the deep.

We are all left awed and humbled to have seen a wild fish of this magnificence. It was Marty's first fish of the year and it was a beauty. As we slowly walked back to the boat reliving the battle,  Marty says " Aren't you guys glad ya brought me?" He's joking of course as we were his guests but this is Marty's humor. This was no doubt probably followed by a slap or a shoulder punch from both Steve and I but yes Marty, we were glad, so glad we brought you!


  1. Mark;
    That was a great story!! It's so great to have fishing friendships where competition and "numbers" are not part of the experience. Good for Marty on his unselfish sharing of water on his guide's day off and for the connection to the epic buck. BTW, I found a red metal detector on a shore side tree branch at the Susan Creek area a few weeks ago, looked like one of Marty's flies.


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