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The One That Got Away


Lake City

I ate my first brook trout tonight, at least as far as I know. Caught it myself, cooked it in garlic and butter. Tasted pretty good, though next time I think olive oil and onions might be even better.

But let me tell you 'bout the one that got away.....

Last week, despite fear that fishing might be just another way to ruin a walk, I hired a guide and gear for $150 and went fly fishing on Big Blue Creek. To my surprise I found traipsing up a creek trying to be smarter than a fish quite delightful.

I may have jinxed myself, blurting out "I didn't think it would be this easy!". Doug just grinned and said nothing. Doug is a former fast attack submariner who decided after 15 years of corporate life to retire to Lake City and be a full time fisherman.

He was an excellent teacher, turning up rocks casually to show me caddis and mayfly larvae scuttling across the underside. He pointed out mature mayflies floating on the surface of the creek. He seemed to be able to spot fish where I saw only rocks and ripples. He told me how trout habitually feed in the slack water downstream of rocks, or more precisely at the border of fast and slow water.

He made it all seem simple. Pick your fly according to whether Mayfly, Caddis, or Stonefly were rising in the stream. Cast upstream into "productive water", which seems to mean where trout are able to hover in slow water with the least effort, right next to where fast water is bringing them dinner. Float your fly in, don't slap the water.


I found I have a little bit of talent for this, at least the casting part. I caught 4 brook trout and lost one fly. Water temperature was 50 degrees, which means they weren't biting much. Doug said it was ok to keep the brooks and browns, but not the rainbows, which are still relatively rare around here. A few years ago an epidemic of whirling disease decimated the population.

We just caught and released everything. I was sufficiently impressed that I showed up at Dan's Fly Shop the next morning and bought $600 worth of gear and books.

Dan's got a great life. All he does is fish, prepare to fish, and prepare others to fish. I guess he eats fish, but all he wants the rest of us to do is catch and release. The day after buying gear, I went back to the Big Blue alone, and again caught 4 brookies and lost one fly. At least I was holding my own. These trout ran 8-10 inches, and I released all of them. But by the end of the day, I wished I had kept them to eat.

While I was buying flies at Dan's I overheard someone singing the praises of Cebolla Creek, and how they had seen some big browns. So today I went over Slumgullion Pass and tried my luck.

I pulled into the parking area at the junction of Brush and Cebolla Creeks at about 1pm, and parked next to a red Jeep Cherokee. I walked upstream past several beaver dams to where the Cebolla was running steeper and deeper, and started fishing. It was tricky because of lowhanging trees and flygrabbing bushes, and lots of boulders. I lost a couple of flies before I caught a brookie in a pool just below a fallen tree.

The brookie was in the 8-10 inch range. It takes a couple or three to make a real meal. I put this one in a gallon ziplock bag with a little water, and put bag and all into the left front pocket of my vest. For an hour afterward, every now and then, I could feel him flutter against my heart.

But no more fish came to join him.

The algae on the rocks was very slippery, the water often thigh high, and more than once I nearly fell full length backwards into the stream. Finally I gave up, about 4 pm, and made my way up the bank to the trail. There I quickly found out that algae isn't near as slippery to felt soles as dry loose dirt.

I was tired, but the weight of that one trout felt good against my chest.

After about an hour's hike, I got back to Brush creek, just below the parking lot. I took a look at it, and liked what I saw. It had everything Doug said to watch for - plenty of broad stones blocking moderately brisk water, and quiet pools below them. How did I miss this when I parked? I decided to lay a Parachute Adams right on top of one of those pools.

The strike was immediate. Another brookie, somewhat larger. I didn't get a chance to measure him. I had to reach the forceps way down his gullet to remove the hook.

"That's a good'un, " she said, nearly making me drop fish and forceps into the water. Where the hell did she come from? Then I looked up and saw a very nice looking woman, about 45, with short red hair and green eyes. She was standing on the bank behind, watching me gape at her. She probably gets a lot of that.

"Thanks." Such eloquence. You dummy. " long have you been here?"

"All afternoon. But now I've got to get back to work."

"Where's that?"


"You driving all that way tonight?"

"Yes. I'm used to it. I just couldn't quit fishing."

"Catch many?"

"Six. Small ones."

"Didn't see you. Up or down?"

"Down." Which explained why I didn't see her. Old Soul, I thought, you've been fishing in the wrong place.

I put the new trout in the ziplock with the other one, and climbed up the bank to where she was. She gave me a steadying hand up, which felt odd. She was pretty strong. For some reason I forgot all about continuing to quarter the stream like I was supposed to.

Her name was Linda, and she belonged to some sort of group of women anglers. She had been staying in Lake City all week, and somehow I missed seeing her till now. Turned out she knew where Georgetown was. She grew up in Dallas. Her sister even went to Southwestern U., about 3 blocks from my house.

And she owns a motorhome, a 24 foot 1990 Fleetwood she said she's turned into a "chickmobile", with lace curtains, candle holders, incense burners, knick-knacks. Sounds like a perfect horror, but I managed not to tell her that. We talked while she stowed her gear and I followed her around like a puppy dog.

I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to parlay a chance meeting and a short personal history into, say, a last name, or an e-mail address, a phone number, a 20 year marriage, adjoining rooms at the nursing home. That sort of thing.

She got her keys out and hesitated at the driver's door. A shadow seemed to cross her face. Or it could have been these durn polarized lenses.

"Well, nice talking to you."

"Sure thing, Linda. You going straight back?" You already asked that. Think. Think.

"Got to be at work in the morning. I'm not looking forward to it. Well, see yah. Good luck with the fishing."

"Sure. Have a good trip."

Then she got in, backed around, and headed off for the road, leaving a cloud of dust around me. I remembered the fish, flopping against my chest.

Or maybe it was my heart turning over. No, it was the fish. Thinking I better get some more cold water on them, I climbed down into Brush Creek again and opened the ziplock bag slightly.

I guess my mind was elsewhere.

Because right then, at that very moment, one of those trout gave a great muscular flop and leaped half way out of the bag. I clapped my hands together to catch it, but the slippery devil went right through my fingers.

One slap in the water, and it was gone.

Dammit! I held the bag tightly, but it was way too late. The other fish wasn't moving anyway. Dammit!

When I climbed back up on the bank, the dust from her long gone Cherokee hung thin and high, the afternoon sun turning it almost orange. There was an ozone itch in the air, and a faint smell like perfume.

I sneezed. And sneezed.

O, wellll. Tomorrow is another day.

And that's the story of the one that got away.


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