October 1, 2010
I worked in a fly shop for twenty-three years. Most of my fellow employees worked a season or two to experience Jackson Hole Wyoming then moved on with their lives. If you add it up, I probably worked with over 100 different people during my time. Amazingly, I’m still good friends and keep in touch with more than half of these great people. Most of them are “grownups” and have families and don’t spend much time fly fishing anymore. However, when they make it through Jackson, we always try to squeeze in a day of fishing together. This week Chris Reinking of Atlanta, Georgia was in range and we met at the Harriman Ranch on the Henry’s Fork. Reinking worked for me during approximately 1997-1999.
Chris fished with another former employee of mine, Mike Patron (now from Bozeman Montana), on Monday. They fished on the upper Ranch just below the log jam and although they caught small fish, the big ones that bring you to the Ranch weren’t around. I’d had slow fishing on the upper Ranch last month so we decided to try mid Ranch and access it through what it called the Mail Box.
Whenever you fish the Ranch look forward to more than just fishing. Usually in the fall you hear bugling elk and expect a moose or two to cross the river while you cast to a fish. Today we had not only that but we ran into some cowboys herding cattle. Reinking and I were rigging our rods at our cars when we heard a stampede heading our way from the forest behind us. We kept a watchful eye and sure enough out came hundreds of head of cow fleeing from six cowboys on horseback. What appeared like total chaos to Chris and I was completely organized by the skilled wranglers. One cowboy left the pack and bravely stopped traffic on the busy Route 20. Then in less than five minutes they forced every single cow through the tight Mail Box entrance to the Railroad Ranch.
Needless to say it was a dusty walk to the river through the noise of hundreds of mooing cows. It was hotter than a normal day in August and there wasn’t an ounce of wind. This has been the hottest fall I can remember. When we got to Cattleman’s Bridge we opted to cross and walk downstream to where I saw several big fish way back in June during my Marathon. We grabbed a seat in the tall dying grass and observed while we caught upon the happenings in our lives. Slowly, the Henry’s Fork came to life. First just a couple Mahogany Duns appeared. Then before we knew it there was a steady flow of them. I love the Mahogany dun hatch because they are easy to see. After months of tiny PMD’s and Trico’s down to size 22, Mahogany Duns seem huge.
Numerous small rainbows began to rise. Then the occasional medium size rainbow showed and disappeared. A medium size rainbow in the Ranch is in the 14” to 16” range. While a great fish, on the Ranch I rarely get up to cast until I spot a fish that I think is 18” or over. Reinking said screw it. He doesn’t have time to watch a bunch of fish rise and he wandered out and set up on some medium size trout. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore either. I was just about to make my first cast with my CDC Mahogany Dun when out the corner of my eye I saw a huge head break the surface on the far bank. Then I saw the fish again. I could tell from the size of his nose and the push of water he created when he rose that this was the fish I was here for. The massive rainbow was slowly moving upstream feeding on every dun that drifted his way.
I waded right over the top of the medium sized fish I was going to fish too. Many times on the Ranch, these big fish feed aggressively for a few minutes then disappear. I wasn’t waiting around. I wanted to make my first cast on him within the minute. I came within inches of flooding my waders twice before I was in position to make a cast. Once there I delicately placed a cast upstream to him with my 4-weight Ross. Casting upstream over the top of a rising fish is risky business. You must have a long leader. My typical Ranch leader in the fall is nearly 18-feet long! And you never want to cast so far that your fly line goes over the trout. While a delicate leader usually goes unnoticed, even the light weight of the tip of my Rio Double Taper Trout LT line can be enough to send the trout running.
My first cast was on the money and I collected the slack from my leader as my fly drifted towards me. I knew the large rainbow was looking. Then I saw the water below my fly displace and as I took a deep breath expecting the trout to break the surface and eat my fly, he refused it. S . . . I thought to myself! Not only did he refuse my fly but I didn’t have another on me to change to. My flies were on shore in my pack all the way across the river where Chris and I were hanging out. If I took the time to go back and get them, surely this trout would be gone. I had no choice but to keep presenting and hope I could force feed this selective giant. Over and over I dropped my fly while the fish dodged it and rose to every natural that went by. It was unnerving being so close to this hungry brute with the wrong fly. I was just losing hope when he refused my fly again. This means he’s still thinking about it and if you keep up what you’re doing the trout eventually gives in. I knew it was just a matter of time. Sure enough, twenty casts more and our standoff ended when he gently sipped my fly.
My tippet was a mere 6X. Thank goodness Rio 6X Powerflex is a heck of a lot stronger than tippet was in the past. Still, rather than a violent hook set, all I had to do was raise my rod and the game was on. At first the rainbow thrashed and made some short runs. That lasted about 30 seconds before he was off and running upstream. The biggest fear now is getting broke off in the weeds. Like most spring creeks, the bottom of the Ranch is an entanglement of vegetation. Fighting trout love to go under weed beds and out the other side and then the same in the next patch. Your fly line and leader have no choice but to follow. Usually you get tangled and the trout breaks you off. This fish was unwisely staying high in the water column. As he charged upstream I followed keeping as close as I could. Finally he used the weeds to his advantage and everything stopped. Somehow I felt he was still on. I was sure the trout himself was buried in the weeds. I reeled and waded to exactly where he was. There was my leader and tippet leading right into a thick patch of weeds. I reeled to within a foot of my leader butt and stuck my foot in the weeds where my tippet led. He was there. While creating slight pressure by pulling the leader by hand and shuffling my feet in the weeds at the same time, out came the monster rainbow. He was easily 20 inches and he was tired. I let go of my leader and lifted my rod tip to bring the trout to the surface where I intended to tail him. That’s when he let out one last surge. This time I wasn’t so lucky. The amazing rainbow that I could have touched seconds ago took off down stream and through the weeds again, this time he broke me off. Dang!
It would have been nice to have a photo of the rainbow trout of the year up on the blog today, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Although I came close, the usual happened and I got weeded before I could celebrate. Reinking was just heading my way with his camera in hand when he stopped to hear my words of dissatisfaction. Then I followed those ear burners by shouting, “Beer Break”. No matter how the fishing is there’s nothing better then time with old friends. Chris had his own chance at a nice fish later but he too lost the battle. We each caught a handful of little guys and at sunset we headed for Trout Hunter for dinner and beer. No fishing for a few days, it’s time to get some work done.