The Moment of Truth

July 19 -20, 2010

Day 10 & 11

I’ve done it again. I’m delirious. I’ve fished myself into another stupor by literally fishing 40 of the last 48 hours. But I had to. I’m running out of time.

You remember I finished up dinner with Vladi on the banks of the Orkla River at 10 pm two nights ago. I was feeling lucky so rather than go to bed; I went out for another pass through my beat. Well, I went through it a few times and went to bed fishless at 1:30 am. Of course Vladi had been sleeping since 10 pm so when he woke up to the sunrise at 3 am, he got me up to fish again. Talk about being a wreck! Naturally I went.

I fished from 3:30 am until 11 am without stopping, determined to catch a big Atlantic salmon. I fished through some drizzle but for the most part it was an amazing setting of a rising sun and glistening moss covered rocks. My fishing technique became more of a routine and my concentration level dropped off dramatically as the morning went by. At 10:10 am, during my last hour I literally fell asleep standing up fishing. I kid you not. But that didn’t last long.

I guess I was staring aimlessly at my line. My line was like a pendulum. I’d cast at the 45 degree angle and let the current swing it across the river and back to the bank I was standing on. Then I’d take three big steps, strip it half way in and do it again. Imagine doing this for a week with very little action. Then as I was gazing pointlessly at my swinging fly line and I thought I saw a huge figure moving with it. I didn’t know exactly where my fly was but the figure had to be near it. I was seeing things I thought to myself. Then I got the touch. I’ve only heard about it, but I’m told the bigger the salmon the lighter they touch your fly. This touch I could barely feel.

It was near heart failure to actually have this traditional Atlantic salmon situation happening to me. I’ve known about this since I was a kid because Lee Wulff wrote about it in his classic book The Atlantic Salmon. He gives one of the best descriptions ever written and I’ve had this event painted in my mind for most of my life. I never expected to experience it.

I let my fly dangle below me for a minute but there was nothing. When you feel this famous touch, your not suppose to panic. And you absolutely are not supposed to set the hook. You just wait for the touch to hold on and then give the fish line (A very difficult thing to do without experience). Then after the salmon takes line you don’t even set the hook, you just lift the rod up and he’s there.

This salmon wasn’t there at all. He touched my fly and left. All I could do was cast again, and again and again. Then ten casts later, when I was beginning to believe the episode didn’t happen, it happened again. But, I’d lost my concentration. I committed the ultimate sin. I set the damn hook! I felt my hook just nick the mouth of the fish and tear loose. I could picture my fly just dinging the tip of this huge salmon’s hard mouth and now he was bolting all the way back to the sea. He was gone. I was mortified.

There’s no other type of fly fishing that has you talking to yourself like Atlantic salmon fishing. I was mumbling to myself like a drunken fool. A lot of swearing too if I remember. It was horrible. I prayed for two things. Maybe the salmon is stupid enough to give me another chance or maybe there’s more than one. I got a grip on myself and cast again. I didn’t’ move my feet an inch. I just covered the same place over and over and over again. But nothing. About ten minutes and twenty-five casts later still nothing. I assumed it truly was over. I told myself three more casts then change flies. Amazingly, on my third cast an enormous salmon devoured my fly. Not knowing what to do when an Atlantic salmon devours a fly, I set the hook hard and by complete miracle he was there! It was a gargantuan salmon and as he began to realize he was hooked he thrashed on the surface. I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Yes!” hoping Vladi would hear me at our distant camp. Then the huge fish started up his turbo thrusters and took off into the fast current and less than ten seconds later the monster was gone. You guessed it, I swore a hundred times and loud. The event took every ounce of energy out of me. I was feeling so weak I couldn’t even shake. That was it. I made a hundred more weak-effort casts in hopes of another big salmon in the area, but I knew it was over and it was over.

I was devastated as I rolled back into camp at 11:10 am when my permit expired. Vladi had the trailer hooked up and ready to go. As I approached he said he tied me a special fly. I really wasn’t listening. I wanted to tell my story but I was too far gone. I’d tell him later. We were headed back to the Gaula River on 2b for one more 24 hour session. I just dropped out of my waders and plopped in the front seat of his car. Even though it was two hours, it seemed like two minutes went by then I was wadering up for the Gaula 2b beat.

It was 2 pm. I felt awful. I remember saying to myself I felt worse than a hangover. I dreamt of my first nights sleep in my own bed three days from now. This was not fishing, this was torture. While waiting for my first turn I told Vladi and the crew at the salmon shed about my event in the morning. Everyone was excited about it. They could see I was sick about it but filled me with encouragement and even gave me some flies they believed in. They said I’d catch another here but I still couldn’t get my mind off the lost salmon.

With the exception of one huge dinner and breakfast and a two hour nap, I fished through the entire 24 hour session. And nothing. Only Lars caught a nice salmon. Naturally, he caught it at 1 am when I was taking my 2 hour nap. When I got to the bottom of 2b at exactly 2 pm today, I chopped off my fly and reeled my line completely in. It was over. I’ve never been so tired in my life.

I was disappointed but I shouldn’t have been. I came to Norway with a goal – catch an Atlantic salmon. I had written in my journal that I didn’t care what size he was. I just wanted to catch one. I caught two. To experience a classic hook up with a giant was a bonus. If I caught him, I may never come back to Norway. Instead, I have to.

Since getting off the Gaula River, Vladi and I drove six hours to the Trysilelva River near the Sweden border. Its Vladi’s favorite grayling river so it should be incredible. It will be our last day before I fly home. I’m so tired I can’t think about grayling fishing right now. All I do know is I’m fishing dries and my 4-weight Ross all day. I can’t wait.

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