Thursday, August 11, 2005

Catching a Rainbow Dream

We were on our way to a lake buried underneath the Cirque of Towers in the Wind River Mountains of western Wyoming and were fly-fishing some of the streams exiting the Cirque along the way. My brother had a massive knot that he was trying to untangle, my father was putting some new tippet on his fly rod and so I continued on up over the natural bulge that formed the dam for the lake until the lake spread out before me. It wasn't a large lake but it made up for its lack in size with shear beauty. Steep vertical cliffs lined the three other sides only punctuated occasionally by a deep cleft that was home to a small glacier. To top it off, it was a cloudless blue-sky day with nary a wind so that the surface formed a perfect mirror.

I loosen up my fly and stripped a generous coil of line at my feet before beginning my rhythmic casting with the fly rod, while keeping a large boulder between myself and my intended casting spot. Grip the line, cast forward, wait for the line to unreel out straight, cast backwards, letting some line slip between the fingers of my free hand and add some more length to my cast, grip the line and cast forward, repeating until the fly was getting out to the right distance from shore at the mouth of stream that the rest of my family were sitting along down below some two or three hundred yards.

The cotton like dry fly hung over the water on the forward cast waiting for a backward tug that this time never came. I allowed the fly to settle on the water ever so gently and crouched down further behind the rock so that it was barely in sight. The water is so clear in the lakes of these mountains that you can spot fish swimming down in twenty and thirty feet of water and yet they appear to be near the surface. But as a result of your being able to see them, they can also see you and since humans rarely visit this corner of the earth, they become easily spooked and will take off leaving your dry fly to slowly take on water and sink beneath the surface.

I was about to cast my fly through the air a few times to dry it out before setting it back on the surface when I saw it. At my oblique angle, I could only see a shadow but I knew that it was a large torpedo like fish and it was swimming towards my fly. Every nerve and fiber in my body suddenly tensed up like hard granite as I kept my eyes glued to the fly. A splash of water and the flash of a silvery tail all within a split instant, unlocked my mind and muscles, setting them into action and setting the hook. The fly rod bent double as all slack flew from my hands and started stripping itself from the reel. Fly rods don't have tensioning devices and so I placed the palm of my hand along the spinning reel to provide the tension and prevent the fish on the other end from taking it all out. Nothing left to do but to let out the mandatory war whoop to let my family below know that I had one on and the fight was on.

Sensing the applied tension, the fish doubled back and leapt clear of the surface allowing me for the first time to see that it was a very large rainbow on the other end. Hitting the surface with a splash, I stumbled backwards taking in line and trying to keep the end of the rod up so that tension remained on the line. Three times more in quick succession, the large trout leapt clear of the surface trying desperately to gain its freedom but I kept the rod up and never released the tension. Back below the surface, the fish swam this way and that alternately stripping out line and allowing me to gingerly reel it back in trying never to exceed the one-pound limit on the thin tippet material at the very end which allows the line to be nearly invisibly attached to the fly.

By the time the rainbow had worn itself down, my brother and father were along side and helped me land the tired fish. With a firm grasp of its lower lip, I pulled the trout free of the water and held it clear for everyone to see. Having backpacked for two days carrying all our gear on our back, we had left such non-essential equipment like tape measures and fish scales at home so we could only guess at the size which we deemed to be around 24รข€? and about six pounds in weight. It was enormous, too big for the frying pan and too big of a fish for me to want to eat it.

I gently lowered the trout into the water and while holding it be the tail, gently moved it back and forth to bring much needed oxygenated water past its gills and bring new life and energy back into the muscular body. After about two minutes, the fish had recouped sufficient strength and with a quick thrust of its tail, launched itself into the lake and set itself into dive mode. I watched it swim down into the depths and slip into the shadows of a large boulder some twenty feet down beneath the surface. My dream of catching a big rainbow had finally come true and hopefully someone else would come along in a year or two and catch an even bigger dream.

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