I’m always a little sheepish about catching fish by accident.
It almost happened yesterday. I was fishing one of my favorite pothole lakes, a lake I frequent this time of year as rivers are often unfishable, or soon to be so. But the especially cold spring weather has meant some of my usual tactics aren’t paying off.
The lake is filled with scuds and these freshwater shrimp fuel the rapid growth of fish here. Still, I’ve only had mixed luck fishing imitations of these tiny cocktail crustaceans, this time of year at least. Usually in May there’s a smorgasbord of hatching insects drawing the attention of fish toward the surface.
So I went with my favorite early May pothole pattern, a smallish CDC emerger. The fly is close enough to a variety of bugs that it often does the trick regardless of what’s coming off, be it mayflies or midges.
Yesterday, sadly, the fly got few looks. Weather was a factor. When the wind blows the unsheltered lake turns into a froth of small whitecaps. Even if I can manage to punch a cast through that wind, there’s no way I’m going to pick out a No. 18 fly with barely a tuft of cream-colored duck down fighting to stay above the foamy surface. When it blows I usually retire to the more moderate conditions of my truck to sip a cold IPA until the wind lays down.
In this chilly spring still air wasn’t enough. Only when the sun broke through the patchy clouds, and then only briefly, did the surface action turn on. The sun would peak out, and in a few minutes there’d be noses poking out right and left, but by the time I’d made a few casts, the action would end as quickly as it began.
And nothing sipped my emerger.
It was after my failure during one of these brief flurries of action that I finally stumbled into a fish. As I stripped in my fly, probably so I could retreat to my pickup truck warming hut, I first saw a V-wake in the general vicinity of my fly, then the tug of the fish.
I in no way intended to lure a trout with my stripped emerger pattern, but we’ve all had trout act in seemingly illogical ways like this before. It had been an especially tough day so, frankly, I was thrilled. I started playing the fish, which was big enough to take line, and worked quickly trying to get it on the reel.
I don’t think about playing from the reel anymore. Once a fish is hooked and I’ve reacted to whatever it does on its initial run, my focus immediately turns to getting all that slack line on the reel. I control the line with the trigger finger, pinching it between my right index and middle fingers, then place the line coming right off the reel between the other two digits on my right hand and crank up the slack with my left. Once the slack is picked up I let my drag slow the fish without fear all that loose line will get hung up.
Unfortunately, just as I started cranking, the fish decided to head for deep water, and in my peripheral vision I saw a tangle of line racing at the speed of a trout toward my trigger finger. Before I could let go the knot hit the trigger and ping, the fish was gone.
That turned out to be the only trout of the day. It was accidental, but frankly, I really wanted this one. Weather and circumstance have limited my fishing this season, and besides, no one was there to see that in this case, the trout had fooled me.
Accidental or not, sometimes you just need to catch a fish.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.