I was twenty years old, working a fly shop job and fishing every waking moment possible. I was single, responsibility was a word that was not even in my dictionary, and my time was fully devoted to racking up as many new angling experiences as possible. I did not have much in the way of money, but the freedom to fish on as many occasions as possible made me the richest person in the world!
My 8:00pm departure to a lake that had been on my list for years would leave me arriving somewhere around 3 in the morning. As I rolled in, I was physically too tired to set up camp but mentally too excited to sleep. I knew there were rainbows over ten pounds swimming in the waters not 100 feet in front of where my vehicle was parked. I grabbed a beer from my six-pack that had dialed itself down to room temperature over the duration of the drive, and broke out my fly tying kit. Sleep was not in the books anytime soon.
After a short cat nap, I woke up at 6:00am feeling as though I had just won the lottery. It was getting light outside, the sound of a loon on the lake was the only thing breaking the silence, I quickly unloaded my one-man pram and got my rods set up. I rigged a #10 Polar Chenille Leech on one rod, and a #18 chironomid pupa on the other. Each stroke of the oar brought me closer to the fish I had spent so many nights dreaming about, it was finally here.
Little did I know, Mother Nature had other plans for me. A wicked storm rolled in by 9:00am and I was chased off the lake after breaking off one fish that was in the 8 pound range. Nobody in their right mind drives 7 hours to fish for a day and a half, but I never said I was in my right mind at the time! Almost a full day was sacrificed to the elements, with brief attempts to fish being shut out by the inability to anchor in the gale-force winds. A can of soup and the rest of my six-pack was an acceptable dinner at that age, and I went to sleep with high hopes.
The next morning I awoke to the sound of wind trying it’s best to lift my vehicle off of the ground. I texted my boss and asked if I could buy myself another day, but I was needed back at work and had to make it happen today. The conditions let up a little bit overnight, but overall it was nothing short of miserable. One hour, two hours, then three hours went by without a fish hooked up. Occasionally I would hear what sounded like a sumo wrestler doing a cannonball from the high dive, only to remember it was just another double digit rainbow crashing the surface. This was a sound that I had almost gotten used to by now.
I was beginning to feel a slight hint of discouragement, my strike indicators bobbing perfectly in a small ripple as I sat tucked into a back bay away from the wind. I had to leave by 3:00pm, still fishless I decided to look at my phone for a time check. I had almost given up hope by now, but it is not over until the fat lady sings! My frigid cold hand felt around for my phone inside my jacket pocket, the screen confirmed I only had 15 minutes left to make something happen. This was about to be the quickest 15 minutes of my life.
I looked up to scan the lake, and it took a moment to realize that there was only one fluorescent orange sphere floating in front of me. My brain reacted quickly, as a missing strike indicator can only mean one thing! Instinctively I grabbed my left rod and set the hook, not knowing what I was in for. A heavy sweep upwards with my off-hand and I felt the weight of the fish, followed by some headshakes that should’ve belonged to a white sturgeon.
Three cartwheels within 40 feet of my boat, two huge runs way into my backing, this fish was all of ten pounds and my heart raced as my reel spun faster and faster. Time seemed to find a way to stand still as this fish and I battled it out, a #16 curved nymph hook can wiggle itself free at any time during the fight. Run after run, eventually I slid one of the most memorable fish I’ve ever encountered into a net that was much too small for the task. Her tail was hanging out the top of the basket, I fumbled for my measuring tape. I couldn’t believe my eyes when it was confirmed I just reached the thirty-inch mark, a goal that I had worked towards for years past.
My chilled hands trembled as I attempted to wrap my hand around the wrist of her tail, still in shock at the events that took place. How long would it be before I experience another fish of this calibre? Why was it that the dying moments of my trip yielded the fish of a lifetime? Some questions are best put aside so that your focus can be directed to the moment at hand. This was a true milestone in my fly fishing career.