Redemption Fish

What’s a “redemption fish”?

I personally consider a redemption fish one that I’ve hooked and lost.  It can’t be a small fish…it has to be something decent that makes you want to go back after it.

They’re typically wild or holdover fish that have been in the river for years or a lifetime because they don’t get caught often.  The type of fish that sticks in your mind long after you’ve left the river. A fish you think about before you go to sleep at night. A fish that won the battle of the day and haunts you.

Nobody lands all the nice fish they hook, if they say they do then they are lying. There’s just too much that can go wrong and everything has to go right. 

As a first bit of wisdom, I tell the guys I mentor to always check knots and tippet.  Those breaks are avoidable if you pay attention. I tell them to expect always to hook a big fish, so don’t lose it to a bad knot or a frayed piece of tippet that fails while you’re fighting it.

Ironically, that advice is usually cemented after they’ve lost a nice fish to a bad knot or broken tippet. Even if your gear is 100%, you need to deal with the inherent obstacles in the river. I can’t tell you how many nice fish I’ve lost fishing a two- or three-fly rig when I’ve hooked a beauty on one of my droppers and the anchor fly hooks a submerged stick…that’s a sickening feeling.

And, of course, the most common drop is when you hook a nice fish and he rolls or runs below you and pops the hook.  In my experience there isn’t much you can do when this happens except come back another day for redemption.

On with my story.

So the last time out, I had a great day. I put plenty of nice fish in the net and considered the day a success. And, yet, when I came home I was thinking about the one that got away…my most-recent redemption fish. I hooked this fish in a shallow riffle, and he spit the hook in short order.  I knew it was a nice fish by the weight and the splash it made when it was hooked.

I was disappointed at the time but put it in my memory bank where the hookup happened and vowed to be back for redemption.  I even told a good friend exactly where it lived so he could try to put it in the net this past weekend, but, he didn’t have any luck.

Now, this week, my day to fish was Wednesday.  I got to the Farmington River around 8 am and scoped it out.  The first spot I wanted was taken, so, I thought, why not try for my redemption fish? 

I drove down to the spot, suited up and headed down to the water.  It was a typical November morning, a bit overcast, the air temp was in the mid 30s, and the water was an even 50.

The water was mostly clear and the cfs was around 330. I didn’t want to start off with fishing the lie of my redemption fish, so I fished some other water and put a bow and a small wild brown in the net to get the rust off.

I then got in position, made a good cast, and, sure enough, I was hooked up. This time I stepped below the fish, kept my rod tip up with good pressure and eventually put him in the net. Victory was mine. It wasn’t my best fish of the day, but, it was a redemption fish, so it was the sweetest fish of the day.

A taped 19″ Survivor Strain holdover brown

What’s important and I want you all to remember is that when fishing for bigger browns, they tend to stay in the same section of river. In fact, they tend to stay in the same exact lies. So, if you hook up and lose a nice brown, there is a good chance you can go back and get another shot at redemption.

For the mini-report, fishing was good again. It was the same as last week. Most fish were caught in in 6″ to 24″ of water in moderate riffles.  Stones, Cased Caddis, Mops, Squirmy and Eggs.

Best fish was a big solid buck brown
Beautiful brown with big spots

Get out and spend some time on the river before the time of the year starts when you are clearing ice from your guides.

Until next time, tight lines!

Andrew Lyons


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10 thoughts on “Redemption Fish

  1. Thanks for your the great story Andy. Can you offer a suggestion as to what size your anchors are? Rock Candy Larva #14 maybe for the cased caddis? I’m not well versed on the color and size on the stones this time of the year. Hope to bump into you later this week.

    1. Hi John,
      My anchors have been lighter rather than smaller. A bigger pattern with no tungsten bead and less lead on the body. I tie my patterns in different weights for different water. The size/weight of the anchor is directly related to the speed/depth of the water where I want to get my flies down. The Rock Candy sinks like a stone…so with the current flows and time of year I’d be fishing a smaller one #16-#18. As for stones…I typically fish a Pat’s Rubber Legs #10 in various colors. Olive/Ginger – Black/Coffee – Black/Yellow all produce at times on the river. When the water temp drops to the mid-low 30’s I add a little UV flash to get some attention…but not too much. The water temp probably dropped 10+ degrees in the past week…it’ll be interesting where I find fish this week. Good luck out there…I’m trying to fish tomorrow.

  2. Great story! Love the blog. My redemption fish this year was a nice holdover near my home in the Hudson Valley region of NY. He broke me off on an evening hatch. I went back at the crack of dawn with my biggest streamer and got him! Best of the year at just under 18″…was so pleased when I got him to net!

    1. Thanks Cory – I’m glad you could relate. I knew most people would have their own redemption fish. I’m glad you were able to go back and get yours…I’ve had plenty that I wasn’t able to go back and get so when it happens it’s a great feeling!!

  3. Thanks for the great read, Andy. Great advice on knots and tippet fraying which has cost me in the past. I test both plenty now. I’m glad you got your redemption fish amongst the other beautiful browns.

    Last June, on a rainy and gloomy day, I was fishing the Swift River and cast a brace of nymphs into an area up against both bank and brush pile where in a previous outing I had a swing and a miss from a nice brown. This time I connected and that fish was off to the races. I kept it out of the brush pile where it lives, but it made a charge to another one downstream. I turned him around from that one and after that it raced directly at me. Doing my best to bring in line and keep tension, I couldn’t do it fast enough to keep the trout from diving deep into sub-surface wood between me and the trout.

    I could still feel the trout on for a while and even saw it briefly as it shook its head to get the barbless hook out. I believe I ran into this trout again a month ago as it was rising in relatively the same area leaving bubbles and making a sound like a cork being pulled out of a wine bottle as it picked off what it was eating. Once again I had it on, but only briefly as it took an emerger dropped below an elk hair caddis. Like you wrote, I think about that fish often and still try the zone, but haven’t seen any signs of it lately.

    Regards, Sam

    1. Hey Sam,
      Great comment!! You brought up some great points about those big browns always looking for their hiding spots. Also I don’t get all my redemption fish. I’ve had fish I’ve gone back after for months and never touched them again. I just try to remember what time of year and where I hooked them and go back next year at the same time for another chance. Hopefully next year you will have another shot and be able to share some pics!! Good Luck and tight lines!!

  4. Another great read. Once again motivated by Andy. Also reminds me of a redemption fish I had earlier this year, a big Farmington steel bow that went airborne several times and made screaming runs across the river. I couldn’t have been happier when I hooked it again a few weeks later but was able to stay ahead of the fish and take the fight into the slower water of a pool.

    1. I remember that big bow Damon. Lucky to get a redemption bow…they move a lot in my experience. Like I said there’s something special about redemption fish!

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