When magic happens once, should you try to make it happen again? Or should you be content to let that magic moment stand in your memory, untarnished by the memory of subsequent failures?
I can’t speak for every trout fisherman, but for me, it’s an irresistible temptation to try to make it happen again. Do you fool a huge brown and never go back to the same spot to try again? Do you catch the hatch at the perfect time with just the right dry fly and never try to catch it in the same way again? Of course, those are hypothetical questions for me since I have no such experience in either scenario, but maybe you catch my drift. One magic experience is never enough.
Last month on the North Fork of the Poudre River in Colorado, I was tempted to re-create a magic moment from two years ago.
Harkening back to early July of 2019, the snow melt runoff was making the main branch of the Poudre River virtually unfishable. The 19-year-old fly shop gurus were telling everyone to fish either the lakes or the North Fork. Knowing even less about fishing for trout in lakes than I do about fishing with dry flies, I set my sights on the North Fork. The North Fork is a little tributary that runs from the bottom of a reservoir for about a mile into the main body of the Poudre River.
But I had a problem. My wife and I only had one rental car. If I took it fishing all day, she’d be stranded in our hotel. After 40 years of marriage, I had a sneaking suspicion that hogging the car all day was not the best way to keep my wife happy. Happy wife, happy life. So we worked out a deal where she would drive me up the river canyon to the North Fork in the morning, drop me off, do whatever she wanted to do all day, and come back and pick me up at 3 pm. Happiness all around.
The morning fishing had me feeling pretty good. I picked up about four decent-sized brown trout as I fished upstream from the parking lot. I noticed that there was a fellow fishing below me and vainly began to imagine that he was seeing me catch these browns and was wishing that I would give him some pointers.
While I was fishing a particularly promising-looking pool, I noticed that the guy following me had leap-frogged me and was now upstream of me. I couldn’t get a good look at him because he had a wide straw hat on his head that kept the sun off him. But I noticed that he was fairly short and had one of those over-sized nets that serious fishermen use. And he looked like he knew what he was doing.
About that time, the trout grew disenchanted with my fly selection/presentation and bites were as scarce as hen’s teeth. But as I glanced upstream to my fellow angler, he seemed to have a fish on every time I looked. Finally, curious as to how he was catching fish when I wasn’t, I got out of the river, leaned my rod and my sling pack against a tree, and walked up to the pool where the other guy was fishing. He had his back to me and didn’t know I was there. I did not want to startle him so I said in as non-startling a way as I could, “Excuse me, would you mind if I watched you for a little bit?”
He turned around to see me, took off his hat, and she shook out her long dark hair, and she said, “No, I don’t mind. Let me show you what I’m using.” Now I was the one who was startled. The guy I thought I was following was, in fact, a woman. I re-traced my words. What had I said? “Would you mind if I watched you for a while?” Could that be taken the wrong way?
Trying to cover my tracks, I said, “I, um, I didn’t realize you were…when I asked if I could watch you, I didn’t mean that in a bad sort of way.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “I knew you were okay when I saw you weren’t a bait fisherman.” I had to appreciate her spontaneous sense of humor. We introduced ourselves. I will refer to her as Mayumi; she was very nice. She showed me her dry-dropper set up with a size 14 Pale Morning Dun dry fly on top with a very small olive nymph under it. She said she was catching most on the nymph.
I watched her fish the pool she was in for a while, thanked her for the tips, and moved about a quarter mile upstream.
I tried to mimic Mayumi’s setup, but I had nothing that looked remotely like the nymph she was using. I was not having any success.
About 1:30 pm, a violent thunderstorm caught me by surprise and I started making my way back to the parking lot. There was a fairly substantial footbridge about a half mile from the parking lot, so I decide to shelter under it until the storm passed.
To my surprise, Mayumi was also under the bridge. As we chatted, I found out that she lived about 30 miles from the river, that she fished competitively, and that she was originally from Japan. I told her that I had had no luck after I had left her. She looked into her fly pack and pulled out one of her olive nymphs. It had a slotted bead on a size 20 jig hook.
The storm had pretty well passed by this time and Mayumi encouraged me to try the nymph she had given me there below the bridge. I rigged it up as a dropper under a large dry fly. She told me to fish it as close to the bank as I could and up into the weeds of a small island.
This didn’t sound like good advice to me because what I considered the best part of the run was in the deep water in the middle and the water along the banks was only about six inches deep. I could envision the nymph getting hung up on every cast. But I’ve been around the block long enough to realize the value of advice, even when it doesn’t sound right initially.
On the first cast along the bank, to my great surprise, a beautiful brown trout took Mayumi’s nymph. After releasing it, the same thing happened again on my second cast. Same thing on my third cast. I was beginning to become a believer.
I was surprised to find that even though the nymph sank fast, it was so little that it just glided over the rocks, grass, and sticks as if were made of Teflon. It was almost impossible to get hung on the bottom.
In the next 45 minutes, I had brought six trout to the net and had five to six long distance releases. I didn’t know why I was catching so many fish: was the magic in the nymph, the location, the thunderstorm, the technique? I wasn’t sure.
One thing I was sure of was that my wife would be picking me up in five minutes and the parking lot was a fifteen minute walk away. Mad wife, mad life. I looked up and Mayumi, who had been watching me for a while and enjoying my success, had disappeared from under the bridge. Then I began to wonder if maybe she was an angel or something. I wish I had had the chance to thank her properly.
I found out later from one of the 19-year-old gurus in the fly shop that Mayumi was, in fact, a real person and that she was legendary as an angler in that part of Colorado. Also, that size 20 jig hooks with wide gaps were specialty items and were not available in fly shops.
Fast forward two years to the end of June this year. The main stem of the Poudre was flooded, the North Fork was the only game in town. I was fishing it during the same time of day as two years ago. In the parking lot, I tied on a decent imitation of the nymph Mayumi had given me, dropped under a large dry fly. I went to the same pool below the footbridge.
Would the magic be there again?
You’d have to ask the man and his 11-year-old son who were fishing in the same spot with the same dry-dropper setup up against the banks and close to the weeds. They must have had a Mayumi encounter too. I watched them long enough to see two long distance releases in about two minutes. It hurt to watch any longer.
Lord willing, if I ever get back to Fort Collins, Colorado in late June or early July, I’ll see for myself it the magic is still there.