There were trout, but they were following steelhead waiting for eggs or feasting on newly emerged salmon fry.
I put on a No. 16 elk hair caddis because I was determined to catch a trout on a dry fly for the first time this year. I proceeded to catch zero fish.
I wasn’t surprised, but I was a little disappointed both in my decision to clearly ignore what I knew was the best method to catch a trout that day and by the defiance displayed by the trout. After all, I don’t just eat cake on my birthday. I’ll eat it any month of the year whether it’s my birthday or not. Why can’t trout take a similar approach? Now that I think about it, a salmon egg is probably more an equivalent to birthday cake than a bug with wings, but whatever.
I wanted to catch trout with a dry fly, because on that day it was the most fun method I could think of to catch a fish. It’s impossible to measure the most fun way to catch a fish overall because the variances in styles. Catching a steelhead swinging a fly is not at all like watching a cutthroat surface, mouth open, to take a dry fly. Both are nothing like being seven reels into retrieving a herring plug and having it crushed by a king salmon. Which is better? Does it matter?
Though we do understand the impossibility of an answer, we still ask the questions as if with new experiences, we will be enlightened enough to reach finality.
The best fish to catch is….
The best fighting fish pound for pound is…
The most fun is…
It’s okay to not have the answer, and in fishing, it’s okay to like, say, a brook trout on a dry fly as much or more than a king salmon on a trolling rod. In my case, I much prefer the brookie. I have to place the fly where it needs to be, see the fish rising and remain calm enough to not set the hook until it takes. I missed two salmon-sized brown trout on the White River in Arkansas because I jerked the foam hopper from the mouth of the trout that calmly rose to take it. Pulled it just before the mouth closed. Twice.
Anyway, once the brookie is on, the fight is just a trembling of my one-weight fly rod. There are no epic runs and when the fish is in, it’s only slightly larger than my hand. At least the ones I have caught in the Ketchikan area or the mountains of California.
A brook trout is accompanied with a feeling of happiness. It wasn’t an epic battle that ended in a knife to the gills to bleed it. You feel warm and satisfied after releasing a brookie, Golden or small cutthroat. You feel like a predator when a king is on ice. You do, in fact, feel like the descendent from the type of hunter-gatherer who survived so that you could one day exist.
You can’t eat the memory of the prettiest 14-inch cutthroat you’ve ever seen, but it’s not always about filling the freezer. Sometimes it is, and shortly it will be about that. My freezer is almost completely salmon and halibut free. By the way, I don’t see how catching a halibut on a fly rod would be a bad time.
Anyway, I’ll always have a spot for dry flies and little trout because that’s what fishing is about.
• Jeff Lund teaches and writes in Ketchikan.