By the time the family was fed and settled in for the evening, it was getting on towards full dark. As many of you know, fishing while on vacation with much-less-serious-about-fishing family or friends can be something of a battle of patience. Trying to balance the needs of everyone is tricky, but after years of dealing with my fishing addiction, my family is fairly used to my need to wet a line.
Fast forward to arrival, lakeside. Rod limbered, the lake-cooled breeze whispers around me as I walk down from the parking lot to the lake.
Legs sliding through the chill of the dewy grass, I wind my way to the water. I optimistically tie on a largish baitfish pattern, thinking that it might do the trick. Not only did the fly have the profile I was looking for, it had mojo. Tarpon mojo. Last month I jumped a good fish on the fly, and it was time to call ol' faithful off the bench once more.
The wind settles to the ground like a drifting feather, shushing away until the water turns into a limpid quicksilver, reflecting glints of moonlight between scudding clouds. There is a thunderstorm to the east, crackling and snarling, and I eye it carefully to make sure it keeps wending southward. I like that about this country – lots of sky, allows one to keep a lookout for pesky storms and peskier neighbors.
The lake I was fishing held several big predator species, including pike. I fantasized about connecting with one of these water wolves, out there in the murk… even though they were probably pushed far out into deep water by the heat kindled by the July sun.
Hey, a guy can dream.
Three things I like about fly fishing at night – almost never having to worry about crowded fishing spots, being able to catch bigger fish, and using much heavier tippet. I was confident that I could get away with the 12lb fluorocarbon I normally used on the redfish flat. I grinned as I trimmed the tag off the knot – 2/0 hook and 12lb tippet. Trout fishing I could get used to.
The lake is cool on my feet as I step in, glancing around behind me at the smoothly mown hillsides the glimmering moon reveals. Breathing deep of the sweet smell of the water. Feeling that rush, my drug of choice - A certainty that I am ALIVE, heart thudding, fly line gripped firmly in one hand, rod in the other, facing total unknown in front of me. Behind me. All around me.
I strip off most of the line from the reel and heft the rod, a 6wt outfit that is much more used to chasing reds and carp than coldwater species. Still, I knew she could do the job.
Three things I don’t like about night fishing – not being able to see pesky, spindly vegetation in my backcast zone, not being able to see underwater rocks that attempt to rearrange my ankles into a perpendicular position, and casting totally blind out into the blackness.
The water is out there, you know that… but that’s sometimes All you know.
Tonight the moon smiles down at me like an unlucky hockey star, a few glimmers and a lot of black gaps. I can see the light colored line lay out, and the rings ripple out from where the fly lands. Let it sink a five count. Start to retrieve. When the fly is almost to me, I swirl it in the pike fisherman’s figure eight just in case a fish followed but didn’t take. Cast again, 10 feet to the right of my last one, as far as the windless conditions let me. I haul hard, enjoying the opportunity for long casting, enjoying the cool of the air and the hush and the loneliness.
I fan cast to cover that half of the rocky point, then quietly move to the other side, nearest the deep water.
Big cast, let it sink… strip into mushy resistance and then I’m suddenly tight to a fish! I strip-set hard again to make sure the hook went home – staying connected to a fish at the end of a long cast is always an iffy proposition. Line stretch is can be a killer of good hooksets. A big headshake followed by a splash let me know the mystery fish is very unhappy with what is going on, and I quickly take up what little slack I had out. Fighting the fish with firm confidence in my tippet strength, I was very excited to feel the weight of the fish. Definitely the size range I had hoped for… but it wasn’t fighting like any fish I had caught before. Maybe it was a pike! Or a big brown... Or maybe a huge walleye – I had only caught one other one on fly, that would be cool too…
I got the fish within flashlight range soon enough, and from past experience I knew to take the chance to fumble my headlamp out of my left pocket, (Yeah, still in my pocket. What an idiot.) as I kept tension on the fish with my right. Why chance it? Because seeing the fish and then losing it was infinitely easier on my soul than losing a big mystery fish at my feet without even a glimpse. I’ve learned from that mistake.
I shone my dim yellow beam on the water near my feet and lead the fish to it, gently turning its head so as not to pull out the hook if it had a tenuous hold. When the fish slid its lean silhouette into the light, I literally gasped. My face was priceless, of that I am sure. I simply couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It couldn’t be… It was totally unexpected…
It was a lake trout. That I caught. On fly. Good lord, somebody take a picture!
As I was having a meltdown, I managed to finagle the fish up near the shore where I could keep him in shallow water without hurting him while I worked to get the hook out. It took a little doing – that fly evidently had lake trout mojo as well – but soon the fish was free and I snapped another couple hasty pictures with the trusty smartphone. Looking back, I should have used the light from my headlamp to help the phone focus on the fish… duh. But in the moment I was just ridiculously pumped. I gently held the fish in the water, reviving him although he needed little enough of that. I wished that I could hold him in the sun and look at the marvelous colors I knew the darkness hid. Put that on the list of things I don’t like about night fishing. Way better to have caught the fish and not see it clearly than to not caught it at all, don’t get me wrong.
After a few moments of tolerating my light grip, the fish shook me off and slipped easily back into the blackness.
Those of you who have read my other stories know how much I like this type of serendipity. I actively seek it, honestly. How in the world did I place myself in the perfect place and time to drop a cast on a lake trout’s nose without knowing he was there? How did he eat it without question, on the drop, and how did I manage to securely hook the fish from what was more than 80 feet away? Not a clue.
Some days, it’s better to be lucky than good. By golly, I’ll take it.