It was hot. The weight of the sunlight was almost a palpable thing, given mass by the humidity of the air.
My buff drank sweat directly from my pores, almost able to keep up with its wicking duties. I was consciously breathing through my mouth instead of my nose so that my glasses wouldn't fog.
None of this bothered me. I was born down here - hot summers are all I know. Hardcore steelheaders rely on the cold to keep the rivers clear of the unworthy; I have the heat.
Down the bank, my fishing buddy was cussing quietly as he missed a strike, and then suddenly came tight with a heavy strip strike. Gar are great training for tarpon - gotta hit ‘em hard. Go google a picture of a gar skull and you’ll understand why. They’re all bone.
The fish leapt from the water, showing itself to be a medium sized longnose. A fun catch, but not what we were after.
We had seen the Kraken, and we had our hearts set on nothing less than her.
So began the game - cast as absolutely far as you can, wherever you thought a ‘gator gar might be lurking. Slowly strip back, feeling for any deviation that might mean a fish has picked up your fly. Smell the river, watch the dragonflies, strip, cast, repeat.
A solid peck telegraphed down my line; a swift strip strike came tight to a fish buried in the murk of the river. It wasn't like hooking a brick wall, so I knew it wasn't the Kraken. A couple minutes later a nice spotted gar appeared from the depths. These are the prettiest of the gar, superbly mottled and camouflaged for their watery environ. I slipped on a glove for the final approach. Thus protected from the coarse armor, it was easy to pop the hook out and slip the fish back into the water.
This time back down towards my buddy. Flicking fly lines immediately split the distance between us. Two lines, one mustard orange and one light blue, drifted together down the lazy, swirling current. The flies sinking down, perhaps even now passing within inches of a gar, THE gar…
Strip, sink…. Strip, sink…
All the way back ‘til the leader connection is just outside the rod tip. Shake out a couple feet of line, roll cast to get everything going and the satisfying acceleration of a couple good double hauls. Then fishing again - the most zen part of fly fishing, in tune with everything and nothing at once. Reaching for the slightest hint… wait… there’s a bit of extra weight… a slight sluggishness… my left hand grips and rips the fly line back past my left hip as my right hand powers the rod back to the right. Or… tried to.
The movement of my right hand is arrested suddenly by a great weight attached to the end of my line. The line thrums with power and starts leaving, burning through the tight grip of my left hand. I had time to turn and look wide-eyed down the bank and succinctly sum up the situation to my fishing partner - “Oh s*^%.”