“How many Prince’s do you have left, Conrad?” Bobby asked over his walkie-talkie, referring to the Prince Nymph which resembles insect larva that crawl from under rocks in the river as they prepare to “hatch” and beging the reproduction phase of life known to such creatures. Fly fishers use an imitation of these to entice fish to the hook.
“About a thousand.” Conrad’s voice crackled through the speaker. “And it’s Trout-Master! You don’t use real names on the radio.” Conrad admonished, then continued. “What happened, you lose another nymph in the bush, Urban grizzly?”
“Oh, you know.” Was Bobby, “The Urban grizzly’s,” response.
Almost immediately, the radio crackled to life again.
“The object is to get the nymph to the water.” Conrad harangued.
“Yes, Great Trout-Master.” Bobby said mockingly. They had made up their “ handles” late the other night while driving through South Dakota, this was after Conrad was covered by an avalanche of gear caused by Bobby swerving the van around some deer that decided to graze along the highway.
“She’s a greedy one, alright.” Bobby said referring to the bush. Then doing some quick math in his head at $1.85 per fly “I think I am down about $25.00.” He finished.
“Don’t sweat it too much, Son. I’ve lost a few flies of my own in there, myself.” Conrad said with sincere understanding.
The bush they were referring to was located at the crotch of a ninety-degree bend in the river, which overlooked an eroded hole that was renowned for containing trout of epic proportions. Why just last year Conrad hooked a rainbow trout that had to be close to 3-feet long. They were easily able to make that estimation since the fish leaped nearly twice his length through the air, and while mid-way through a double-gainer he threw the hook, which landed on Bobby’s hat brim, and he is six feet tall. With every nymph he lost, he became more self-possessed to step deeper into the tugging current; such was his determination to again meet the massive trout. If he couldn’t again meet the same fish again, then certainly one of his cousins would be welcome.
At last Bobby found himself tying on his last bead-head Prince nymph. Taking a deep breath and gritting his teeth he stepped closer to the bush, the current and depth of the river increasing until his buoyancy was enough that he began losing his grip on the ground beneath him. Bobby began daydreaming about the majestic size of one of those big fish while casting to a narrow feed lane caused him to again lose his focus and cast his final bead head prince into the greedy bush.
Bobby considered taking the long walk to where Conrad was fishing to freshen his supply of bead-head Prince nymphs, but looking at the trail Bobby could see a few fishermen waiting to take his spot if he left.
Bobby decided to switch to a different pattern, which he hated to do. The bead head Prince held some special “mojo” for him; at least he thought. Nymphs and flies are like that. There is always that one pattern which is your “lucky” pattern; or at least the one you tie on and flog the water with until the fishing picks up.
Bobby fished the hole for another hour. Darkness was coming on when the radio snapped to life. “Hey, Grizzly, how ‘bout we stop at that sports pub for a beer and a burger. It’s only a block or so from the hotel, it’d be a nice walk.” Bobby smiled knowing the joke between them. “Okay, you talked me into it.” After all, there were only three places to eat in town; the breakfast joint, the sports bar, and the good place. They always saved the good place for their last meal in town. The good place had thick, juicy, cuts of steak, and a baked potato that would choke a bear. It’s true, the sign on the wall said so.
“A bear came into the bar looking for a snack, sniffing around he grabbed a potato from a ranchers plate. When the bear tried to swallow, it lodged in his throat causing him to choke. When the ruckus was over and the bear expired, the rancher reached in the dead bears mouth and put the potato back on his plate saying, “That’ll teach you, ya dang thieving bear.”
Before Bobby left as the light was quickly fading, he again scouted every approach to the thieving bush, just to see if he had overlooked a way around the monster. As expected, from land the beast was too thick to get around, forcing anyone into the deep hole if they trekked to where the nymphs were hanging, and the hole seemed to spread from the middle of the river up to the brushes roots where the water sped with gurgling fury. Bobby then walked the trail over to the van where they had geared up in the parking area earlier in the day.
Opening up a folding chair he brought along on the trip, Bobby sat down and pulled his waders down to his ankles. He then focused his attention on Conrad who rustled through the assorted food cache that accompanied them on such excursions, he cast a thought over to him.
“I guess the only way to get the lost nymphs, unless of course the river lost volume and went down, would be by rowing a boat to the bush where they could be picked off.”
Conrad grunted in agreement as he came from around the side of the van, tossing Bobby a bottle of water before unscrewing the lid of his own, and then guzzling the contents before speaking.
“Of course you would need someone to row you.”
Bobby’s brow furrowed in annoyance at the predicament at hand, and said.
“I can’t imagine getting a boat for less than $100.00.” Then he emptied the contents of his own water bottle.
Conrad sat on the floor of his Astro-van, its rear doors opening outward leaving a roomy area to sit comfortably, and while looking at the mountains spoke with a matter of fact tone.
“It’s all part of the package, we knew coming out here that we would lose some flies, that’s how fishing is. You either come out here and work the areas where you know the fish are likely to be, or you cast to clear areas were you know they aren’t and never lose a fly.”
Then, with waders hanging down to his waist, he went around to get another bottle of water. Long days on the river can make a person thirsty like that. Bobby waved to a guide who was pulling up a trailer to load his drift boat. It made me feel good to be part of such a group as this. You just couldn’t help liking the people who participated in this sport. Unless they pulled their boat through a hole you were fishing. But other than that, they always helpful, and full of advice. Lots of advise, usually with a humorous story to punctuate their seriousness.
Later on at the sports bar, before the nightly college crowd came in for the NBA play-off game, they sat munching on burgers, and nachos supreme. Bobby’s thoughts began to reconsider the reasoning behind why he was upset about the lost nymphs. He thought honestly, it was his own overwhelming excitement; what Conrad called inexperience that caused him to lose his concentration. Conrad finished up his nachos grabbed his beer and walked over to the pool table. After beating Bobby soundly the first game, some college students came up wanting to play doubles.
Hours later, after the kind owner of the establishment graciously closed the door behind them and locked it, Bobby took a reflective deep breath and said
“I guess your right. It’s part of the cost of going on a fishing-fly trip.” Conrad looked at Bobby smiling, and then asked.
“What are you talking about?”
Before exploding into great wheezing fits of laughter, Bobby smiled and admitted. “I don’t know!”
After that, they feel into the good slap happy laughing jags the likes of which mark an event into your memory forever.
The next morning, after eating a quick breakfast of ham, eggs, waffles, beef jerky, coffee, juice, hot tea, biscuits gravy, and three eggs over easy, for Bobby; coffee and toast for Conrad at the breakfast place, they rushed to the fly shop. Upon arrival, Bobby went to the fly and nymph rack to pick up replacements from the previous days fishing, while Conrad quizzed the owners and guides about river conditions. Then after the bills were paid and luck was wished they shot off to the site they had fished the day before.
The river seemed slower that morning, even a bit lower.
“Did you see anything on the board this morning regarding the water level?” Conrad asked.
“No, but maybe one of the guides in the drift boat will be able to tell us.” Bobby replied. Then asked. “You think this could bring on a hatch?” Conrad’ response was a big hopeful grin combined with a shoulder shrug.
Bobby watched Conrad cast for a moment or two. Bobby could help but be impressed with how well his fishing buddy could cast. Conrad then executed a really nice roll cast up-stream from a hole he had success with on previous trips.
Thus motivated by such casting, Bobby stood to strike off to the river bend when Conrad called out to him.
“Hey, I read somewhere that you can tell what the fish might be hitting on by looking under some of the rocks in the water. Do you have any rocks nearby?” He asked.
“Yeah, and I’m the biggest one right now.” Bobby teased. “I need to get into the water before you catch all of the fish.” He said laughing, then turning serious he added.
“I’ll go flip some rocks over, see if any of the nymphs match the patterns that we have.” Bobby could see Conrad shaking his head and smiling as he executed another fine roll cast.
Bobby then tromped on through the water toward the shallows, and began flipping rocks over as he suggested. He couldn’t help laughing one of those, “Why didn’t I think of that!” Kind of laughs.
After finding some promising bugs under the rocks, and reporting his find to Conrad, Bobby walked upstream toward the bend in the river he had worked the day previous. After his arrival, Bobby soon found that he could work that same deep hole but from angles he had never tried before. As he was about to analyze the situation further, his fly rod jolted as if a bolt of lightning struck it. Suddenly Bobby’s mind cleared of everything except the rod, fish, and where he put his feet as he navigated toward the shore to land the fish.
Realizing that the rivers current gives the fish a “wind at his back” feeling Bobby found himself struggling to keep his expectations for the size of the fish in check. As they continued downstream Bobby made a few steps closer to shore as he began remembering lessons learned from fish he previously caught. That lesson being it is easier to land a fish if he fights from two directions, or two different “fronts”, those being the current, and your line.
After a strong five-minute fight, Bobby began to see the silvery, shiny sides of a Mountain Whitefish. They were not as pretty as a trout, but just as precious in the frying pan. They pulled like a Husky pup on a fly rod, also, which made them entertaining to catch.
After releasing him Bobby made his way back toward the pool at the bend in the river. Once at the bend, he began casting while listen to Conrad’s running commentary over what would be his second trout of the day. He was working that spot yesterday with a #16 parachute Pale Morning Dun. He was quite happy with the patterns return to glory the next day, and at the same run, too.
“Do you think any of these fish recognize me?” Conrad asked merrily.”
“Of course.” Bobby answered while rolling his eyes. The giddy effects of catching large trout are well documented; and much like going to the tavern as a designated driver, it is great for the person bending their arms, but it’s a real bummer for those who have to watch.
The fishing continued like this for the next couple of hours, with Conrad pulling out huge trout every few minutes, while Bobby played with the occasional Whitefish. Then as Bobby’s stomach began growling, indicating that a snack from the cooler was in order, he made his final cast. As the fly sailed through the air, the noontime sun’s rays reflected from some twinkly thing hanging from the bush, which caught Bobby’s eye. Squinting against the sun so his eyes could get a better focus on it, he could see that it was a hand-made nymph with a bead head.
He reeled in his line as walked closer to the bush, remembering the flies and nymphs he had cast into the bush a day, and even a year before. He could hardly believe his eyes, because the sun played off of the bejeweled hooks as if a twinkly Christmas tree light show was being displayed just for him.
“HAA!” He laughed out loud, because after closer inspection, it wasn’t just the bead headed Prince nymphs he had lost, but caddis flies, streamers and nymphs he had never used before. There had to be dozens of them hanging on just this side of the bush. He remembered where he had lost most of his further around the other side of the grand bush, he was barely able to step around the around the bush before because of the water height and currents ferocity. But now he easily found a foothold to get around the leafy beast, and discovered dozens upon dozens of flies, nymphs, and streamers. It was as if he found a great Christmas Tree decorated in all of its finery, but instead of the gift being under the tree, they were on it. The bonanza was all his!
Setting his rod down on the shoreline against the bushes many finger-like branches, he began plucking the flies, nymphs, and streamers as if the were ripe berries, quickly filling the small fly holder on the fly fishing vest came equipped with, he then began filling his hat band on his fly fishers wide, brimmed-style hat, then the hat itself while laughing at his great, good fortune.
There was a streamer up toward the top of the bush that required him to pull some of the branches down, which caused the higher branches to come closer to his grasp. his fingers finally took hold of it and pulled it loose from the bush.
Bobby found that this streamer was still ties to the fishing line that cast it into the bush. It took a few moments to unravel what appeared to be the entire leader from the poor fisherman’s fly line. Seeing this as a lesson of the importance of tying good knots, Bobby reached to his vest to clip the line and free the streamer to place it in his hat. He looked down to find the nippers attached to his vest and when he did his heart leaped in shock, for as he pulled the leader down toward the nippers, a thin hairy object seemed to rise up from the water’s surface and hover there, as if waiting to strike if further provoked. Rattlesnakes being prevalent in the area, Bobby decided that this was no gift after all, and he waited patiently while his insides finished doing laps around his trapezious-hulahoopious.
After what seemed like hour, but was only a few seconds, of remaining motionless; certain that any unprovoked move would cause the beast to strike, Bobby began to release the line, which caused the hairy terror to sink back into the water. Curiosity getting the better of him, he pulled on the line again, which caused the “critter” to reemerge. Feeling that the dangerhad passed, Bobby was about to cut the line just to be done with the situation so he could get back to his fancy berry picking, but decided opted against it to pull up the line so animals would not get caught up in it. In doing so, the “critter” put in a showing once again, and shocked Bobby to the core. Because what he once thought was a viper, sent to do him in, was in fact a whole complete fly rod and reel; complete with fly line. He picked up his other rod and was about to head to the van when he saw his fishing buddy Conrad, who was just now coming around the corner of a trail on his way to the snack cooler. Observing Bobby holding two fly rods, and seeing an opportunity to razz his buddy. He keyed his mic, saying.
“Hey Bobby, you can only fish with one rod, what are you thinking using two?”
Bobby stared at the rod and reel combos in his hands, and was disgusted. The one he found inthe river was covered in silt and looked to be quite a mess. Setting them both down as he decided to wait for his friend, he wiped the goop off his hand before grabbing up the walkie-talkie.
“I just found it in the river.” He said, and then waited for a response.
“You’re kidding?” Then after a pause. What kind is it?” Conrad asked.
“I don’t know, but it must be cheap.” Bobby began responding into the microphone as he picked the rod back up.
“Whoever lost it did so by casting it into the bush, he must have been in a boat, because it could only have come from the middle of the river.” He paused the story to begin wiping away the schmutz that covered the rod around where he thought the fly rods make, model, and specifications would be.
“Yeah, see.” Bobby began again. “It says it’s an R.L. Winston. I never heard of it, so whoever lost it didn’t think enough of it to try to get it out of the bush once it got caught up in it. Must be garbage.” Then, dismissing the rod as the trash that it was, Bobby switched subjects. “Hey, you should come over and help me pick these flies off of the bush, there are hundreds of them. We won’t have to go to the fly shop for the rest of the trip!” Bobby exclaimed.
“R.L. Winston!” Conrad roared into the microphone. “That’s a thousand dollar fly rod!” He exclaimed.
Bobby picked up the other rod and started running through the bush like a running back through the line of scrimmage until he was beside the van.
Several minutes later, when Conrad made it to the van, Bobby told the whole story of all the wonderful gifts he found under what he termed, “The Christmas Bush”.
After the story was complete, Conrad nodded, and then asked.
“Why did you take off running like that?”
“I don’t know.” Answered Bobby sheepishly. “It seemed like the thing to do.”
“I asked a guide on one of the passing drift boats why the river was down.” Conrad stated.
“Yeah?” Bobby asked, his curiosity peaked.
“Yeah, he said that the farmers take some of the water to irrigate their crops.” Conrad answered.
Bobby nodded in understanding,then responded.
“Its a good thing for me they did, or I would never had been able to get around that bush to find all of those flies, and I certainly would never have found this.” Indicating the fly rod.
“You know, the R.L. Winston factory isn’t far from here; maybe you could take it in on our way through and get it inspected.” Conrad said.
“Good idea.” Bobby agreed.
“Are you going to fish with that rod?” Conrad asked.
“Heck no!” Bobby exclaimed. “That’s going on my wall once we get back to Michigan.”
“Well, that’s a shame.” Conrad glared at Bobby, then continued. “A fine rod like that not being put to the use it was designed for. Is not only a shame, but a waste!”
“I don’t know, Bobby began. Karma can be a wicked thing.” He ended vaguely.
“Karma my foot!” Conrad raged. “That…” Conrad paused trying to remember what Bobby had called the bush, which frustrated him more than his fish buddy’s ramblings. He then remembered. “Christmas bush chose you. That rod is like that sword in the story there, with the rock. It was destined for you…TO USE! Listen,” He paused. “When are you, EVER, going to get the chance to cast a thousand dollar fly rod again?” Conrad asked, not expecting an answer. “If you don’t use that rod, you’re a damned fool! And, I’ll take it from you.” He ended, ripping the wrapper off of a frozen Snicker bar for effect.
Bobby laughed to himself, shook his head, stood and began to walk off to the river.
“Where you going?” Conrad called to Bobby, with half a mouthful of snickers bar.
Bobby turned, and while walking backward responded.
“I’m going to try out my new fly rod.”
Conrad nodded his approval. Then added.
“Let me know how it goes.”
Bobby stopped walking as a truck pulling a drift boat to the boat ramp drove by kicking up dust on the dry dirt road. When the noise settled he called back.
“I could TELL you how a thousand dollar fly rod cast, or you could come find out for yourself.” Bobby said, then turned and continued on his way.
Conrad capped the water bottle he just opened, pulled his waders up, and started for the river. It wasn’t everyday someone offered him a chance to cast a thousand dollar fly rod.