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Face to face with skunking

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POSTED January 18, 2012 1:00 a.m.

I could feel it deep down in my fisherman soul. Apparently it showed on my face too.

High noon plus two hours had passed Monday and I had no trout.

I know it’s not all about catching fish. There have been lonely, troutless afternoons and cool, bright mornings without salmon, but the beauty of those days is usually added later, on the drive home when you mentally thumb-through awful cliches about fishing being better than work. The bottom line still remains, you went fishing, but you caught no fish. 

That’s where I was Monday, my ninth day of fishing since 2012 began and I was plotting the first “skunked” column of the year.

I had tried what had been working, what should have worked and not to mention what could have worked. I added a few feet of tippet to the leader and more weight to get the nymphs down to the fish. I trailed a midge off the nymph and changed both compulsively. Nothing produced results. I felt like Dwight Howard trying to make two free throws in a row; Alex Rodriguez in a playoff game with two out in the ninth — it was hopeless. 

I was in my own head and it was terrible.

So I sat down next to Nate and finished off a sandwich. Nate too had no strikes but Kurt had two fish in and two fish lost. We had zilch. Good for him.

We watched for a few minutes as Kurt carefully worked the honey hole. The sun was starting to plunge down behind the canyon, so I straightened my hat and got serious. I clipped off my Montana Special and replaced it with the evening copper john that had been hot the previous day. Behind it I trailed Kurt’s rendition of a prince nymph.

I went down river and stood on a massive rock at the head of a deep pool. On the second drift, my line dove. I struck back.

Fish on.

Fish jump.

Fish off.

I couldn’t believe it. That was probably my one shot, my one chance at sliming up my hands. I took a second to compose myself then roll-casted the rig back into the braided water. Again. Again. Again. Nothing.

Then, on a completely unremarkable drift on the edge of the fast water, fish on.

I pulled back with the poise and control of a fifth grader on a six pack of Monster Energy Drinks and nearly fell backward into the water.

The trout jumped, but the hook up was true. I relaxed and worked the fish toward the net. Maybe the fish was dared. Maybe it was stupid. What it wasn’t was ugly.

At twelve inches, it wasn’t huge, but big spots covered its entire body. Where it wasn’t spotted it was a deep, vibrant red, and a few other colors that I don’t know because I only had the Crayola 64 pack as a kid.

It stared at me. I thanked it for bringing back my self-esteem then let it go. 

The skunked column will have to wait.

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