Bob Rathborne is not only an experienced angler and outdoorsman but also a writer and story teller. Whether your an avid fisherman or just a fan of non-fiction. Rathborne has a unique ability to make you feel as though your on the river and experiencing it's many unique qualitites.
The little voice in the back of my head whispered, “Go fishing fool! The long list of unfinished projects will still be there tomorrow”. Right on, I thought. It’s important to listen to inner voices when fishing decisions are concerned. I had just parked the riding mower, wheezing and sneezing, after two hours of non-stop driving. The grass pollen was present as usual and had invaded my sinuses and reddened my eyes. I was certain beyond a reasonable doubt that the allergy problem would become a non-problem if I took a boat trip on the river. What more did I need to know? Houston, we have a mission. All systems are go.
I loaded fishing gear into the boat, started the outboard while pushing away from the ramp and was on my way. It was a warm, mid- August day with a moderate breeze. I was running down river. A breeze ruffled river surface is a good thing when pursuing trout foolery. As I approached a bend in the river I said to a white egret on the bank, “This looks like a promising spot to investigate, what do you think Mr. Egret?” The egret responded by depositing last nights digested dinner on the bank and flew off without a peep. Some days are like that.
The boat was positioned about a half-mile upstream from Klamath Lake, anchored behind the river bend, in the shade of an old willow tree. I watched in awe as a prehistoric looking great blue heron flew overhead in search of minnows on the river’s edge. I began to cast my fly in an arc around the bow of the boat.
Being a curious sort I asked, “Hey Mr. Trout, what are you up to? Are you feeding, cruising, or loafing near the bottom? Are you alone or with friends? Does traveling in a school make you smarter? Most importantly, will you eat my olive wooly buggar or are you partial to a caddis, damselfly, dragonfly, leach or minnow pattern? The little voice in the back of my head chirped, “too many questions fool, be ready, they attack when least expected”. “ Thanks,” I replied sarcastically. The choice was to continue to cast or move. “O K Mr. Trout, come eat my offering,” I mumbled as I cast for umpteenth time without a bite. I asked myself foolishly what the fish said when it hit a wall. “Dam”!
“If you are not here you finny critter, I will find you or run out of daylight trying,” I uttered under my breath. “By the way Mr. Trout, in fifteen years on this river I have never killed a trout and will not start today.” It dawned on me that I was having an imaginary conversation with a cold- blooded animal. Was I turning into a Walter Mitty character? In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, he experiences countless adventures and imaginary conversations in his daydreaming mind. Mr. Trout’s response to my schizophrenic ramblings would likely be, “O K Walter, or Bob or whatever your name is, and it is your move hot shot. I am not here. We are playing hide and seek, and it is your move.”
As I was considering the various locations along the river to investigate, I heard a loud splash down stream, around the corner. “Interesting,” I thought. It might have been an osprey taking a fish from the surface or an alarmed beaver. It sounded way too loud to be a fish. “What ever it was,” I conjectured, “it probably spooked every fish in the immediate area.” I heard the same loud splash two more times during the next few minutes. The unusual noise now had my undivided attention. I raised the bow and stern anchors, twisted the handle on the electric trolling motor to the forward, and glided around the bend to try to discover the cause of the commotion.
As I completed the long wide turn around the river bend I turned the trolling motor off and began to slow drift down river. The river was a hundred yards wide in this area with a barely discernable current. “Where caused those noisy splashes,” I asked myself. Just then a huge rainbow trout jumped out of the water about two hundred yards down stream. It actually breached like humpback whales do in the ocean. “Whoa,” I muttered, as my adrenaline level soared. This is the largest trout I had ever seen feeding on the surface and, it was right there in front of me. It jumped again. I quietly lowered the stern anchor, causing the bow to point downstream so I could keep an eye on the situation while I figured out how to approach the monster.
I had not been this excited about catching a fish on a fly since my first tarpon in Belize, many years ago. That day I had too much coffee at breakfast and was shaking like a leaf in the wind. The temperature was over ninety with a humidity level of 85 per cent. I was perspiring like at racehorse at the Kentucky Derby and could barely hang onto the rod because my hands were dripping with perspiration when a tarpon took the Lefty’s deceiver, knotted onto my shock tippet.
Today was another matter. The little voice in my head said, “Do not blow this one hot shot. Do not spook Mr. Trout by getting the boat too close. Do not slap the water with a bad cast. Retie your fly to make sure the knot is good. Take your time and choose your shots wisely”. “Thanks,” I said to myself as the ad reline continued to pulse through my body. Interestingly, this trout was actively feeding in an area where I least expected it, right in the middle of the river. The trout showed again. It fed as it swam to from one side of the river to the other. Then it disappeared. I stared at the river like a hawk. A few minutes later the fish poked its huge head up again, this time down where I first spotted it. Surveying the area, I made a mental note to avoid the weed bed on the left, if at all possible. As I watched, the huge head and pectoral fins heave out of the water yet again, the boat was repositioned within casting distance. Bow and stern anchors were carefully lowered to prevent the boat from swinging back and forth in the wind. The bow was pointing down stream so I could sit facing forward to observe what was going on. I reminded myself to stay calm, maintain separation and most importantly, make accurate casts.”
After several casts directed toward the spot where the trout last jumped, it rose this time over on the left near the weed bed. I cast in that direction and got thoroughly tangled in vines and leaves. I quickly broke the bug off in the mass of vegetation and knotted on another size #14 bug on new 4 X tippet. Typically a larger fly would be used to entice a brute like this. My intuition told me that the small fly and tippet were correct. I would soon find out.
I estimated that thirty minutes had passed since I saw this trout for the first time. Much to my surprise, it was still active. So far I had not spooked it. The game was still on. “Mr. Trout, you are one unusually large fish, not to mention your behavior,” I mused. “You must really be hungry to still be feeding. I imagine that not much intimidates you either. O K big finny, let us see who will prevail. “
This time I saw the fish stick his nose up about a hundred feet downstream. I cast in that direction twice with no results. On the third attempt just as I began to strip the bug back, fly’s return trip stopped. Could this be it? Is there a chance of landing this monster? “We (you and me Mr. Trout) shall soon see”. As the hook entered fish’s jaw, the brute started shaking its head violently swimming with absolute authority toward the lake.
“Now hotshot, the little voice chirped, how are you going to get both anchors up with a fly rod in one hand and an anchor rope in the other?” “Good question,” I replied to no one in particular. In the mean time a hundred fifty feet of line and backing had rolled off spool and was still going with the fish as it swam down stream.
The anchor system consists of an anchor, a rope tied to the anchor, a pulley over which the rope will travel, and a jamb cleat to lock the rope in position.
Holding the fly rod in my right hand, I freed the anchor rope from the cleat with my left, pulled up as much rope in as my left arm could travel. I pinched the retrieved rope between my knees with my left hand to prevent it from going back into the water. I then placed the retrieved rope in the cleat. This happened again and again, until both anchors were up and secured.
I had to stop a couple of times to reel in backing when the fish turned and swam up stream. I was amazed that after thirty minutes of what could be described as a very unprofessional fire drill, the fish was still hooked. When the anchors up I used the electric motor to follow the fish as it swam around, retrieving backing when possible, until there was no more than fifty feet of line in the water.
At that point I maintained as much control as I could hope for without applying too much pressure and breaking the fish off.
The little voice in my head chirped, “Guess what hot shot, the net is not large enough to hold this fish.”. I said, “watch the game squeaky, I can pull this off and not have to hear from you again today,” I hoped.
As fish tired, it started to swim in circles near the boat. This is typical behavior for a tuna about to be landed, but I had never experienced this behavior by a trout. Finally, after a twenty-five minute fight, I was able to pin the fish next to the boat with my left hand.
The easiest thing to do at this point would have been to cut the leader and let the trout swim away. The problem with that scenario was the fish was extremely stressed and probably would not survive. With the fish pinned next to the boat I placed the fly rod on a seat in order to free both hands for the next series of maneuvers.
I placed my left hand under the trout’s head and pectoral fins. I then attempted to put my right hand around the narrow part of the fish’s body just forward of its tail. Not surprisingly I could not get my right hand sufficiently around the tail area. Each time I tried to lift the fish with my right hand it slipped away. It was too large and too heavy.
“What now,” the little voice asked? “Watch” I thought with a determined resolve to win. Not only did I want to revive this fish thoroughly, which could be done without removing it from the water. I wanted to measure its length and girth. How could I revive and release this brute without knowing how large it was?
I lifted the fish out of the water, cradling it in both arms and placed it gently on a wet towel, on the carpeted floorboards. I quickly measured the length at thirty-four inches and the girth at nearly twenty inches. The magnificent trout was too tired and stressed to stay out of the water any longer.
I returned it to the water immediately, supporting it just below the surface in both arms. My rule of thumb is a fish must be strong enough after being revived, to swim out of my hands, or in this case, arms, in good condition. After at least fifteen minutes cradling the trout in my arms, it regained sufficient strength to swim away from my control with a strong, steady wag of its tail. “What do you have to say now, little voice,” I chirped mentally? “Good job dude,” was the reply.
I sat there for a good five minutes, sipping a bottle of water, replaying the battle in my mind, over and over again. I was excited and satiated. Without a second thought I whipped out my cell phone and called the one guy who I knew would relate to and appreciate my victory on the river.
My college roommate and fellow fly fisher, Jim Heick said, “ hello” as he picked up his ringing, home phone. I said, “Jim, you are not going to believe this story, but I have to share it with you. I just landed and released the trout of a lifetime.” I related an excited but abbreviated version of the events of the last hour. I mentioned, using the accepted formula for estimating a trout’s weight, based upon length times girth times girth, divided by 800, showed the fish exceeded sixteen pounds.
It was a beautiful fish with vivid red-pink sides under a black spotted, blue-green back. This fish had been in the river for at lest a month as there was no evidence of parasitic sores that one sees on trout that have recently entered the river.
This was a day never to be forgotten. The little voice said, “This trout foolery can be pretty exciting. Now let’s go to the lodge and enjoy an adult beverage”. To which I replied, “why not?” We were off in the blink of an eye.
Half Moon Bay, California