Last week was my first full week away from fishing in nearly two years (you could say it was a little bit of a shock to my system). You may have noticed the absence of a post on Monday-frankly, it was because I had nothing to write about. Being away at camp taught me two things: first, boy did I miss camp after a Covid gap-year. Second, sometimes it’s advantageous to take some time away from the things we love. After all, if I fished every day, and caught fish every day, would it be as much of a treat anymore? After a while, I think it would start to feel more like a forced routine than anything else.
During my time at camp, I reflected on all the fun fishing adventures I’ve had in the past couple years, and came to appreciate the added free time I had from Covid more than ever. I honestly doubt I will ever get the opportunity to fish as much as much as I did last year again.
But then again, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Fishing every day can feel monotonous, especially when there are plenty of other activities to fill your time. As with everything in life, moderation is key. I’m not saying I’m going to stop fishing as much as I can-I’d have to have been hit in the head pretty hard to say something like that-but perhaps fitting fishing time in between other activities, not the other way around, will cause me to appreciate every second spent fishing just a little more.
When I did finally take my first cast after my week away, it was pure bliss. Actually, the excitement began well before that; I was fly fishing at the Swift River, which feels like the backwoods of Alaska compared to my suburban town in Northeast Massachusetts. Even though I had been outside the entire time I was at camp (no cushy cabins for us), it was like my brain was on high-alert as soon as I had a rod in my hands. The birds’ songs seemed just a bit sweeter, the rabbit’s tail just a touch whiter, and the rhododendron just a little greener. Even the water gave off a pleasant odor.
The rain that has recently blessed New England caused the river’s banks to swell slightly more than is typical of this time of year. I wasn’t complaining, though, because the fish were likely happier, not to mention making it easier to fish my dries and nymphs.
If you’ve ever fished or heard about the Swift, you know just how clear the water is. As is often the case, I saw plenty of big, hungry-looking trout on my walk down to the stream. Although this used to excite me, now it’s slightly intimidating; in all of my trips there, I hadn’t landed a single trout over 12 inches. Sure, I’d caught plenty of the rash wild brookies, and I had tangoed with a few large browns and rainbows, but each time they managed to escape with a new lip piercing, but without having touched my net.
This visit, I had redemption on the mind. With a whole new mindset, I had a feeling this time would be different. I started off fishing dries, and quickly had a decent sized brook trout splashily eat. Before I could get a picture, though, it slipped through my hands and back into the chilly water.
Once I got tired of delicately presenting minuscule dries, I tried a completely different approach. I swapped my 12-foot, 7x dry fly leader in favor of a 9 foot, 4x streamer leader and tied on a much larger bug.
Casting into a small pool, it only took a couple strips before I had a number of large trout tracking down my fly. On the first cast, none of them committed, but my confidence increased tenfold.
On the second cast, I noticed a slightly smaller trout following the streamer in with a vengeance. I stripped it as fast as I could, trying to play with its predatory tendencies. After a little bit of keep-away, though, it’d had enough, and it swam up to the fly and absolutely clobbered it! I strip set hard, and it was only a matter of time before the 12-incher was resting in my rubber net.
That morning, the fog rolled down the river thick, sticking to everything in its path, including my phone when I tried to snap pictures of this beautiful rainbow. Unluckily, this made for some truly terrible pictures, but what you can make out through the clouded image is the red tag positioned just behind the fish’s eye. This year, Mass Wildlife is tagging every trout stocked in the river. For every month there’s a different color. This tag was red, indicating the fish had been in the river since April. By now, it had obviously been well acclimated to the angler pressure on this popular river, which was why I’m still surprised it ate a fly attached to 4x tippet. Most of those that consistently do well on this water fish tiny flies on ultra-thin tippet, many opting for 7 or even 8x. Sure, it may make for a slightly larger number of strikes, but it certainly only adds to headaches from breakoffs and threading the line through tiny hook eyes. Personally, I’d much prefer to have the insurance built in from heavier tippet, especially if I’m still catching fish.
After I released that first ‘bow, I noticed there were plenty more fish in the pool waiting to be caught. As my fly swung with the current across the holding water, a trout began to steadily drift downstream alongside it, until it finally began to give chase. My heart skipped a beat, for this trout was larger than any I’d caught in a while. Like before, I tugged at the line in short pulses, trying to keep the fly out of reach of the monster. Unlike the previous fish, though, this rainbow just sucked the fly into its gaping mouth when it got within a fin’s reach.
At first, this fish fought like a clump of weeds, simply allowing me to skate it just below the surface. When I got it to my feet, however, it freaked out, and began thrashing like a lake trout about to be netted. Noticing the logs just upstream of me, I attempted to guide the trout into the shallower, calmer water below me; alas, I was no match, and the fish shot right into the tangle of branches where I figured our time together would end. Then I remembered: I was using 4x tippet, not hair-thin 7x! I yanked the fish out of the bramble and allowed his shaking head to glide into the net.
By now, the fog had mostly cleared up, yet the pictures are still unworthy of this trout’s beauty and size. In my net, the 18-incher looks like any ordinary fish, but believe when I say it was as fat as a pig! Its size was undoubtedly from the pellets it had been force-fed before being stocked earlier this month (this fish had a yellow tag behind its eye).
Unfortunately, as soon as the action began to heat up, I had to head back home. It was an exciting and rewarding first trip back to say in the least, and I certainly found myself enjoying my time on the river more than ever before. Perhaps I won’t fret when I’m away from my rods for a while in the future, because it could just make the time I do spend fishing just that much more satisfying.