Just Another 20-Inch Rainbow

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One Tough Fish Photo by Louis Cahill

One Tough Fish Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

It’s funny how quickly we become spoiled.

My buddy Dan takes photos a lot of fish. Not hoisted hero shots or epic scenes, just a quick shot of fish in the net or in his hand, held gently in the water. They aren’t trophies exactly, just documents. Records of fish from different streams at different times of year. A sort of long term study of trout. A visual history.

He has photo albums, stacked hip deep, stuffed with prints from the days of film. These days they go into meticulously organized folders on the computer. Some go into an endless screen saver, which I’ve never seen repeat.

It might seem a little odd at first but once you get him talking about fish, you quickly see what’s going on. You’ll get to talking about a certain stream or species and how they might be affected by some event and Dan will pull out an old album and turn to the exact page and show you a fish caught twenty years ago. Then he will scroll through the computer and show you a fish from the same stream, caught in the same month last year.

Maybe I’ve seen too many Sci-Fi flicks but it’s easy to imagine a scenario where fish have become extinct and all that’s left is Dan’s visual archive. We may thank him one day.

Louis Cahill PhotographyThere is a period of time, about ten years ago, that Dan and I refer to as, “The good old days.” Dan had bought a piece of land on a trout stream in the mountains and the little creek was loaded with beautiful wild fish. Most of the surrounding land was old farm land, which had been let go and almost no one fished the creek. Dan and another neighbor started throwing a little trout chow in the creek and the next thing you know, it was Jurassic Park.

The farm was sold and it all went to hell, like ‘good old days’ always do but for a while it was a remarkable piece of water. Fishing that little creek made you feel like a rock star. Every time your line came tight, you were tied into a trophy. Dan wore out a couple of cameras down there in the creek.

On one especially epic day, I noticed Dan releasing a toad without shooting a photo.

“What, no photo?” I asked.

“Well, I thought about,” he said, ” and then I thought, it’s just another 20-inch rainbow.”

Dan has lived to regret saying those words. I’ve made certain of it. It’s become a running joke that gets brought up at least once every time we fish. Another angler might get sore but Dan is too good natured for that. He laughs and shakes his head every time.

I’ve known a fair number of guys who have, or have access to, water like that. Some of them have the sense to know what they have and many don’t. It’s a huge argument between anglers, whether or not that kind of fishing is, “real.”

On one end of the spectrum you have the guys who think that they are pure badasses because they’ve caught a hundred fish over twenty inches, or at least twenty fish over twenty inches, five times each. On the other end of the spectrum there are guys calling them pud-whackers for fishing to pellet pigs and saying they don’t know anything about “real fishing” for wild fish. Each group thinks the other are a bunch of A-holes. So who’s right?

From where I stand, neither. It’s true, if that’s the only kind of fishing you’ve done, there’s a whole lot you’re missing, both technical and aesthetic. It is however, a whole lot of fun and there isn’t one of those naysayers who’d turn down a day on that kind of water. Maybe, if you’re comparing yourself to other anglers to see if you’re better than they are, you’re just an A-hole.

I got to do a little of that kind of fishing the other day. It was a blast and by the end of the day I was spending most of my time watching my buddy fish. We each caught over a dozen fish between 22 and 24 inches but I didn’t feel like many of them were special, because in that stream they were average.

Fish size or numbers just can’t quantify the angling experience or the angler.

For me, at this point, it’s about catching a special fish. It could be anything that makes that fish special. It could be an eight inch brookie that’s huge, for his water. It could be a steelhead covered in sea lice a hundred yards from the salt. It could be a bonefish that I had to stalk through mangroves looking for an open shot. It could be any number of things that made the experience of catching that fish special. It’s not just about the size or where it was caught.

One of those pellet pigs we caught the other day was pretty special.

We met a guy who told us he’d seen an eagle grab a big trout out of the creek. Real National Geographic shit. Later that day we caught a fish, (I say we because I honestly don’t remember who caught it,) with fresh marks from an eagle’s talons on its flanks.

What a tough fish. Out there eating a fly with his side laid open like he was in the grocer’s case.  I couldn’t help but wonder if he was the fish that guy had seen the eagle grab. Either way, that’s a special fish, pellets or not.

I called Dan spoiled for saying, “just another 20-inch rainbow,” but he was right. It is amazing how quickly our idea of what ‘big’ means changes. It’s so relative that it’s almost meaningless. What matters is how catching that fish makes you feel. Knowing that it was special to you.

I look through Dan’s photo albums and I don’t see endless pages of 20-inch rainbows. I see four-inch brook trout and ten-inch wild browns. I see beautiful mountain streams that took hours to hike into. I see unusual markings and gorgeous colors. Wild tiger trout and, yes, the occasional 20-inch rainbow. I see what makes it special to him.

What really matters, for all of us I think, is not catching a big fish but having the sense to realize that these are “The good old days,” and to have a friend to remind us how spoiled we are.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “Just Another 20-Inch Rainbow

  1. This is a great article that can apply to any angler who enjoys what they are doing. Your closing statement about these are “The good old days” brings a sense of carpe diem into it, if that makes sense.

    For me, every chance I get to fish is a good day. Just being able to be out in or on the water is better than any day in the office. Every fish caught is another memory and to me is special. Are some fish more special than others? Yes. Typically in those cases it’s due to factors such as; the first largemouth my wife has caught, the first fish I caught on a fly that I tied when I was 13, that carp my dad caught when I took him carp fishing on Father’s day 8 years ago, or even just stopping by the river on my way home from work and caught a nice little bluegill on my 5wt. Which none of those fish have been trophies by any means.

    Essentially I think this is something we all could benefit from reading because it will let you breath in a whole new light for every chance we are able to fish. You never know, those memories and Dan’s albums could be all we have left one day. They would for sure be “The good old days” then…

  2. I am at the point where age will be limiting my range in a few years, or sooner if my knees get worse. I can still hike in for wild fish and will do so as long as I can. But I love having a hand full of streams nearby with large trout (aka pellet pigs?) to fish with my buddy Jay. I could care less what others think of my fishing choices. Does the fact that someone else has the lifestyle and resources to fish Patagonia or New Zealand make my fishing here in North Georgia any less tasteful or enjoyable for me? No way. But their fishing choices sound pretty cool too. Good for them.

  3. The good ole days. It reminds me of fishing with my grandfather watching him reel in 8-10 brookies, and me being content with little bluegills. Every now and again I would hook a trout I wasn’t strong enough to handle and he would have to help! Him being 82 now we don’t have a lot of time to fish, but I can always remember the good ole days.

  4. “For me, at this point, it’s about catching a special fish.”

    Amen to that, bud.

    I think I get a bigger kick out of catching a 10″ wild brookie than a 24″ ‘pellet pig’ because the brookie is likely the king of the creek. It’s all relative.

  5. Nice article….I fish mainly stocked reservoirs (6 in all) and a few smallish rivers. I prefer the stocked fish and feel it is sustainable and protects the wild fish from being fished out (which could be a danger here). The stocked rainbow quickly turn wild and become good sport. Its not about Trophy Fishing to me. What I catch gets eaten and I don’t sell any and if I don’t need one that I catch, then it goes back in the river or reservoir. I sometimes respect the fight from a rainbow trout so much, that, I return it weather I need one for the pot or not.

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