Fly Fishing Karma

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Louis Cahill Photography

Louis snaps a photo of me right after I lost the biggest brook trout of my life. Photo Louis Cahill

The feeling of losing a big trout can be heart breaking, especially when it’s a fish of a life time, but it happens to all of us, some just more than others.

Most of the time fish are lost because of angler error during the fight, but every once in a while, there’s really no clear identifiable explanation, and all we can do to move forward with a positive attitude, is believe some fish just aren’t meant to be caught. Recently, I had a day on the water where the fly fishing was absolutely epic but no matter how hard my client and I tried, we kept unbuttoning our best fish right before I could get a net on them. At the end of the day, when all the cards had been laid out, I had an epiphany. Below is a break down of the day and my new theory on why certain fish are lost and others are landed.

This past week, I had a wonderful day on the water guiding my client David Joiner. He turned out to be a dream client, the kind of client most guide’s would clone and fill up their calendar with if they had the opportunity. The thing that made David such a pleasure to guide was the fact that he was there, first and foremost, to learn. David wanted to catch fish, but it was far more important for him to learn the how-to, so he could then go out and have success fly fishing on his own. This allowed me to really slow down and be thorough with my teachings, and I took the time to describe every detail of the set up and presentation for each spot we fished. I remember early on, David saying to me, “Your the first guide that’s really taken the time to break everything down for me, and that’s what I need if I’m going to take my fly fishing skills to the next level.” His comment of appreciation felt good, and he provided me the freedom to pass on my wisdom any way I saw fit, even if my ramblings ended up costing him some fishing time on the water. If you show your guide your appreciation for his knowledge, he/she will work twice as hard for you and provide you the key fly fishing tips most anglers find difficult to comprehend in books.

A few hours into the day, as I was teaching David how to pre-scan water for trout, I spotted a lone riser out of my peripheral vision. It rose up from the bottom to inspect something on the surface and it immediately dropped back out of sight, camouflaging itself in the darkness of the deep water. I’ve got pretty good trout eyes, but this twenty-inch trout proved that it doesn’t matter how good an angler’s eyes are at spotting fish, they never will see 100% of fish. David had never caught a trout on a dry fly before, so I suggested we snip off our nymph rig and tie on a beetle pattern I regularly tie and fish with success. Before I gave David the go ahead to make the cast, I warned him to hold off on his hook set until the fish ate and then dropped his nose below the surface. It ended up paying off, because that fish rose up as the beetle entered it’s feeding lane and bumped the fly with its nose (educated trout often do this), but didn’t eat it. Thankfully, David was like Stonewall Jackson, and didn’t budge, and seconds later, that trout made a 180 degree turn and came back and ate the beetle. David stuck it, we both battled the fish on pins and needles, and eventually brought it to net. If we wouldn’t have taken the time to observe the water first, and immediately started fishing, we wouldn’t have been rewarded with that amazing dry fly eat on the surface.

After we landed that beauty on the beetle, we went into a tail spin, losing one big fish after another. It wasn’t that David’s fishing wasn’t up to par, he was fishing great, actually. The trout just kept coming unbuttoned with head shakes before we could get them in. The straw that broke the camel’s back, came from an 1 in 10 shot presentation that David made on the far bank under a bunch of low hanging hemlock bows. A huge rainbow rose from the shadows at the very tail-end of the run and sucked the beetle in. Again, we hooked up and fought the fish for a couple minutes perfectly, but just as we started swinging the fish to the net, the hook popped loose. Both of us moaned out loud with disappointment. Then I looked up to the sky, and quietly but loud enough for David to hear asked God, “Why are you doing this to us? David is a good guy, he deserves to land some of these nice fish.” Moving on to the next whole, God answered my question. On the far bank in a deep, fast riffle, David’s strike indicator signaled a bite and he set the hook. It was quickly apparent this was a big fish, and moments lately, I saw the butter yellow sides of a big brown trout. “Holy crap, that’s a huge brown, I shouted.” A few minutes later, we brought a magnificently colored up wild brown trout to the net that took a black size 16 beetle dropper on our tandem nymph rig.


Wild brown trout like this are few are far between on my home waters. We catch a handful of them on small streams each year. This guy had been staging at the bottom of a deep riffle as he was waiting to migrate upstream to his spawning grounds in October or November. I forgot to mention this was David’s first brown he’d ever caught? I told him to take his time reviving the fish and to really admire and respect it, because he might not hold another Southern Appalachian wild brown trout like it for years. All smiles and ten thank you’s from David later, we fished our last hole of the day. Drifting his nymph rig along an undercut bank, David set the hook on another big fish. This time it was a big rainbow, but it wasn’t just any rainbow. It wasn’t the usual female hen we regularly catch, this was a big male with a kype just like the brown trout. Yes, indeed, God answered my question on why he let all those previous fish get off of David’s line during the day. He had two very special trout planned for him that day, and he proved to me, at least, that when we lose a big fish, we shouldn’t always lose our minds, and think it’s the end of the world. It’s much better to let it roll off our backs and believe bigger and better things lay ahead. That’s at least what I’m going to start doing on the water. Hopefully, you’ll think of this story next time you find yourself in David’s shoes and continue pressing on with confidence that things will turn around.


Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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16 thoughts on “Fly Fishing Karma

  1. Good stuff Kent. Juju and the Fish Gods are undoubtedly real. Golden rule for me is the first fish of the day is always the subject of a photo…do not want to offend the fish gods with their offering. I have a lot of shots of fish I otherwise would have admired and simply released, but I also have a lot of quality fish shots. Not a coincidence in my mind 😉

  2. Great story and thoughts. Glad you client tied into, and landed, some nice fish.

    I am also a believer in Karma and the Fishing Gods. Often times after a particularly frustrating morning where I seem to not be enjoying myself, I will stop, look around, breath deeply and thank the world that I can be on such beautiful water, playing with (or trying to) gorgeous fish, and doing something I love. While it does not always result in an immediate change of my luck, it does cure my attitude.

  3. Cool story man. That’s awesome for your client. We’ve all felt the sting of a big trout lost. I’m sure you guys forgot about those lost fish real quick after netting that big brownie! And then you gotta bonus with the male bow! River karma can be a strange thing, but you guys stuck with and it paid off big time. Often when I hit the water I just hope to catch some fish. Catching something like that brown is just icing on the cake!

  4. Proud for David for his perseverance and his seeking of knowledge. I know the heart was racing, adrenaline flowing, and both parties happy as could be with the reward. I bet Kent was barking a few orders during the fight. Been there. Thumbs up to you both. It’s nice that good guys get some good Karma every once in a while. Way to go Kent, you are such a terrific guide and teacher.

    • Gary,

      You’ve sure experienced the feeling of landing a super rare 26-27″ wild brown trout with me this past year. That fish left such a lasting impression on me I can still picture you holding that giant brown with a big smile on your face on demand. Thanks for the kind words about my guiding. When I get people that show up for the right reasons, I think my guiding really shines and they get the most out of me. It’s really hard some days when all clients want is to catch fish but not listen to your instruction so they can meet their expectations. You and David would get along great on the water. Same great attitude and love for fishing without the ego. You guys rock!


  5. Great story! It’s all a matter of perspective as you get older – I’d much rather cast to, hook, and lose a fish like that brown than catch a bazillion 12 inchers or even 16 inchers for that matter.

    It’s not the fish you catch that pique your interest and keep you coming back for more – it’s the ones still out there!

  6. Holy crap that’s a gorgeous brown, particularly for the east coast! I too love clients that want to learn rather than just say well, how many fish will we catch today? It makes the day soooo much better

  7. A timely post, at least for me. I just returned from a trip to Michigan. New waters, new places, new rivers, new fish. I’d never chased King Salmon with a fly rod before and I had no idea what to expect. On the face of it, the final score was Salmon 10 – Steve 0 and I didn’t feel very good about that. Then I thought about this some more. These are TOUGH fish in a new situation. I was using a Switch rod I built and swinging my flies to making hundreds of casts. I was fishing well; I didn’t make many mistakes. The last fish was hooked on a rainy, windy night at 1AM. Yes I was workign hard for every fish. I had him it whipped and on his side next to the bank but he was too big for the net and flopped his way to freedom. So what did I lose out on here? A picture, just another picture of me with a fish. That’s not enough reason to feel bad at all. I had a great experience and I will be back. With a bigger net!

  8. You’re the very type of guide that I am always looking for, yet sadly, are seldom to be found. I suspect that the pressure from many clients to “produce” leads many guides to focus on fish and fish in numbers. But there are some of us who 1) acknowledge our lack of knowledge and experience and 2) want to learn from those like you who have been blessed to have been at this game for a long time and have much to share.

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