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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Justin Pickett

Just a few days ago I found myself at a crossroads.

I had a day off from work and the usual “daddy duties,” which gave me the chance to get out and play a bit. Of course, being me, I decided to use that day to go fishing. No surprise there. After going over the short list in my head, I decided I would fish a rather popular trout stream in our area. I’m not a big fan of crowds or combat fishing, but the fact that this stream offers a steady stream of cold water, and lots of sight fishing, keeps me coming back.

Sometime after lunch that day, while approaching one of my favorite runs, I spot a large trout holding in the tail. Immediately, I get into to super ninja stealth mode and start planning my approach. It’s no doubt a big brown trout. I’ll have to double back and wade up to the run from below. Even then I’ll have to have my A-game with me. Doing anything otherwise would surely spook this wise, old trutta.

I was a little nervous as I stepped in downstream of the run. I swear it took me ten minutes to wade upstream all of twenty yards or so. Keeping a low profile, and staying quiet as possible, my only fear was that someone else would come along the trail and unknowingly spook this fish. Fortunate for me, this never happened though. And as I approached a large rock that I would use for cover, this big trout came into my view.

His back seemed thick as my thigh, and his length was impressive. Now I had caught some nice fish that day, but this big’un would surely be one of the largest I’d ever tangled with, dwarfing anything that I had brought to my net that day. This guy had certainly seen some flies float by in his day.

Scanning through my box, I pick out a couple of homemade flies, hoping that one of them will persuade him to eat. My rig is setup with a 5x leader tied to a #10 Turks with 6x tippet attaching a…. nymph of sorts. As I begin my first cast I know that I will only have a few shots before this trout will likely give me “the fin” and move on. There will be no false casting here, so I stripped line from my reel, letting the current take my flies from me. Once I had the right length of line out of the rod tip I executed a nice and easy water-haul to my target. The flies landed softly, beginning their drift down their intended path, and as they got to this trout’s discerning eye, he simply skated to the side and let them glide on by.

So here is where I came to this crossroads.

Do I try the same thing again? I made a good cast, and I got the drift I wanted. Everything seemed to be going well, right up to the refusal. I could tie on a different fly, but what if that wasn’t what was keeping him from eating? Was it the tippet? I really have no idea. I could change flies all day long, but if it is indeed the tippet that is the issue, then we’re not going to get our desired results. Running through these ideas, I came to the conclusion that I would downsize my tippet AND change flies for my next presentation.

I could have thrown different flies at the same fish all day, but if he’s tippet shy, then all I’ll be doing is watching him swim around my rig all day. That’s not why I just went through all this trouble to get into position to fish to him though. I want to hook up with this trout, and, hopefully, land it.

Downsizing is going to mean that I will be throwing 7x tippet to a ten pound, male brown trout. Odds of me landing this big ass, mean, toothy fish on 7x aren’t great, but it’s certainly possible. Just the idea makes me cringe. I’m not used to setting the hook and fighting big fish with 7x. It’s just something I’ve not had to do… hardly ever. But like I always say, sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone in order to be successful.

So here we go again, this time with 7x tippet and much smaller flies. Water-haul. Drift. Mend. Drift. Bam!

The water ignites as this gnarly brown trout begins to thrash in the shallow water. With every head shake my hands quiver with excitement, as well as fear. This is one big damn fish! He steadily takes line from me as he makes his way into the deeper current of the run above. Giving a little side pressure I managed to coax him back towards the tail of the run, back towards me and my empty net. I worked him back to within a rod length of my feet when this bruiser began to panic yet again, breaking out into a death roll that any Everglades gator would be proud of. It didn’t take but a split second after he began rolling around that my tippet snapped and my rod straightened and he immediately shot upstream and disappeared into the depths of the run ahead.

Game over. Cue the violins! I could only stand there and stare at the water for several seconds. But then I couldn’t help but smile a little, too. I had just had the chance to tangle with a beastie of a trout, which I may not have ever gotten the chance to hook up with had I not changed things up and stepped out of my comfort zone. Had I not done something different, I likely wouldn’t have been able to be standing there, awestruck at the events that just occurred. Cliché as it may be, I can’t help but think of a phrase that puts this string of events into perspective for me;

It’s better to have hooked up and lost, that to have never hooked up at all.


Justin Pickett
Gink & Gasoline
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16 thoughts on “Crossroads

  1. We fish to a lot of heavily pressured (and sometimes big) fish here in the Northeast and one of the most important things we do is to let the fish see the fly before the tippet. A downstream drift is critical, almost required on our fisheries. I don’t know if it was even possible here but it allows you to use a heavier tippet because the fish will key on the fly first.


    • You make a great point Dan. Yes in some instances, or fisheries, a downstream presentation is best. Had I tried a downstream presentation in this particular scenario it would have put me standing well above the water and too close for comfort. I likely would have spooked that trout the moment I stepped into position.

  2. While I definitely prefer to land the fish, I do take some satisfaction in finding, properly presenting and fooling the fish into taking my fly even if I never land it.

    That said, I also think I need to work on my hook set…

  3. I wouldn’t call that a lost battle. I’d call that a draw. Yes he out muscled your gear, but you outsmarted him and got the hookup. Then you two simply shook hands and parted ways.

  4. Encounters like that have stuck in my memory better than those that are landed. One especially memorable encounter was hooking a very large fresh Chromer on a Lake Ontario trib under difficult conditions. Hours without any action changed in a heartbeat as I set the hook. The fish went ballistic immediately not 20 feet away going airborne, then racing across the river before changing direction and turning upriver where it went airborne again. The fish then turned downriver headed for Lake Ontario at Mach 5. At that point I knew I could not follow downriver and made the decision to break the fish off. Everything was over in 20 seconds. Afterwards I just sat on the bank replaying the images in my head, not needing to resume angling, very satisfied that I was blessed to have that chance encounter. No disappointment. That fish left a very vivid positive impression on me and my friends that has far outlasted very large fish that have been landed. That memory continues to drive me to once again hopefully experience a connection that satisfying.

    • You’re absolutely right. It’s the ones that get away that tend to stick with you longer! Thanks for the comment!

  5. There’s nothing better than hooking a monster fish on small tippet and a tiny fly. I’ve been known to run down the side of the river screaming like a small girl while trying to land a big fish. I just always hope I get them close enough to see them clearly.

  6. Better to have won with the idea, you fooled the fish. You can always tell a great fish story. That’s why you went anyway.The hunt is always greater than the capture.

  7. All of the above is the lure that continues to draw me to water. A big part of the haunting. And what a great story we would NOT have had, nor great array of comments, had there not been a 7X encounter. Kudos on a complete victory. Remember the ‘V’ is an open top letter, easily spilling out its contents, but it is still a ‘V’ and so is the ‘V’ictory. Thank you. 😉

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