Standing on the loose gravel bottom and knee deep in water I watched stoically as another fish flashed. From my vantage point it looked to be a 16-18 inch brown, and appeared to be just one of the several dozen fish that were actively feeding within casting range of my position. It was at that point when the evening came together for me. Not that I suddenly had an epiphany of fish catching knowledge, but more in the realization that I would probably not move from that location until it turned dark. I had come to that point where I am most comfortable in my piscatorial pursuits, which is locked in a chess match with fish carrying a brain the size of a number 2 pencil eraser. It is in these moments that I often wonder? Have I sunk so low to which mentally sparring with a creature the likes of a trout has become so encompassing? Or maybe the actual capacity of human grey matter was simply far over-rated by the scientific community? It's a question that needs answered since as of right now I think I am only carrying about a .100 batting average.
So, I dug in. The only thing that mattered in the universe was the fish, and my fly box. However, an hour later the only thing that mattered was the fact that I had run out of flies to try in my fly box. From surface to bottom-bouncing, nothing worked. That's when I decided to go back to a particular nymph that I knew to normally work on that water. But this time I would change things up. I would get above an active pod, dead-drift to just in front of them, and then lift the nymph in the water column in Leisenring lift fashion. It worked! The ice was broken and a fat little brown came to hand. I had won! Or so I thought. An hour later, that brown remained my sole fish of the day. The fish on the other hand, were still feeding away seemingly oblivious to my efforts. Moving downstream below them, I seined the water with my hat. Having no seine on me and feeling hotter than an Eskimo in Cancun, it seemed like a win-win. The impromptu seine worked. It showed me that what I needed was a small orange midge that was in fact nothing like anything in my box. At least it proved to cool me down a bit in the end I reckon.
My answer to the findings was simple just fish. Go with what you know, and pound the water. I stuck with the Squirrels Nest nymph and a lift, which proved to bring another brown to hand. A nice fish in its own, but its true value was in the effort required. The day was improving little-by-little.
With dusk approaching the Sulfur hatch was beginning to take off, and with it the fish appeared on the surface. Anticipation rose along with the fish as I went back to my box and tied on a size 16 Sulfur LTD, but working the nearest fish entirely too fast managed to do nothing but put them down. Yet upstream in the next pool I was watching 2 fish feed steadily. Easing out of the water, they now became my focus. I slipped in as quietly as possible and only had to wait a short 2-3 minutes before they were back into their feeding cadence. I watched them for a few more minutes to figure out their timing and placed my first cast. It was a little short but it still brought a short strike and lazy roll. Then on the third cast the downstream fish rose up with purpose and took in my fly. It was a nice 16 inch rainbow that ran me around the pool as if to say, "you wanted it, you got it". A beautiful fish as it slid into my net for a quick picture and a gentle release. Then as quickly as the hatch began it was over. All surface activity ended, and a few moments later dusk was officially present.
In the end, I had not been beaten by the water. Persistence and ability had brought fish to hand. I had identified the hatch but failed in the most important part, which is "matching" the hatch. It was as if I had won the game with a bases loaded walk. Never getting a hit, but leaving nonetheless with a higher score than my opponent. Unless of course you were to add up all the casts that produced no fish, and compared them to the three casts that did. Much like any statistic, one can usually tweak them to show a positive in the end. For me however the enjoyment was the match itself. From the moment I realized I had a pod of fish in front of me, until the rise of that rainbow to the sulfur pattern, I knew there was never going to be a loser. Those moments are the reason I fly fish. Each encounter as such that sends me home fishless, brings me back even sooner for a rematch. I fly fish for far more than simply catching fish. What pulls me to the water is the off-chance that I will find myself one more time, standing in water filled with feeding fish, and I will have no earthly idea of what they are feeding on yet.