Got back from Mexico yesterday and am trying to get back in the hunting zone, you know, that place you get once you've been out in the woods almost every day and you start to go all spirit of the wild, and shit. You stop feeling like you're some hobbyist and start feeling like an actual predator. You're one with the deer's universe.
The same phenomena exists in trout fishing. I remember Josh writing about it, and if I remember right, he said that he starts to feel it after a few weeks of every day fishing. I remember reading it, thinking I knew what he was talking about. I fished a lot, three or four days a week at a minimum. But then I started guiding and even though I didn't have daily bookings I felt like I needed to be on the water every day so in case someone booked a trip, I would know what was going on and put them on fish. And then I experienced what he was talking about.
"Get ready, there is a nice fish rising off the right bank 30yds downstream." I told my client while maneuvering my drift boat for the anchor drop. It was 11:30pm and pitch black and even in the abyss of a starless northern Michigan night, I could see him look back at me like I was smoking crack.
"I don't see or hear anything," he whispered
"GLOOP!" one large and one small white air bubble bobbed to the surface where the fish just sucked a bug beneath the surface.
"Oh!" he whispered excitedly. I could feel the boat rock slightly as he shifted his feet in preparation for the cast.
It was a good fish, a leopard-spotted brown probably 21 or 22-inches long, the first of three fish over 20-inches in the boat that night.
I didn't have night vision or super hearing, but I knew where every fish in that river was- and several other rivers, and when it was on, or it wasn't, or one of those weird nights that starts out on fire but quickly sizzles out, or the opposite where it starts out super slow then builds into a feeding frenzy, I could feel what kind of night we were going to be into before we finished the casting lesson if it was a guided trip or before the first beer was drank on solo or friend trips.
Knowing where the fish are is a nice trick to have up your sleeve, but it didn't guarantee fish in the net. I would often joke that I was a guide, not a god- a line I stole from a bumper sticker I'd seen out in NY- and it was true. You can't make them eat. You can teach anyone to cast, but some people aren't meant to fish. And you can't control what other anglers are going to do around you.
There was one particular night where that last point really came to fruition unlike any other. Hex season was a few days in and there were two really nice browns that none of my clients were able to hook. These two fish came up every night on the same seam, 25yds apart. My friend John had not been having a slow trout season to that point and I knew he could hook one of those fish, and if we played out cards right, I could hook the other. We rowed past all sorts of good water and I put the boat to rest right where it needed to be for the bottom fish.
We sat back, smoked cigarettes, and waited for it to get dark. After the sun set, the bottom fish started to rise. As John was working the fish, the upstream fish started to rise, also. Everything was going according to plan, except that bottom fish wasn't cooperating. After four or five drifts, it went down and we decided to reposition the boat so that John could try for the top fish who was still rising.
We spotted another boat coming downstream at us. We were pretty close to the end of the float and John remarked it was a little early to see someone being done for the night. Maybe they weren't chasing the hex hatch, I wondered. As the boat got closer, I recognized it was another area guide.
He was a friend, but our friendship was on the rocks. He used to be John's friend, too, but had stolen a fly pattern that John created and submitted it to a catalog and renamed it after himself, so John had stopped talking to him. I was kind of ready to do the same after he had recently submitted a photo I had taken to a local magazine and claimed it as his own a week or two before. A month before that, I had a client that wanted to book a four-person double boat trip through me, which I was going to have this other guide help out with. The client had two of his group back out, and the trip fell through, but the client told me that after, this other guide reached out to him to do just a single boat trip. Strike two. Despite all that, I wasn't ready to cut him out of my life.
He had a sport in the bow and when he reached us, I politely said hi and asked if he was rowing out for the night. He was, a few sentences of small talk later he was downstream of us and rowing away as John and I quickly snickered back and forth when it became obvious that he didn't know the hex hatch had started yet. And just when he was almost around the next bend, that bottom fish rose. The other guide dug in hard on the oars. John looked back at me, and I looked back at him. The look on our faces was the same, and one that said, "I can't fucking believe what I'm seeing."
This guy rowed back upstream and dropped anchor, maybe 20yds downstream of us, and was now set up on the bottom fish. It was completely silent on the river, but the tension was deafening. Strike three.
The other boat rowing upstream had put the top fish down, and the bottom fish hadn't come back up yet from that initial rise. I didn't say a word to John, then lifted my anchor for a few seconds, putting my boat right next to the other.
"Is that a client in the boat?" I asked. I was sure it was, but wanted to make sure. He said it was, which meant I wasn't going to cuss. Looking back, I have no idea why I was still being so nice.
Because he had a client, I was trying not to cuss.
"Dude, what you just did was a major party foul. You don't low hole someone like that. You didn't even know those fish were here, you were done for the night and the fishing is just getting started, do you even know what the hell you're doing?"
Not cussing was making it really hard for me to communicate, so I just stopped talking. I made a short motion towards my anchor rope to leave but remembered I really had to piss. I aggressively climbed up over the rear casting brace on my drift boat, rocking the boat hard and sending a wave into the other boat. My stearn was a few feet upstream of his stearn, and I stood there for a second before leaning my knees against the gunnel for balance, facing the other boat's direction. I whipped it out, and pissed the loudest, most bubbly, satisfying piss of my life directly upstream of his boat.
Not a word was spoken by anyone while all this was happening. I rocked the boat hard again as I came back to the rower's seat, lifted the anchor rope, and away John and I went. John asked him how much time he spent developing that fly as we drifted away. Looking back on the whole thing, it felt like something out of Stephen King's, Stand By Me.
Looks like we have a westerly wind this week, that works out well for a few of my spots. Time to get back in the zone.