By Spencer Durrant
Fly fishermen are many things – not all of them pleasant – but we’re nothing if not creatures of habit. Look no further than your own fishing calendar. How many trips do you schedule for tradition’s sake?
I’m as guilty as the next guy. Each spring I go to Oregon with my buddy Mike. We make it a point to pick the wettest, chilliest weekend and drive hundreds of miles to catch big browns on tiny blue-winged olives.
The catching is usually as good as the fishing. A few years ago, though, I added a wrinkle to tradition by going back to that same river in June. I waded into the best pale-morning dun hatch I’ve ever seen, and it lasted three days. Everything was better in June than March. The river flow was up, the bugs bigger, the weather more pleasant, and the fish challenging and stout.
I haven’t been back to fish the PMD hatch since. Tradition begets sentimentality, and if just feels wrong to fish that river any month other than March.
That same romanticism clouded my judgement late one Friday evening. My friend Kevin and I were in Alpine, Wyoming, walking out of the only fly shop I’ve seen that stays open until 9 p.m. A bunch of guys sat on the deck drinking beer, eating baked beans and pulled pork sandwiches, watching a presentation on spey casting. It was such an idyllic scene that for a moment I wondered if Kevin and I had walked onto a movie set. Robert Redford and Brad Pitt were nowhere to be seen, though, so that ruled out the possibility of the shop being a stage for A River Runs Through It 2: Everyone’s Running Through My River.
Leaving the fly shop behind, Kevin and I were about to head south to Grover and our accommodations for the weekend when I cast a wistful glance east. The Grey’s River Road was a block away, and memories of the previous summer flooded my mind.
“Let’s go that way,” I said, pointing to the Grey’s.
“What’s up there?” Kevin asked.
I grinned. “You’ve never fished the Grey’s, have you?”
Twenty minutes later we’d parked the truck, rigged our rods, and busted our way through thick willows to the banks of the Grey’s River. After shaking the rest of the willow leaves from my hat, I looked up.
There, downstream a few hundred yards, was something I recognized instantly. We weren’t far up the river at all – it’s a stretch one resident of Alpine told me only the locals ever really fish – and it’s one I’ll likely never forget.
Because in that spot, almost a year ago to the day I stood there with Kevin, I’d stood there with another fishing buddy. Blair is one of my best friends, and we’d watched as the setting sun cast a golden glow on the ever-present clouds of dust floating over the river. A twisted tree stuck out at an odd angle over the river, and ended up in the foreground of the best photo I’ve ever taken.
I take a lot of pictures. Most of them aren’t worth posting on Instagram, but sometimes I get lucky.
What I couldn’t figure out, though, is how I’d returned to the exact spot almost a year later, with a completely different buddy in tow.
Then I took stock of the water in front of us. Scenes from the year before played through my mind and even through the higher water I recognized the runs, pools, and riffles that’d come to define the best the Grey’s ever offered me.
“You can’t catch ‘em on a dead drift here,” I said to Kevin, wet-wading into the river. “They won’t eat it.”
“What are you talking about?” Kevin asked.
I grinned. “Just watch.”
I lobbed a cast upstream, landing ten or so feet off the bank. The swift current snatched my line while I hurriedly pulled in the slack. With tight line in hand, I made the size 10 Chubby Chernobyl at the end of my leader twitch.
Almost instantly a fish rose from the depths, hitting the fly so hard that the Chubby shot a few feet in the air before landing at my feet with a splat.
“Just twitch it,” I told Kevin.
He looked bemused, then stepped in to try it for himself.
A few minutes later I heard him holler and looked up to see his rod bent and a fish taking line.
Maybe it’s not the fishermen who are creatures of habit after all. Or, perhaps more accurately, the dependability of hatches, of river flowing, and of long summer nights predispose trout to a life of conventionalism, and as fishermen, we must follow suit.