Spur of the moment is how more of my fishing gets done than any well laid plans. I texted JP to tell him I thought I might be able to go fishing after work. I didn’t have a plan. He replied saying he’d go, and suggested a river. And that was that. After work he picked me up and we headed out. Spur of the moment can be simple too. Because you don’t have enough time to complicate things.
I didn’t want to catch trout. I wanted to catch bass. I hadn’t had much interest in trout that year for whatever reason. I’d been all about anything but trout. So the river appealed to me because it’s known to have smallmouth in it. I love smallmouth on a fly rod. They aren’t picky and don’t need to be big to fight hard. A twelve-inch smallmouth bass in a river will make you think it’s a lot bigger before it lets you get a look at it. And they can have markings that can only be described accurately by using the term war paint, which is also pretty cool too. They’ve got the nick name Bronze Back because they’re mostly known for that color, but I’ve seen them in shades of green, orange, tan, dark; almost black, and the smallmouth I found in The Devils River in Texas were actually a very light shade, no brown at all, to blend in with the white bottom. They’re like any other fish I suppose in that they can all look much different from the next one. I didn’t feel like trout fishing, so I went with the intentions of catching bass.
JP caught the first fish, an eleven- or twelve-inch rainbow trout, on a streamer. Which is cool to do, don’t get me wrong. But I was looking for bass. Not much longer after that first fish we moved downstream a little and we saw a fish sipping in front of a big boulder where I was stripping a Clouser. So JP tied on a dry fly. He made catching that one look as easy as stubbing your toe on a coffee table leg; no thought required, just the right placement of the coffee table and a lack of any other awareness. Great. Another trout. But I really had my mind set on smallmouth bass. I don’t normally get disappointed because of what I catch, I can usually be found happy enough catching creek chubs if they’re all I can find. But for whatever reason, I had this preconceived notion that I could control what fish I was going to catch that day. Just another life lesson learned several times over my life already. You’re not in control of what you think you can control.
Downstream below a spillway, close to a bridge, we made our way out across jutting granite, scarred by glaciers and smoothed by time, fishing the little pockets and pools where white water rushed between them. The water diverted and split off like branches from a tree or varicose veins on your grandmother’s legs. I made a cast with a big white bugger to a small plunge pool about the size of a card table covered mostly in churning white and foam, and the line went tight. Another rainbow. Neat. I was looking for bass, and it wasn’t looking good.
While we stood there a rainbow jumped and did a cartwheel in a narrow little chute of water as the sun’s light faded and our surroundings began to lose their colors and details. JP drifted a big stimulator pattern right over it and on the third or fourth drift caught it. Then He caught another the same way about five feet away a few minutes later.
We tried one more spot below the bridge, where the river was wider, the boulders bigger, and the pools deeper. I managed two more rainbows and told the last one to go back home to grow up to be a big bass. There was another fisherman sitting up on a high bank casting bait under a bobber that seemed perturbed that we were catching trout and he wasn’t. Or maybe it was that we were, and he wasn’t, and we were letting them go. The guy he was with had a stringer. Either way, he wasn’t, we were, and I didn’t want to. I wanted anything but trout, and couldn’t catching anything but trout. Everyone’s struggles are different.
All we could catch that evening were dumb stocked rainbow trout. They’d take anything that night. But on other days, and maybe even earlier in that same day, you might’ve gone there and not have been able to fool a single one. They’re only dumb when you can catch a lot of them. The rest of the time they’re found in varying degrees from smart to genius and everything in between. It changes from day to day.
All I wanted was a smallmouth bass. Or a good fall fish. Or even a sunfish. Anything but a trout. It can’t be explained; I just didn’t want to catch trout. I was fishing with a big bugger thinking the trout would pass it up, let it swim by, while a bass would chase it down and smash it. But it didn’t seem to matter.
On the drive home in JP’s Jeep as the last light in the sky was leaving, he asked me why I didn’t just tie on a dry fly? Just try to catch the rainbows on purpose. It was partly because I didn’t want to catch rainbows. But what I told him was true too. I was lazy, and I just didn’t feel like tying another knot. The trout didn’t seem to care.
Mark Usyk is the author of Three books full of stories about life where fishing happens. Reflections of a Fly Rod, Carp Are Jerks, and his latest, Not All Trout Are Geniuses. All three can be found in both e-book and paperback on Amazon, and signed copies can be purchased right here on this web site. Be sure to add one or all three to your order the next time you're buying that next rod! You'll love them, and they make great gifts for anyone who enjoys the outdoors.