I’ve never had a fish challenge me, keep me up at night. I’m not saying that I’ve always caught fish, not hardly. I’ve been skunked more times than most anglers would care to admit to. No, what I mean is I’ve never found a fish that I just had to catch because I couldn’t. There’s never been a fish I just had to keep going back for. Until now.
There was a trout I made a hundred casts to on the West Canada Creek once. It was the 4th of July 2016. That one sticks out. It was a big trout, and just out of reach of my casting ability back then. I kept coming up three feet short for most of the day until I finally got the fly over it’s head, one time, and I caught it. But that was just a day. A single day. If I hadn’t caught it, it would’ve just been another one I never caught. But this fish that’s taking up a lot of space in my head lately… We’re into the end of year two of this fish toying with me, of me being reminded of my actual place in the universe. You know where my place in the universe is? Someplace brown trout don’t care about. Someplace fish are smart and I’m dumb.
Last year I moved him three times. Once with my fly, I think anyway, and twice just by walking past the pool and seeing his silhouette shoot up into the head to disappear after he’d ignored a dozen perfect casts. I couldn’t ever see him, but I just knew there was a fish in it. So, when I finally caught a glimpse of him and saw how big he was, I made a mental note. But I also figured I’d never see it again. It turned out that this trout stays right there in that pool, under the same overhanging rock, all the time. This year I moved him once again with my fly, but then last weekend I finally did something right and hooked him! But ten seconds was all the time he’d give me. The line went slack and where the fly had been there was just a squiggly end of the tippet where my shoddy knot had been. I know I tied a poor knot, but I’m saying the fish untied it. It makes me feel better.
I left the fish alone for the better part of a week. I really didn’t mean to try for him again probably until next year. But it was some kind of sign when on the day I’d planned to work on a huge steelhead wood burning, the wood burner decided to break. I ordered the part, then asked myself “Now what?” It was raining and cold, but I thought about my waders and my 4wt fly rod out in my car. So I went back to the creek. The rain was just a drizzle, and I managed to catch a beautiful fish out of the first pool I came to. That gave me a little hope.
Backing up… After finally hooking the fish the week before I was thinking it, and both JP and Danielle said it not an hour apart from each other…The fish needed a name. You know, like Catfish Hunter in Grumpier Old Men. This fish signified the first time I’ve ever risen to the challenge of catching one specific fish. I refer to him as Dave. I know, it’s not an impressive name as names of legendary beasts go. But Dave fits for where it is, and I can mention Dave in public with JP and not raise eyebrows of other eavesdropping fishermen. I finally have a secret spot that anglers love to claim they have. It’s Dave’s house.
I went out in the rain, I caught one nice brown two pools down from Dave’s house, then snuck up to his back door. In a steady, light rain I checked my knots, all of them, and then made my cast. The same cast I’d made the week before. It was the same fly pattern as the week before, something I tied up with dumbbell eyes and some other crap tied to the hook, a fly I haven’t felt a need to name. I don’t name my flies. Of course, I’ve never named a fish before, so I suppose if this fly ever does catch him I’ll have to name it. The unnamed fly landed in the same place it had the week before. It drifted the same course it did the week before. I held fast, watching, being as patient as possible without a strip or a twitch, just a dead drift with the fly on the bottom, just like the week before. And in exactly the same spot, as the fly bumped along out of sight under that overhanging rock, just like the week before, the line went tight. I saw a large golden side. An impressive fish. There was only a single tug as I lifted the rod tip, and then just like the week before…the fish was gone.
Dave didn’t untie my knot this time. I think what he did was gently pinch the fly between his lips and then taste it with his tongue, spitting it out like a baseball player spits out a sunflower seed shell. And I walked back to my car in the rain. Not disappointed or let down, but questioning everything I know, used to know, and thought I knew. How had I gotten this far in life? It was simple really. I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know. And the stuff I know…I’m suspicious of it. I’m very suspicious of Dave. I don’t know why, he’s just a fish. Or… is he?
I fished the creek again today with Tommy Flemming. We started a lot farther downstream and worked our way up to Dave’s house. We caught a couple of great-looking browns. Dave, he wouldn’t show himself. I’m sure Tommy is now probably suspicious of me. I swear, Dave exists. He’s not just another fish story…he’s my fish story.
Mark Usyk is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod, Carp Are Jerks, and Not All Trout Are Geniuses. All books full of stories about life, where fishing happens. You can find them all right here on the JP Ross Fly Rods website. Mark is currently working on his fourth book, Trout Don’t Have Thumbs, in which, hopefully, Mark will have more to say about “Dave.” If he’s lucky.