Bryan and I were all smiles as we caught our first glimpse of Rocky Ford Creek.
Expectations should never be high when approaching this creek. The clarity of the water and selectiveness of the fish places the elements on their side, and it’s easy to get stuck in one location after spotting several fish. On many occasions I have experienced fish refusing all of my flies, but when the fish are right there it’s hard to break away.
“They are here.” I said, spotting a few fish milling around near the bank. They were actively feeding on something invisible to my eye, but my expectations flourished when I saw the behavior.
“I think I see one here.” Bryan said, getting stationed on another section of water just a few yards away. We both had our favorite fly tied on and ready to go, but Rocky Ford was not going to give itself up that easily.
It’s amazing how quickly time flies when you have an actively feeding trout in front of you. Fly after fly was placed in perfect proximity for this feeding trout, and its reaction to each fly varied slightly: a quick glance/charge towards my fly then refusing it at the last second. Or a simple glance with no motivation to look anymore. At times my fly would sweep near the fish, and the fish would dodge out of the path of my dead-drifting fly, returning after it was gone. And then, of course, there was just complete disregard for my fly.
“I’m finding a new spot.” Bryan said, a bit frustrated.
“Okay, I will stick around here for a bit longer.” I said.
“Don’t get trapped here, Erik.”
“Too late!” I said, as Bryan started to walk away.
I buttoned up my fly and stepped away from the fish that had refused me like a date in high school, and stood where Bryan had just been. I quickly found the fish that he was after and showed it my fly. This fish was acting the same as the previous one, however this time I saw it eat something…something invisible to me. Then the fish spit out what it had just ate: something shiny, almost chrome. I have something like that…
As I tied on the new holographic fly, the sun came out to place a sunbeam directly where I was looking at this feeding fish, making it impossible to see. Still, I found the tail of the fish so I could guess where the head was. I dapped my fly in the path of the feeding fish, and lost everything in the sun. Reflections of the sun blotted my vision with every peak at my target, still I caught a glimpse of the fish’s tail which shifted completely horizontal…It just ate something!
I set the hook fast, and felt the weight of the fish as it bolted.
“Oh, here we go!” I yelled, looking off to my right for Bryan, who was no longer there.
“Of course!” I muttered, as the fish thrashed out in the middle of the creek.
“OH NO don’t go there…” I said as the fish zipped to the far side of a boulder that broke the surface of the waterline. It was digging its head in the submerged foliage, trying to spit the hook. I managed to regain some control and bring the fish back to my side of the rock, but there was now a glob of weeds wrapped around my leader as the fish fought.
“Stay on…” I prayed, keeping the pressure. This was taking too long. The fish would not give up. For hours I was hoping to catch a fish, but now that I had one on, I wanted to be sure to get it off as soon as I could. I only had it on for about 90 seconds by this time, but that felt like forever. There was a slight lull in the fight of the fish, so I buckled down on the line and pulled in with force, really testing the 6X tippet I had on.
“Come on… come on.” I whispered, not wanting the fish to fight. If It decided to kick now it would snap my line. The fish was now in range to be unhooked. I unlatched my forceps and aimed for the small fly, and with a quick twitch of my hand I had unhooked the fly from the fish’s upper lip. The rainbow did not move.
“Damn it!” I said. This was what I was afraid of. These fish at Rocky Ford Creek can put up a nice fight and are huge by average, but reviving them has to be done correctly otherwise the fish will not survive. I held the fish upright by its tail, head-on, into the current. This fish was easily pushing twenty inches, so my hold was good. I easily felt the fish wanting to swim away but I kept my hold on the fish. Anywhere else I would have let the fish go by now, but experience on this creek has taught me to wait…wait until it kicks hard. The strength of the fish was coming back, and it struggled against my grip to swim off.
“You are almost there…” I said, as the struggling became more fierce. SPLASH! The tail of the fish kicked hard, and a wave of water doused my face as I let go of the fish.
“There you go!” I said happily, as I stood and watched the fish disappear into the creek.
Over time the nostalgia of the catch faded away. Bryan was on the opposite side of the river and was having no luck either. I soon joined him on the other side, but got more refusals than a Jr. High sock-hop. Over six hours in the heat can take it out of you, and with only one fish to speak of we were ready to throw in the towel.
“Are you ready?” Bryan asked, having buttoned up his fly a while ago to watch me have a go at these selective fish.
“Yeah…” I said, having caught one fish, but still leaving with the feeling of defeat.
Back at the van we got a drink of water.
“I didn’t realize I was so thirsty.” I said.
“Are you ready to take off?” I asked.
“What are you thinking?” Bryan asked, not sounding too excited to stick around.
“I think we should take a look at the first bridge. Never know…”
“I don’t care.” Bryan said, and we drove the distance. I hopped out of the van and geared up.
“Are we just going to look, or are we fishing?” Bryan asked.
“Well, if there are fish I’m going try for them. Sometimes this can be the spot of the day.” I said.
“I have never done well here.” Bryan said, slipping on his gear.
“Never know. Today could be your lucky day.” I said with newly-found confidence, and together we walked to the bridge.
One glance over the bridge and I spotted several fish, all in the mid-column and feeding.
“See…” I said, selecting a fly, and dapping it in the feeding lane of the nearest fish. The gin-clear water made it easy to keep an eye on my fly as it sank towards the fish. The rainbow trout got sight of my fly and moved towards it. The fish drew near, then nearer, and without any hesitation whatsoever, it gulped my fly.
“BAM!” I said, setting the hook. A solid hook set sent the fish in a frenzy, and the fight was on!
“YES! YES! THIS IS WHY WE ARE HERE!” I yelled with a laugh. Bryan smiled at my excitement as I lifted my fly rod over his head to walk down the other side of the bridge to bring in my fish.
“Get over here! GET OVER HERE, YOU SILLY!” I boomed happily as if projecting my voice for a live audience. Bryan was still laughing at my theatrics as I brought in my fish.
“Take it easy…” I said to the fish, getting out my forceps.
“Want a picture?” Bryan asked.
“Nah, it’s only a nineteen- or twenty-inch fish.”
“That’s a big fish, Erik.”
“Not for here.” I said, reaching my fly and unhooking the fish which bolted immediately.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I dramatically sighed, got back to my feet, then looked at Bryan.
“What are you waiting for?” I asked.
“They don’t want my fly.”
“Oh, here.” I said, walking back to him and showing him my fly.
“I think I have something like that.” He said, and I returned to my spot as Bryan tied on his new fly.
“You should go for this one over here.” Bryan said, pointing out a huge Rocky Ford beast-of-a-fish.
“There it is! Beastly!” I said with a smile.
“You go for it. I will try for this one over here first.” I said.
I plopped my fly back in the creek, with it drifting straight for the second fish I had seen near the one I just caught. This fish reacted the same as the first, darting towards my fly. It’s sleek body made a slithering motion to snatch my fly as it drifted by.
“TWO FOR TWO!” I said, setting the hook!
“WHAAAAAT!?” Bryan yelled, with a smile.
I walked towards him again, to pass my fly rod over his head to get down by the bank and land my fish, but before I did that I stopped right near him.
“Here.” I said, tucking my fly rod under my arm, and grabbing my box out to select the specific fly I was using.
“Tie this on.” I said. He took it and I slipped my box back in my vest, so that I could regain control of my fish.
“Want a picture?” Bryan asked, as I brought in the fish.
“But it’s a bigger fish.”
“Its okay.” I said, bringing the fish in fast, and letting it go just as quick.
“Two for two…” I said, standing up. Bryan was smiling.
“It’s your turn.” I said to him, walking back to the bridge. Beside him now I could see “old beastly” was easily in catchable range.
“You should get this big fish.” Bryan said, pulling his fly from the creek.
I reached to ready my fly for a presentation to the monster, but stood fast.
“No…that fish is yours. I have caught a huge fish here several times, and you need a fish today.”
“It won’t eat this fly…” Bryan said.
“Yes it will.” I said confidently. “Just keep at it. I’m going over there to take a look…” I said, pointing away, “… if you can’t get it, I will come and try. But that’s your fish.”
Bryan was alone on the bridge as I walked away towards a different stretch of water. There was not much going on, but sometimes huge fish can lurk here as well. Worth checking out.
I unhooked my fly, and let it drift near an undercut bank I knew held fish.
SPLASH! SLOSH! SPLOSH!
“NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” I yelled, buckling up my fly and running towards Bryan.
“BRYAN!” I yelled, running towards him.
“BRYAN TELL ME!” WAP! SPLASH! I leapt on the path to the bridge. I could now fully see Bryan, his rod doubled over.
“What is this my eyes see? WHAT IS THIS MY EYES SEEEEEEEE?!?!?!” I boomed.
“Oh you got the BIG ONE!” I yelled, walking by him and getting down to the bank.
“Yep!” Bryan said, with a smile you could see from the moon.
The fish was a BEAST, and we HAD to get it in the net.
“Okay, let’s see if we can land this son-of-a-B!” I yelled up, now at the water’s edge.
“Oh, Bryan, that’s a BIG FISH!” I yelled excitedly. Bryan stayed as cool as he could be, but was still up near the bridge.
“We are going to get a picture with this one.” I said, as Bryan kept the fish taught on his line. I had my net out, and was ready to land his fish.
“You need to move behind me.” I said, but it was too late. With the pressure Bryan had on his fish he had pulled it right into the thick weeds that stuck out of the water. THIS is what these fish do, it’s how they fight…dirty. They know how to throw a hook better than any trout I’ve met, and this fish was now in prime location to do so.
“It’s thrashing, Bryan, it’s going to thrash off!” I yelled in desperation. All I could see was a commotion of water and green weeds combusting just out of reach. There is no wading allowed at Rocky Ford Creek, so all I could do was watch in horror. Bryan was moving quick. With a big sidestep he was right behind me. His fly rod was maxed out as he dragged the fish out of the weeds.
“Okay, okay, here it comes.” I said, ready with the net.
“Wow, this is a big fish…” I said again, seeing it now right in front of me.
“Turn it this way…”
Bryan was right there doing everything perfect, and I am willing to bet he didn’t need my commentary with every step.
“Okay, it’s here! I can’t get it in my net, I CAN’T GET IT IN MY NET!!!” I screamed! The fish was so huge, but with one big scoop I hoisted up the net with the massive fish’s tail still sticking out of the tip of the basket.
“BRYAN!!!!!!” I screamed. I looked back at him to see he was also in mid-celebration of his netted fish.
With the fish in the net there was no time to lose.
“Okay, let’s get a quick picture.” I said in rushed tones. “Ready?”
“Yeah.” Bryan said. I lifted the fish out of the water, but still in the net.
“How do I hold it, it’s huge!” Bryan asked, trying to get his hands around the slob.
“Quick, quick, quick…” I rushed him. Bryan finally got a hold of his fish, and held it up for the hero shot of the year.
“Okay, let’s get it back in the water.” I said, as Bryan slid the fish back in my net.
“Oh, Bryan it’s so heavy!” I noted, heaving the net back into the water.
“Okay, let’s revive this fish.”
I held the fish’s tail as it tried to tilt underwater. I explained to Bryan how to revive the bigger fish here at Rocky Ford, and after a while the fish kicked hard. With a wave of water splashed in my face, I stood next to Bryan and watched his fish swim deep into the water and surf the current, still visible due to the clarity of the water.
I looked over at Bryan who was still smiling over his victory, and rightfully so: that was the biggest fish he had ever caught.
“It’s not going to get better than that, we should go.” I said.
“Well, we just started catching fish.” Bryan pointed out, “We could try for a few more, and if nothing we can go”.
“Sounds good to me.” I agreed, but the fish near us were a bit spooked by now. We spotted two that Bryan went for, but they were not even eating. In fact, as soon as they saw the fly, they both swam off.
“They don’t want to have anything to do with us anymore.” I said, looking upstream.
“Oh, wait a minute…” I said, a feeding fish catching my eye.
“You see that one?” I asked.
“The one way up there?”
“That’s the one. It’s feeding. See how it’s moving?”
“Yeah, but that’s way up there, how could you get that one?” Bryan asked, and I just smiled back.
“Well, let’s see it then.” He challenged, and I started to cast. The fish was easily sixty feet away, and I had a feeding lane of a foot or two to hit. I saw the plop of my fly, a little ways off target, but I let it coast anyway, just in case. After it was behind the fish, I made another cast. This time right on target.
“Okay, here we go.” I said, not taking my eyes off the feeding fish. There was no seeing my sized-twenty nymph from here, so it was all about the reaction of the fish…and there it was! The fish turned, showing its white belly, an obvious eat.
“There!” I yelled, seeing the hook.
“Whaaaaaaat?!” Bryan asked in amazement, witnessing a solid hook-set and a thrashing fish at the end of my line.
“Well, now we have a problem.” I said, with my rod pointed upstream and the fish bolting down and under the bridge.
“I got this.” Bryan said with confidence, and took charge.
“You stand there, and give me the fly rod.” He called. I handed him the rod, and saw what he was about to do.
“Make sure the drag is nice an tight.” I added, and Bryan cranked it down. He pointed the rod-tip under the bridge, where I held the line out of the tip.
“Grab the tip of the rod…” He asserted, “…and I will let this end go.”
“Okay.” I said, and Bryan dropped his end of the fly rod. Bryan was over in a flash, grabbing the mid-section of the rod and pulling it up inch by inch until I could grab the handle.
“It’s still on!” I said, and was back to fighting the fish.
I walked over to land the fish, and at the water’s edge the fish turned. I brought it closer to me and the fly popped out of its mouth.
“What? After all of that?” Bryan asked, disappointed.
“It happens.” I said, not feeling the loss at all after our recent success. “It was a fun one though.”
“That was crazy how you hooked that fish.” Bryan said, as we geared down.
“Worked out nice.” I added.
“Leave it too Erik!” He emphasized, packing away the last of his gear.
Our ride home was short, but we still made a special call to our brother Kris to tell the story. Kris was over the no-hands stereo system in Bryan’s van, as we all laughed over Bryan’s success. I told the story best, emphasizing movements, screaming, boisterous celebration as the story unfolded for Kris to hear. We were soon home, and had to hang up with Kris. Bryan and I slipped out of the van and were greeted by my mom and dad who were playing outside with my kids.
“So, how’d it go?” My mom asked. I looked over to Bryan and met his grin with one of my own.
“What?!” My mom asked, also smiling.
“You like to tell the story.” Bryan said.
“Yes, yes I do…” I conceded, and launched into the animated story about Bryan’s lucky day.