He did, three times, and got no reward for his effort. I could see that he was resigned to failure when he stripped off another yard of line and lackadaisically cast again. The second trout came up slowly to meet the fly, open mouth showing white when it was halfway there. Without disturbing the surface it sucked the fly in and started down. Then it felt the hook.
For the next few minutes that pool was a busy place. The trout did everything a trout can do. I knew that it was well hooked, though, and that all Pete had to do was take his time. He did, and landed a rainbow slightly more than 20 inches long and as big around at the middle as a well-inflated football. I know the length because I measured the fish carefully against my rod before we released it. I was also certain that the trout Pete missed was at least four and possibly six inches longer than the one he landed.
We headed upstream, figuring we'd try for the monster on our way back to camp that afternoon. At least a mile above camp, farther than we had gone the day before, we found an Indian cave at a sharp bend in the stream. The opening was cut into the base of a steep cliff about 50 yards up a gentle slope from the water. We spent half an hour looking through it. The ceiling had been blackened by years of campfire smoke, and no less than a dozen grinding bowls were scattered about on the dusty floor. In a corner, partially covered with dust, I found a small, perfectly shaped mortar and left it there, beside one of the bowls. I expect to find it where I left it next time we fish The Creek.
Above the cave we found a long, fairly shallow pool—no more than six feet deep at the middle—with 25 or 30 good-size trout in it. They were out there in the slowly moving current like a school of oversize sardines, and I dropped a fly over the bunch of them. The one that got there first was another 20-incher, the image of Pete's.
In the long riffle above that pool, Pete hooked a fish that ran hard downstream, stripping his reel down to the backing before the line broke.
Just minutes later, in a narrow gorge so deep that we couldn't see the bottom through the smooth, clear water, I hooked into something huge. The way the sun was hitting the water there, I didn't see the trout when it struck, and it went straight to the bottom and held, the way a large male salmon often will. For five minutes I put on all the pressure that six-pound-test can take, but it was a standoff. The hook finally pulled away.
The action was non-stop the rest of the day. We didn't raise the huge one Pete had missed—it was well past two o'clock when we passed there again—but that was nothing to complain about. It's nice to know that it's still there, in the same pool or another one near it, putting on another inch, another pound or two for the coming season.
We slept late the last morning, and before we packed out, Pete decided to try the campsite pool once again. "We've probably been bothering that spot a little too often," I told him, but only 10 minutes later Pete was back, wearing the unmistakable smile of a successful fisherman.
"I just cast the fly out and let it hang there, over by the cliff, and all of a sudden the fish was on. I didn't even see it take the hook. It ran all over the pool, like the one you got there the night we arrived. It was just as big, too," he said excitedly.
Then it was home—the steep climb out of the canyon, along the rocky ridge, past pines and sun-baked oaks to the Jeep. It started. Secretly I'd been hoping it wouldn't. I don't think any of us wanted to leave. Not yet, anyway. The fishing, the camping, the weather, the companionship and conversation—everything had worked out wonderfully. But the old Jeep started and carried us out of the real world, back to the one created by men.