To take large
fish when they are shy is the acme of sport. A day now and then on...waters
crowded with fish eager for your flies is a pleasant novelty, but for real
sport give us free water where the trout are critical, hard to please, and
highly valued when caught.
—THEODORE GORDON, 1903
again?" Nick Hetzer said. He groaned and got to his feet in the bow of the
Gander River boat, a sort of long, square-end canoe. "I was just getting
comfortable." He picked up his rod, unhooked the fly from the keeper ring
and dropped it over the side, then began stripping line from the fly reel in
preparation for casting. The fly, a shaggy brown mouserat tied on a [2/0] hook,
was bobbing on the water with its leathery tail twitching gently. It looked big
enough to gag a barn cat.
stripped more than six feet of line from the reel when a great rushing flash
streaked up through the amber water, slammed the mouserat sky-high in a flurry
of spray, then arched over and descended upon it like a red, black and ivory
Stuka dive-bomber. The reel howled, and Hetzer howled along with it.
he said as he struggled to control the fish's run. "Another one of those
pesky four-pound brookies. I can't keep them off the end of my line no matter
what I throw!"
Then he laughed
maniacally through his black beard, and his eyes shone as bright as the water.
Poor Hetzer, indeed.
Last fall we were
fishing Park Lake, a 10-by six-mile flowage, punctuated with boulder-studded
rapids, that feeds Labrador's Eagle River, some 65 miles southeast of Goose
Bay. Brook trout swarmed at the foot of each rapid, gaudy in their late summer
spawning colors—Day-Glo orange bellies, charcoal-streaked jaws, red fins edged
in ivory, their sides flecked with dime-sized dots of yellow, red and pale
blue, their broad backs with moss-green and black vermiculations. They seemed
voracious and unselective. No matter what we threw, they took it. In six days
of virtually nonstop action, I caught and released 72 brook trout ranging in
size from 15 to 22 inches (1� to four pounds in weight) on everything from
tiny, delicate dry flies to big deer-hair bass bugs. Others in our party—a
13-man contingent of the L.L. Bean Advanced Fly Fishing School—had taken them
on big, feathery tarpon flies, butterfly-sized White Wulffs, salmon flies like
the Green Butt, Bomber and Buckbug, and even on outrageously colored
"pencil poppers" of the sort that drive bluefish wild in the salt
"It's not the
usual question of 'What are they eating out there?' " Hetzer said as he
released his umpteenth trout of the day. "It's 'What won't they eat?' "
Hetzer is a burly, laid-back attorney from Toledo who does most of his fishing
in northern Michigan, no stingy locale when it comes to big, choosy trout. Like
the rest of us, Hetzer was beginning to understand Theodore Gordon's preference
for critical, hard-to-please trout.
Much of the
pleasure—and most of the challenge—in fly-fishing derives from figuring out
what a fish is hungry for at a particular time of day (or year, for that
matter), then presenting an imitation of it in a lifelike, natural manner Size,
shape and color (in that order) seem to be the critical factors in matching the
natural plat du jour. Trout can be especially picky when they're keyed to a
particular hatch of flies. A mayfly two millimeters longer than a natural fly
will more often than not be rejected by selective trout even if it's identical
in shape and color. Further, as a hatch runs its course, trout get even more
and more selective so that, finally, size and shape are no longer enough: A
slightly darker yellow or lighter brown in the artificial fly may be enough to
cause them to spurn it.
Finding the fight
fly for the trouty moment—a diminutive number-18 Blue Wing Olive, say, with
just the right hue of dubbing in its body on a gloomy, overcast day—is as
exciting as winning the office football pool or hitting an exacta. Big trout
will now tip up with confidence in slow head-and-tail rises. The angler can
almost hear those hungry jaws clamp down on his brilliantly selected fake. The
weight of the fish comes up his arm like a therapeutic electric charge. He has
solved a minor mystery of the only universe that counts.
There was no
mystery on Park Lake, unless it was why the Atlantic salmon weren't taking—and
the whole aim of the Advanced Fly Fishing expedition was to put Bean's students
into close contact with the king of game fish. There were fresh-run salmon in
Park Lake all right. From time to time we would see them jump—long, bright,
shimmying exclamation points dancing at the lips of the rapids—but although all
13 of us had at one time or another during the week thrown everything in our
fly boxes at them, we got not a nudge. "It rained like the very devil last
week," explained Harvey Wheeler, a high school science teacher and swimming
coach from Falmouth, Maine, who doubles as L.L. Bean's salmon maven. "The
lake is from three to six feet higher than normal for this time of year, so the
salmon could be anywhere, not in their usual lies."