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A Story by J. Chandler Hall, July Contest Winner

I grew up bass fishing with a spin caster. My dad's super serious and I learned a good deal from him. When I was a teenager I asked for a fly rod and learned out to cast it, but not how to fish it. Two summers ago, my best friend from high school got into fly fishing and got me hooked again even though it's been 20 years since I last picked up a fly rod. His name is Hunter. Most of my fly fishing that summer was for bream and bass (large and smallmouth) using popping bugs. The following summer, we decided to go camping at a small trout stream in northern Ga. and I was hooked.

The next spring, we planned a long camping trip for the Hiwassee. (It's in eastern Tenn.) Not having access to "on the job training", I read numerous books to learn different techniques. I was already used to the basics of reading the water, spotting feeding fish, etc. and my casting was pretty good at around 40 feet.

We set up camp the first evening and had just waded into the river near our campsite. It was a long featureless pool. I remember asking Hunter, "how will we know when one of these hatches come off?". We didn't see any rising fish and decided for the first evening we would just sit by the river, drink some beer, and watch. We weren't there for more than 20 minutes and all of a sudden the air was filled with what looked like a bunch of tiny moths. Turns out they were caddis. We quickly dashed back and pulled on our waders, boots, etc. and waded in to do battle. Luckily, I had read enough to understand I should attempt to match these moths and by chance used an Elk Hair Caddis. I must have pulled in 15-20 rainbows (all around 8-10") in that last hour before dark. That was my first experience catching trout on a dry fly. It was quite a high.

Retiring to camp, the beer flowed freely with the expectation of bigger fish further upstream. We just knew it was only a matter of finding some really good looking water and waiting for a hatch. We spent most of the morning and afterÓoon using streamers in the main currents. I probably caught another dozen or so small ones. It was still very exciting, but we were getting a little antsy about catching a nice size fish. We were starting to spot larger trout as we waded around and I began noting the similar situations where they were seen. We spent that first day and the next just scopeing out the river. That evening, Charlie, the local good 'ol boy that runs the campsite, dropped by. I mentioned the huge trout we had seen rising below an area called the "stair steps". Charlie told us, "heck, you oughta use a Ra-pal-a. Just wait till you see one of them thar monsters and cast that rapala right over him. Just reel as hard as you can and you might hook 'em in the back. Hang on, cus they really fight when ya hook em that way". That settled it, if the monsters were there, that's where we'd fish. Finally, our plans were set. Unfortunately, we hadn't brought any rapala's with us, so we were going to have to do this the hard way. Nor did we have any waterproof .357's or access to dynamite. Never mind though, we were certain we'd best these silly fish without scales. Hell, I've caught monster bass on a texas rig in a 30 foot hole. How hard could catching fish be when you can spot them?

Early the third morning we set out. We hiked down a trail toward a section called the stair steps. The name is very appropriate as there were numerous ridges of slanted rock that ran across the 100 yard wide river at that point. These ridges generally ran in a line, spaced about 4 feet apart, and dropped in height about eight feet over that ~200 yard section of the river. When the river is up, the white water across each ridge makes the water look like stair steps leading into a final 1 foot drop off into a large pool. One of the tricky things about these ridges was that these rocks were like 5" wide planks that point upstream at about 45 degree angles. You tended to wade along these ridges, but a misstep usually dropped you into a chest high hole between the ridges. I felt like an Olympic gymnast on the balance beam, but my dismounts ended up with ice cold water collecting in my waders. When the water was down, it would flow at perpendicular directions to the streambed in between these ridges.

When we got to the stair steps that morning, there wasn't a soul around. The water was down and there weren't any hatches or rising fish. I started off stripping a streamer down in the depths of those holes between the ridges, letting it tumble occasionally with the streamflow. I managed to catch the biggest trout so far, about 13-14". I was pumped. I was slowly working my way upstream, watching the river currents, now that I knew what to look for. I had my polarized "Strike King" glasses on--endorsed by Bill Dance himself. I figured trout wouldn't know whether my glasses were endorsed by a Bass aficionado or that guy "Lefty" anyway.

My plan was to look for a spot where two or three of these "perpendicular water flows" ran together in a slower pool before dropping over a ridge and running back the other way. I had noticed (and read) that big fish often sit at the tail end of a pool like this. Near the bank, about halfway up the stair steps, I spotted a likely candidate. Now, I began stalking up to it, keeping low to the water's edge, slipping over the ridges like a snake and always keeping an eye out on the current. I had already caught on to the problem of casting into flowing water 90 degrees across and having different speed flows between me and the fly. I picked my first likely spot. I decided to try casting a wet fly down and across--partly because of the approach I had made and partly because I knew I hadn't yet gotten the feel for reading a drag-free drift by just watching the water. As I got into position, I thought I saw a flash of silver. The tail end of the pool was just partly in shade. I watched longer. I'd read that most fishermen don't watch enough and don't approach with enough care. My research was already paying off! Sure enough another flash. This time I could tell he was just slowly flicking his tail enough to keep him right in the spot where these three little flows came together, flowed right over him, narrowed down and went over the next ridge. Exactly what I had read about and noticed earlier that week. This trout had my name on it.

Almost breathless, I cast out my line and let it swing right in front of his nose before twitching it back up stream. Nothing. Had I scared it? I kept watching. No, I saw that lazy, random pattern of a tail keeping him in place and another flash of silver. Good. I tried it again. Still no luck. OK, he wasn't interested in this fly. Time for something else. I decided to get a little closer and try some type of tiny dry fly, maybe a caddis. I had to get in a different position to fish it and I was worried that I'd spook it. I practically imitated a submarine staying mostly in the water and barely sliding over those ridges. Now, I could really see him. I figured he had to be almost as long as my arm, maybe over 21"! I began to watch his movements. He would hang in the water for a few seconds then flick his tail lazily, which would shift him over just under the fastest part of the flow, there was were he must have been collecting his dinner. Then he'd almost immediately return to his position just to the upstream side (away from me) of the flow. He'd repeat this pattern every 10 seconds or so. I lightly flicked out my dry fly and miraculously managed to land it perfectly in the flow of the stream about four feet in front. It appeared to drift drag free and right at him. I saw him come into position (oh the gods were with me that morning), and...nothing. Back into position. Hmmm. Well he showed interest and I didn't spook him. So I tried again. Another miracle cast. Again he appeared to show interest, moved right under it but nothing. Hmmm. I was distraught. Maybe I could get back to the car and purchase a rapala? No, I wasn't beat yet. I figured he wasn't taking dry's, so how about a nymph. I tied one on and drifted it right past him. He didn't take it, but he continued his feeding pattern with little change.

As I hung my head in despair, I noticed right next to my hand was a large boulder sticking out of the pool I was hiding in. On this boulder were some large bright yellow insects. Ahhhh! I recognized this as a stonefly and I even had one fly almost the same size (it was just slightly bigger). I could already feel the weight of this trout on my rod. As I was tying on the stone fly nymph I began determining how I would bring this monster in since that small pool wouldn't give me much room to play him. Finally, the battle was ready to begin. I moved toward the bank he was near so I could attempt to dead float it at him. I knew I couldn't get behind him, but I did my best to make certain that weren't any flows between his pool and my base of operation. In adjusting my casting position, I was now within 25 feet of him. Risky, I knew, but so far he hadn't been spooked.

I knew the gods were still with me when I managed 3 almost perfect casts to that trout. Not only did he not take it, he just seemed to ignore it. I was ready to cry, just watching this trout, with not a care to the world, lazily flicking his tail back and forth in his heavenly little pool.

I'd had it. Maybe these fish were smarter than I thought. Obviously another trip to the book store was in order. Maybe even a video tape or two. Well, I was at least determined to get a good look at this monster. After all I'd spent almost 30 minutes, 4 patterns, and lots of sore muscle sight casting to it just like all my reading had taught me. I was perplexed. I rose up and had a much better angle. He should have easily spotted me and shot into the depths of that pool, but he just kept lazily swimming. I didn't spend a lot of effort stalking up to him, but I did move slow and catlike. I can still picture the flash of white as I saw him in his full glory head to tail. He had to be the prettiest, longest piece of white cloth hung on a stick in that river! The stick was lodged in between the rocks and the cloth had gotten hung on the tip, just a few inches under the water's surface. The current was causing both the cloth and the stick to create what looked exactly like a large trout, lazily swimming in the tail of the pool. I realized ol' Charlie was right after all. A good rapala thrown right over it's back was the only way to bring in this monster.

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