"A Fish Eye's View" by Jeff Dueck, December contest winner
Like many, and probably most fishermen; looking at the surface of the water is probably the best view that we get of the fish's environment. We study the water to determine submerged logs and large rocks which will indicate some of the prime lies for the fish, but we don't really know what is going on below the surface. Just recently I had the opportunity to get a closer look at the hangouts of some of our local trout and whitefish. My friend had told me he had been swimming and snorkelling in a nearby river, and was amazed at all the fish he could see. He invited me down to do some fishing and told me to bring a snorkel mask as well.
Now this river flows down from out of the mountains and is typically a bit chilly (normally, I don't even drink water that cold). Combine that with my low tolerance for swimming in cold water, I had been a bit reluctant, but it had been a blistering week of temperatures close to 100, and going swimming in the river sounded like an ideal way to cool off.
Now I must interject a note of caution here. At first I thought that I should also bring along my waders to look the part of the fisherman, but common sense quickly returned as I pictured myself in the hospital, having a team of doctors separate the rubber waders from my legs since they had become fused together in the hot sun. So instead, I took a pair of old runners and enjoyed the chance to fish "wet"! (Mind you I have also had a few inopportune chances to fish "wet" while wearing my waders, but that is another story.)
We hiked down to the river with our fishing rods, snorkel and life jackets and walked to the start of a fairly long section of water which had lots of pools, riffles and other types of structure. We donned our masks and life vests and ventured into the current. The river is only about waist deep, and moves fairly slowly, so we had no trouble with visibility or being swept along too fast. The first thing I noticed as I peered into the water was the junk suspended in it. From the surface it had appeared crystal clear, but once I was underneath, I saw all the silt, sand, sticks, and bugs being carried along. The nymphs that I saw drifting by was especially fascinating as it reinforced my understanding of these insects and the way that fish will feed on them.
We had only floated a few feet when I saw the first of what was to be many fish. It was a rainbow trout about a foot long, sort of hovering near a depression in the bottom of the river. From there on, it was like a buffet of fish; small little sculpins, trout and whitefish as well as the odd sucker or two. Most of the fish were tucked in along the bank amongst fallen branches and tree roots, hunkered down in places where there was shelter and easy access to the bugs that drifted by. Often we found the fish down in the deep pools, probably avoiding both the heat and the current.
Throughout our 15 minute swim, we probably saw hundreds of fish. Most were of a smaller size being around 5-10 inches, but then again some quite a bit bigger. Many of the bigger ones were beautifully colored rainbow trout that were at least 18 inches in length. As we started scraping ourselves against a shallow set of riffles, I decided it was time to get out and concentrate on my primary task of hooking some of those big lunkers. We walked back to the spot where we had seen some large ones and I quickly tied on a Gold Ribbed Hares Ear nymph with a split shot to get it down to the bottom. My friend swam back in to point out where I should cast the fly, as well as to get a close look at the "strike" that we were sure was soon to happen. Now several things were certain: First of all we knew that there were lots of fish in the place where I was casting. Secondly, when we had floated by, I could see that some of them seemed to be feeding on insects near the bottom. Thirdly, my friend could see that my hook had been bouncing along the bottom, just where it should have been.
Now with all these factors going for me, I thought it would be a simple matter of dropping in the hook, and pulling out the fish, but to my dismay, there was nothing I could do to coax one of these fish to take my fly. Now being a fisherman, I can come up with a multitude of excuses, some of which might actually be true. Possibly it was too hot that the fish were not biting. Maybe it was because of all the people floating by on tubes or with snorkels, putting off the fish. Or maybe my friend had the call of nature and didn't want to get out of the water. Whatever the reason, we did not see the "strike", I did not catch a fish, and my friend remains unsure of my fishing ability.
Even though my expectations for the day's fishing success was grossly unfulfilled, I was still glad that I had taken the opportunity to get an underwater glimpse of the river. It is exciting knowing that there are some big ones in there waiting for me to catch and lots of small ones which will grow up for other summers. This of course has a down side in that I now know that there are so many big fish which I can't seem to catch. But one of the most useful things from this experience was that I got a good close-up look at the structure and holding places of these fish. Sure, I had read all that in books before, but seeing it for yourself is another thing. I can now go back with this knowledge and use it to spot the areas where I should concentrate my fishing.
I would recommend an underwater look with a mask or goggles to anyone, especially if you get a nice hot day. Why not stick your head in the water, cool down and take a look around. Chances are you will see the fish as they really live: skippin' school, hanging out by bars, playing pool, and listening to the Rolling Stones.