Hayden Mellsop - The Accidental Angler

The morning sun at my back, I made my way slowly along the high bank, the soft crunch of dried grass, snow lying in its shaded crevices, beneath my boots. The summer flow’s high tide mark was clearly visible a good foot further up the bank from the stream’s current level, and a fine layer of silt covered the bed wherever the current slackened.

Looking beyond the confines of the stream’s course, the ground rose first gradually then steeply, rust-colored tussock and willows giving way to stands of pine interspersed with fingers of bare aspen, gray rivulets snaking among the sea of green. Beyond these, snow-capped peaks etched hard against a cold, flawless sky.

Movement in the stream ahead caught my eye. A generous casting distance from where I stood, three fish held close to the bed on the outside of a gentle elbow bend.

I unhooked the fly from its keeper and began to work line out over the water. While not the most subtle cast I have ever unfurled, still I believe it warranted a warmer reaction from the three fish than it received. As soon as the dry fly landed on the water a few feet above their lie they darted for cover, each to its own point of the compass.

Tough audience, I thought as I sank to my knees, waiting to see what happened next. Give them a couple of minutes, I reasoned, to see if they would return.

First one, then the other two, emerged from their hidey-holes to resume their station. Laying a second cast above their station this time unsettled them less, causing them to circle and dart in irritation, yet they largely stayed in place, although not tempted in the slightest by the fly.

Gradually, as each consecutive cast hit the water, the fish grew accustomed to the disturbance, still showing not the slightest interest in the fly itself.

I wrestled with my conscience. Do I tie on a nymph? Do I make them an offer they can’t refuse – deliver a fly to the tip of their nose, no more effort required to eat it than that invested in a casual yawn? How desperate was I to catch something?

The day was yet young, the stream laid out in front of me like a blank canvas, not another soul in sight. Time still felt on my side – fish on the line would be a bonus, not a necessity.

I sat, dangling my feet over the high bank while selecting a fresh dry, something smaller, with a white wing for visibility and a red body for irresistibility. The cast landed softly. One of the three fish detached from the pod and followed it lazily downstream before rising, sipping it from below and turning once more upstream. A gentle lifting of the rod was all it took to set the hook.

The fish turned out to be a hefty brown. I slid down the bank and into the water as I coaxed it downstream toward me, in the process spooking a couple of smaller fish I hadn’t noticed. Finally it lay on its side in the soft sand of the shallows, quietly accepting of its apparent fate.

Slipping the hook from its mouth, I gave it a gentle nudge with one finger, and it slithered back into the stream, hesitated a couple of seconds, then with a flick of its tail was gone.

Climbing back up the bank, I sat again and watched. The two remaining fish hovered at their station, apparently impervious to their missing companion. Beyond, the stream curved from sight, toward another likely looking bend. As I walked upstream, the two remaining fish sat, now nonchalant to my presence. In nature as in life, for better or for worse, familiarity breeds contempt.

Hayden Mellsop is a Realtor with Pinon Real Estate Group and a former fishing guide.