Over My Waders

Stoning the Pool

By Reed F. Curry

I knew it was a matter of four hours until dark, and then, unless a good hatch started, another four hours before he left the plunge pool searching for dinner. Of course, I'd never seen this fish, but the total absence of any small-to-medium size browns in the best looking water on this stretch of river could only mean one thing -- a monster brown had claimed this pool as his own.

The game laws were very clear on one point, I had to leave the water two hours after legal sunset. Unfortunately, mature brown trout choose that as the time to come out of their daytime coma. This was quite a conundrum, how to raise a fish that was sound asleep.

You can imagine that I spent much time in serious deliberation over the ethics of my course --- you could, but you'd be wrong. I bent down and hefted the largest rock I could find and shotput it to the head of the pool. Then I threw another for good measure. The sound of the rocks striking was startling, which, of course, was the point.

Twenty long minutes I waited, then began casting a #4 Yellow Marabou Muddler to the fast water at the head and right side of the pool. The current caught my line quickly and dragged the fly at high speed, but the diver cut of the deerhair forced the fly deep. I could see it go past on the far edge of the pool, about four feet down. It was perhaps thirty casts later that I saw the fly disappear as it was passing the mid-point of the pool. I didn't have to set the hook, the current did that for me. Quickly taking up slack, I soon had the fish on the reel... except the fish wasn't moving. I applied plenty of pressure, my ten-foot, 6wt rod was bent dramatically, but the fish wouldn't rise an inch...

At this point I'd like to leave the reader with the notion that I landed the fish; but, after five minutes of inactivity, he started moving leisurely across the river, apparently unconcerned. Fifty feet away, in fast water, he suddenly came half out of the water and spat the fly back at me. He still stands as the largest trout I've never caught.

To stone, or not, the pool is just one of the decisions we face as fishermen. Indeed, some of the principal elements of pleasure we receive as fishermen (apart from the beauty of the environment in which trout live) are the products of the restrictions we place on our methods of fishing. There is no doubt that we have technologies capable of removing all the fish from the river, e.g., electroshock and dynamite, but we handicap ourselves in various ways to increase the sporting aspect of the pursuit.

I prefer to catch trout on a fly rod with an unweighted fly. This places certain limitations on the depth of water I can access in a fast flowing river. Another angler might restrict himself to dry flies, only; whereas a third might use only "imitative" dries, casting only to rising fish. I don't see greater merit in any of these, each individual has chosen how he wants to bind his hands to enhance his sport --- that is well and good.

But these are only the gross decisions, the finer granularity might be a decision about tippet strength (the 5x Super Strong I often use tests at almost five pounds; the 5x gut of 60 years ago was one half pound test --- should I increase my sport by using gut?), barbless hooks, limiting the catch (e.g., considering all fish caught as fish killed, and setting a bag limit of four, regardless of size, after which you leave the stream), stirring up sediment to start the fish feeding (chumming), or stoning a pool. There are no legal strictures on most streams regarding these practices, and we would resnt them if they did exist; yet, paradoxically, it is our own imposition of these impediments that let us leave the stream satisfied that, though we didn't score, we played fair by the rules we made.

All content copyright Reed Curry © 2006.
Cartoon by Walter Young © 1961, used by permission.