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Pondering the Puzzlement

Brown Trout

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(6/1) From Maryland’s DNR- “Maryland Fish Facts” in reference to Brown Trout (Salmo trutta):

“Frequently brown trout can be very discriminating and can tell the difference between a natural insect and a well-crafted imitation.”

“Fishermen consider them to be the smartest, most difficult to catch of the trout species found in Maryland.”

I have to grin. And, why not? I myself prefer to fish for Crapies.  Crappies are an aggressive fish and once hooked, they can give you an unforgettable fight, so I always use the Crappie rod my father gave me on my birthday.

The only time I caught a brown was during an attempt to make a perfect cast while standing among the rocks below Kump’s dam. I had a fly rod, a box of dry flies, some soft drinks, and a determination to make at least one good cast before going home.

I started out on the lawn above the dam. Bluegills were patrolling the grassy edges and beyond them torpedo-shaped juvenile bass. I tied on a popper and began waving the fly rod about with the hope I wouldn’t tear off an ear lobe as a boy I knew once had done. The nasty little hook hissed past my ear way too often for any chance of my relaxing and enjoying what I was about. A popper floats on the water’s surface and each time the line is jerked the popper “pops.” Cool. Except I was hearing popping sounds behind me and nothing was touching the flat surface of Middle Creek except the naked fishing line. I probably lost 4 or 5 poppers before I learned to stop “cracking the whip.”

After an hour of not snagging my ear and keeping the same fly on the line for a whole 20 minutes, while being ignored by every fish above the dam, I decided to join the water snakes on the rocks below the dam. I selected a tiny red ant from my fly box and after several attempts to attach it to the tippet, which is fly fishing lingo for a line so thin and light that a clumsy hand can’t possibly tie it without breaking it less than four times, I was ready to make a perfect cast. There was a spot where I imagined a trout might actually be waiting for a red ant to fall from an overhanging tree, which was across the dam face from where I stood being studied by the snakes; so, I stripped line from the reel, began working it out, concentrating on the spot I wanted to gently place the ant and let the line go.

Ha! I was doing it, repeatedly. I think even the snakes were impressed. I got all puffed up with my newly acquired skill and occasionally looked around to see if I was impressing anyone else who might have walked up without my knowing. All the racket the water was making splashing into the pool after escaping the dam would have muffled the approach of a bulldozer. But it was just me and the snakes, which was fine because some ignorant would have asked, “catching any fish?” when I was only serious about making a good cast.

With that thought in my head, everything went wrong. The line collapsed in a tangle just feet before me and the tiny ant fell a few inches beyond the mess. I was quite pleased no one was around as I began to untangle the line. “Pride goeth before a fall,” I thought as the last of the casting line went onto the reel the tippet twitched and I had a fish on.

I’d never hooked a fish on a fly rod before, and all the reading I’d done on how to play one went right out of my head. I doubt I did anything right but swear, which I did with great enthusiasm. I knew I had a trout on as I’d seen it flash below the surface a time or two and then it was in my trembling net.

It wasn’t a big fish. It wasn’t frying pan size, and I let it go as I didn’t have another to make up a meal. I wasn’t sure what kind of trout it was either as I’d only ever caught rainbows. When I told some of the trout anglers what I’d caught, they just stared at me until they realized I wasn’t lying--which is always a possibility with anglers. It was then they told me I’d caught one of the most difficult fish in all of Maryland’s freshwaters. I had caught one of the most difficult fish without even knowing it, and I had caught it in a place no one ever thought to find such a fish! I was thrilled, even though it might have been the result of a complete screw up on my part.

I was advised to change this story to- “I’d made the perfect cast,” even though I was told the fish’s reputation would suffer if a klutz such as I could catch one by accident. In the fish’s defense I think it was young and foolish. Or, maybe I was being taught a lesson like perfection doesn’t always matter.

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.