December 30, I caught the biggest trout of my 29 years of fly fishing, rounding out 2013 to be a great year on the fly for this guy. I may have hooked trout this size, but I've never landed them. The story of landing this trout is the best part of this fish tale, and it was only possible with a little help from my friends (cue Joe Cocker and the Wonder Years).
I had taken two high school guys up to the Davidson River with hopes of putting them on some big fish. Atticus is an experienced fly fisherman who is passionate about the sport. Hayden is a little newer to fly fishing, and was breaking in his new rod, reel, and chest pack he had just received for Christmas. The biggest hope was to get Hayden on a good fish. After about an hour and a half with no strikes, I was ready to move to a different piece of river. As I was trying to convince the fellas to move down stream, we noticed a few takes on top, and thought a little hatch of midges was emerging. Two cast later I set the hook on a huge brown. I immediately asked Atticus to grab my net saying "this will be the biggest fish of my life!"
I was fishing three flies on a four weight, all on 6x tippet. My subconsious told me there was no way I was going to land this seemingly 24+ inch trout. She ran me down into the deep hole below the run I hooked her in, then proceeded to look for every rock and log she could wrap my leader around. I was confident she would stay in the safety of the deep pool, but after about 5 minutes, she made a run down stream towards a long set of shallow rapids full or rocks, limbs, and debris. I had to duck a fallen tree and run my rod tip under a submerged limb to keep from getting wrapped up. The big hen settled in a little piece of pocket water just above a log jam, 60 yards downstream from where I hooked her. Atticus suggested we spook it back up towards the big pool to narrow the variables of landing She-Brown the Wonder Trout. Super idea. We got behind her, spooked her, commenced dodging logs and limbs like a fly rod clad ninja back upstream, and sighed in relief when she entered the tail out of the big hole.
The trout proceeded to dive 10 to 12 feet deep multiple times, without seeming to tire, causing all kinds of strain on the 6x tippet, and creating a massive tight belly in the fly line bending under the weight of fish and current. She nearly had me down to my backing a couple of times. As I thought the trout was finally beginning to tire, it headed towards a couple of small fallen trees at the far side of the pool which I had managed to move the fish away from early. Maybe I was overconfident at this point, because i didn't worry, but the fish slowly moved in amongst the many limbs of the submerged trees as I applied pressure trying to coax it in the opposite direction. It slowly writhed in amongst the labyrinth of limbs, like a Katherine Zeta through the laser field in Entrapment, then the pressure I applied grew static and I realized my line was wrapped in the limbs. I knew my fish was certainly gone.
Atticus had been scrambling across the tail out trying to get to the far side of the deep hole to spook the fish away from the tree fall. He crawled on top of the trees laying across the river, but my line staid tight around a limb. I was certain the fish had broken the 6x tippet at this point, and returned to the safety of the deep water. "Do you see anything," I asked Atticus with low expectation. "No. I stirred up mud walking over here and can't see anything," he replied. I was dejected as he hovered above the cold waters lying on a few waterlogged branches.
Then it happen. Atticus communicated with focus and determination, "I see it! I'm going for it." He plunged his right arm in amongst the tangle of limbs, shoulder deep in the frigid water, and lifted the thick brown trout up into the 36 degree air by the tail, gripping it like a steelhead. Victory.
Maybe it was worn out from the fight, and holed up under the safety of the branches, to tired to leave when Atticus approached the fallen trees and climbed on top of them, but for some reason we landed the beast. We shouldn't have, but we did. One good head shake would have easily snapped the 6x tippet with my line wrapped around a tree. This was definitely the fish that should have got away. Without Atticus as super net boy and landing coach, it would have been just another fish story about the one that got away.