Our Man In Canada
June 2nd, 2003

Unity is a Beautiful Thing

By Dave Jensen, Alberta, Canada

The day was stellar. Clouds hung to the peaks on one side of the valley leaving the other bared to the morning sun. We arrived the night before after a long drive to this foreign water. It was my third day of the year on this stream, which should tell you how remarkable it is considering the number of hours it takes to get there.

I've yet to break that magical 30" bull trout barrier. Try as I might each spring and fall it just seems to never happen for me. So there I found myself driving the 6 plus hours back to the land of opportunity yet again. But I'll tell you what, the first two trips were worth every moment. Now I could finally take my wife Amelia there and cross my fingers.

The week previous I made the trek and was frustrated at a particular big bull trout's refusal to hook itself properly. To back up a second I had spotted the fish in a chest deep run behind a small boulder. It refused to take a streamer even though it lunged twice at mine. I opted to try the back up plan, nymphing. I had it take twice that first trip, once rolling the fish on the bottom and the other was a head shake before flipping me the fin.

On this trip, I told Amelia what to expect. We would spend most of the day sight fishing to some incredible fish. Our first stop was that same bull trout. Again, as hard as I tried it refused my nymphs. We were there to get Amelia into a large bull so I wasn't too disappointed. My best bull trout to that day was 26". We had never spent too much time targetting big bad bulls so her largest to that day was only about 23". Things would change for one of us that day.

After fruitless attempts nymphing, Amelia stepped up to bat with the streamer. The fish charged at the fly - almost as quickly as Amelia pulled it away from the fish, but not quite. Subsequent casts were ignored. It was disapointing to not have her catch this fish. However, one of my goals has always been to sight nymph a big bull trout on a small nymph. To me it is almost on par with casting small dries to a large brown trout on a glassy slick. I was in luck because after the bull charged her fly it nestled into a glassy flat behind a series of smaller stones.

A quick flip of the #14 bead head pheasant tail nymph caught the seam line. The bull moved over 6" and rose a foot to meet my nymph. I'd stuck him twice before without moving him so I cringed as I rose my rod. Solid! Finally. The only question now was whether or not I had a good hook set. There was no chance the fish would snap me off. Not with my 14 pound Trilene 'tippet'. The fish hammered down across the river, keeling over my Scott rod. It wasn't pretty. I'm sure even Scott's engineers would have been grimacing.

Alas, a few minutes later the horse moved into the eddy and into the net. I finally had a good, solid bull trout on a small nymph. Elated? Yes! Contented? You bet! That 25" bull to the right has my little bead head in its mouth. If my writing doesn't convey my elation, there's a reason. I blame it on my wife. You see, I've waited a long time to get a good bull trout on a small fly in a sight nymphing situation. Leave it to Amelia to 'ruin' that. But more on that later.

We saw no other fish in that run so we moved back to a hidden run. I had fished it before and had spotted a couple of fish in the shallow chop on the far bank. A friend had caught a nice bull that we spotted in a 3 foot deep flat. Strange place for it but there was a reason it was there. It was not there for Amelia, however. We moved back up to the run. Amelia walked to the head of the run and I stayed back where I knew a few fish would be. I said nothing but I turned a nice fish on the nymph and also had a solid head shake on the streamer. Amelia made her way back down to where I was.

We both saw it at the same time. A lunker appeared as the seam changed from a roll to a glassy paned viewfinder to the bottom. She tossed a streamer and I my nymph. But it wasn't to be. Amelia hung up on the bottom a couple of casts later. She cursed mildly and gave the line a solid tug. I'm not sure if she screamed before or after the bottom of the stream errupted into a golden flash tearing across the stream up to the head of the run. Don't much matter now does it? I photographed the sequence of the fight, it was one that lasted quite a long time. By the time Amelia got Tiny Tim into the eddy it was obvious I was going to have to net the fish. Yup, I was quite pleased with myself, sight fishing a big bad bull on a small nymph until ...

Did I mention that I had never caught a 30" bull before? Good thing my wife came to my rescue by catching a 31" bull from below my feet!

There was some hooting and hollering right then and there, let me tell you. As I had it in the net the thing literally kicked my butt, rocking back and forth. I had to take a knee and get a two solid hand grip on the net in order to control it. We took a series of photos. As we were lining up to take the last set, good old Tiny Tim kicked Amelia's butt too. He slapped her wrists, startling her and sending her backwards as it made a dash for open water.

He made it.

A few smiles on a couple of faces. We took a break for lunch and sat smiling and giggling over what had just happened. Our day was not over yet. Not by a long shot.

After lunch we worked a deep trough where a friend reported a couple of very nice bulls. Oddly we caught nothing. We continued to work our way down and found a nice bend; a deep trough cut down the middle by a rise of boulders. I fished my side with no success. I saw nothing in the run on "my side". Amelia was working her side slower than I was so I crossed over to her side thinking I would get a few casts in the back end as she worked down. She lost her streamer on the bottom so the run was now mine. What's this? Hugging the bottom in front of me was a long, dark shadow. The glassy flat gave the bull a floating appearance, the water so clear the fish seemed to hover above dry rocks. Wouldn't you know this fish charged both of my streamer casts to it. Both times it charged but stopped short. Odd fish, these. To charge a fly for 5 feet and stop without taking.

I knew it would take the nymph and it was a perfect place to see an excellent take. I convinced Amelia to take the first cast with the nymph. She wanted me to catch this one after having just had her 'moment.' But this was her day. She adjusted the depth of the indicator and she cast 10 feet above the bull. The indicator passed overhead, the bull trout moved over and then up as it did. Its mouth opened to feed and it turned back to its lie. Amelia set the hook. What more can be said? Amelia's second fish of the day was a 27" bull.

We were starting to run out of film and digital memory. The cameras had worked overtime already but I had one or two more special pit stops to make yet. No, neither the day nor the camera work was done yet. Not quite.

We came up to the shallow riffle. It is a long one. Hundreds of yards on either side offer nothing but knee deep water, except for the deflection of boulders creating a small truck sized pocket. It was Amelia's day. Guess who cast first? Guess how many casts it took? One flip of the streamer behind the submerged rock. The streamer came out of the seam line into the shallows. We were actually both disappointed. I was about to say "cast further up" when Joe bull trout came snorting out of the seam line pectoral fins a blazing and mouth open wide enough to chomp Amelia's leg if it per chance missed the fly. It didn't! Another solid hook set and another stellar fight with another exceptional bull trout. Granted, this was only 26", but it rounded out the day nicely with tape measured 26, 27, and 31" bulls for Amelia.

For anyone that knows the joys of fly fishing with a husband or wife, you know that not every day will go smoothly. Sure, most will. Some will go negatively. Most will be fun and enjoyable. Then there's the very odd day when the world smiles on one or both and it is simply a joy to behold. I can honestly say that this was one of the best days I've had in years. Sure, Amelia kicked my butt fishing. It wasn't close. But I got to take the photos, to capture the moments she's never experienced before. I was able to share each one and each one was different. When she put the net to her 27" bull that she had sight nymphed to, casting and drifting perfectly, it confirmed what I had known for a couple of years now... the next photo, while not 100% crisp in appearance is crisp on the fact... she's a helluva fisherman.

It's a special thing we have. Having guided as many people we have over the years we've come to realize that not everyone is able to enjoy time on stream together. It's taken some time for us to get to this place, but the journey has been wonderful. If you have the time and the desire, why not invite your partner to come out and spend a day together? If need be to rent a drift boat or hire a guide to take care of the little details you know you might forget, wouldn't it be worth it? It takes time to develop an on stream relationship, and that relationship is different than day to day living. But with some time and fostering it is one that I'll guarantee will see a better relationship in all areas down the road.

I took Amelia to a special place hoping something special would happen to someone special to me. It did. It blew us both away. What better thing to know that you can spend that time together and - perhaps more importantly - remember those times together. Unity is a beautiful thing. ~ Dave Jensen

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