The Last Mission of FDD-333
My friend Vern was quite serious about the mission.
The operational area was a high altitude reservoir in
Colorado, 10,000 feet plus. Our vessels were float tubes,
our propulsion was flippers. Our submarine targets were
beautiful and elusive Arctic Grayling, and hopefully big
Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout too. The mission was seek,
catch, and release. Though Grayling are rare in Colorado,
this lake teems with them, to the detriment of the local
Rainbows and Greenback Cutthroats.
By Dan Fink (DanBob)
Vern seemed to revert right back to his Navy days, serving
on a destroyer in the Vietnam War. He immediately assumed
an official tone of voice, and said "FDD-333, FDD-334 in
command. Based on pre-mission lure attraction probability
intelligence reports, I recommend a XTY-12-257-Mk18. It
will be in drawer L-18, row 27 of your portside aft fly box."
I replied, "You mean a #18 green scud, right Vern?"
It was going to be a long day...
I had actually ditched Vern's giant fly filing
system in the back of the truck, since it weighed
nearly as much as my float tube, and the straps to
hold it on my rear deck (uh, fantail) didn't fit my
float tube's lash downs. I had an old film can full
of flies in my pocket, and fished around for a little
green scud. I replied "Aye Sir, Mk18 Scud, I've
attached the Mk18 using proper level one monofilament
knot strength protocol."
It was a COLD fall morning at 10,000 feet. Ice rimmed
the calm waters of the lake, and moose tracks as big as
a dinner plate were frozen in the mud from yesterday.
Only a few scattered yellow leaves were left on the
aspens, the howling snowstorm last week had already
stripped most of them off. The sunrise was incredible,
all pink and orange.
My radio crackled at top volume. "Watch your initial
underway evolution. Jagged rocks off your port bow,"
he transmitted over our little walkie talkies.
"Gotcha, Vern. I'm actually standing on those rocks,
and I'm only 10 feet away from you. You don't have to
use the radio. And I don't know bow from stern, since
we paddle these belly boats backwards," I said.
"Gotcha is NOT permissible radio protocol. Please re-transmit."
All I could do was sigh heavily and transmit back to
Vern, "FDD-334, FDD-333, aye, I copy rocks off of port
bow and have marked them on my charts. I am underway now."
"MUCH better. Switch colors to the bridge, assume sea
detail. We'll commence formation plan Foxtrot Romeo in
exactly 7 minutes, at coordinates 4489330N 426000E UTM
as per your mission briefing folder."
"OK Vern, I'll meet you over the weed bed off the south
inlet in a bit."
"That's what I said. Please conform to standard radio
"Roger that 334, FDD-333 out." What else could I say?
A few things came to mind, but I kept my mouth shut.
Vern insisted on precise formation while underway,
and our rendezvous went perfectly to plan.
Vern radioed (again from less than 10 feet away) "We need
to find the weed bed and the drop-off. Make your helm 212
degrees, and prepare to deploy towed sonar array. Man
I repeated his orders back and began the turn. "Battle
stations. Make my helm 212 and prepare towed array, aye.
Coming around. My helm is 212. I have a lock on channel
A of the array in test position, check your telemetry
on channel B, Sir."
"FTDD-333, I have a lock on channel B. Good job. Deploy
the towed sonar array."
I double checked the rope and carabiner clip and tossed
the little floating sonar bobber out. My wristwatch receiver
beeped, and I started to a receive a profile and depth
soundings of the lake bottom. It was a very strange little
gadget. I had bought it mostly as a joke, but it ended up
being pretty useful. I had my doubts about whether it would
find any fish, but it seemed to give the depth pretty well,
and show structure and weeds underneath.
"Sonar array deployed to distance of 4 meters aft in my baffles.
Telemetry starting," I transmitted.
Vern replied "FDD-333, 334, I'm copying your telemetry from
the towed array. We'll go to formation Alpha-13, and troll
the weed bed and drop off parallel to shore. I show the
optimum depth for fishing the drop off to be 2.72 meters.
Separate the vessels by 20 meters, with a 10 meter cross
vector offset. Circular trolling pattern. Complete radio
silence for the initial attack run."
I wondered a bit about the radio silence order, since Vern
is never silent if there's a radio to talk on, but then I
noticed he was rolling a tobacco cigarette, which took both
hands--no hands left to key the mic. I stopped kicking, cast
my little green scud out, ticked off the seconds for it to
sink to the bottom, then started twitching it while slowly
kicking along the drop off and trying to keep the little
scud out of my wake. I had about 10 minutes of peace until
my radio exploded into action again.
"Torpedo in the water, torpedo in the water! We are under
attack!" Vern radioed frantically. Even though I knew exactly
what was going on, it did make me jump and scan around the
lake. And I'd never been in the Navy! Too many war movies,
maybe? It only took me a few seconds to realize that Vern
had a fish on.
Vern was yelling into the radio now. "FDD-333, commence
response plan Delta Tango 7 off my starboard bow immediately.
Flank speed. I am under attack, repeat, I am under attack!"
I could hear him both over the radio and over the water.
Response plan Delta Tango 7 meant that I was to accelerate
in front of Vern and try to get in position for a photo,
or to help netting the fish if it was a big one. It was
impressive watching Vern's rod flex -- the fish was a
real fighter. It alternately dove deep and jumped out
of the water, and made a couple long runs on him. About
14 inches it appeared, big for a Colorado Grayling, the
state record is only 17 inches. Vern's 3-weight rod made
the whole battle quite exciting.
Right after I started kicking hard to get into position,
I felt a sharp series of tugs on my line. The hook set
itself, and I had a Grayling on now also. After I had my
slack reeled in and was letting the reel's drag do the work,
I keyed the mic again. "FDD-334, FDD-333. I am under attack
also. Torpedo in the water. They're hitting us from all sides,
Sir. I am commencing response plan Bravo Sierra 3 on my own
initiative. Spooling in towed array to avoid fouling it."
Bravo Sierra 3 meant I would land my own fish, and Vern his.
What a concept!
I'd never caught a Grayling before, and it was a fun fight.
It took some work to get it in my net. Grayling have a small,
soft mouth, hung underneath almost as much as a Whitefish.
But the colors, oh my -- the big dorsal sail was translucent,
with purple areas glowing in the sun. It had a 3-D effect of
purple going down the sides, too -- almost holographic. What
a beautiful fish! Out of the water, the dorsal sail collapsed
and the colors went to white, but in the water it was a beauty.
I let it go, and noticed Vern had done the same with his.
I had another Grayling on within 5 minutes, and radioed
Vern again. "Got another one." I heard only silence back.
I unhooked the fish, dropped my fly back in the water, and
had another Grayling on before the scud even hit the bottom.
Then I noticed Vern had another fish on, too, and he was
thrashing around a bit in his float tube. I soon realized
he was thrashing around a LOT! I saw some strange objects
floating away from his boat, became concerned, and radioed
Vern again. "TDD-334, TDD-333, my portside lookout is
reporting debris in the water. Please confirm your status,
do you require assistance?"
Nothing back on the radio.
As I kicked rapidly over towards Vern, I noticed that the
first piece of debris was a very soggy, hand-rolled cigarette.
The second was his Bic lighter, in a (fortunately) floating
case. The third was Vern's tobacco pouch. I grabbed all of
it out of the water and keyed the mic. "Vern, I got your
stuff. The Bic is OK but the cigarette and tobacco pouch
are severely damaged and took on water."
For the first time, Vern answered in plain English, if a
bit out of breath.
"Damn that was a fine fish, it was big and fought like crazy!"
Sadly, it was only a temporary respite from naval jargon.
Vern kept giving orders. "333, 334, requesting
underway replenishment operation to commence immediately."
"Roger that, what supplies do you need 334?" I replied.
"I need a cigarette, Danbob."
Poor Vern! I answered "FDD-334, FDD-333, I acknowledge your
request for underway replenishment. Come alongside and heave to."
It should have been easy, but that howling, autumn alpine
wind was coming up again. We stowed our fly rods in their
holders and locked hands, spinning in circles in the wind.
I transferred all his salvageable equipment plus my extra
smokes to Vern. Our lines and leaders were whipping around
in the wind by now.
Without even touching his radio, Vern said "Thanks, Danbob!
I'm gonna head for the west side dropoff where the little
crick comes in, near the dam. The water's deeper there, and
maybe we can get some big trout instead of all these durn
Grayling. I've caught a dozen of them already. And I'm gonna
try a big #4 spruce streamer, since intelligence reports suggest
Grayling have small, soft mouths and can't eat big flies.
Prepare to cast off."
Hearing plain English mixed with only a little jargon
was a relief and I tried to avoid even the slightest
hint of any sort of nautical jargon in my reply, to
avoid triggering any more. "Sounds dandy Vern, see ya
over thar in a bit."
Vern kicked away, and my float tube started to spin. Then
I kicked away, and Vern started to spin. We'd hooked each
other well and truly, or at least the wind had done it for
us. His fly was embedded deep in my fleece jacket, and mine
had caught his net.
It was right back to jargon again. Vern yelled into his radio
"All hands brace for impact! Engines all stop, repeat all stop,"
once again from only 10 feet away. We locked arms again, spun
in more circles and extracted our flies, and were glad that
nobody was watching. The half-mile flipper trip over to the
dam was silent on the radio net, but as we approached the dam
the tiny fish finder DID show some deep water -- 60 feet plus,
with both rocks and weeds showing on my display and Vern's.
He was quickly back on the radio. "FDD-333, FDD-334, telemetry
from your towed array shows depths to 18.29 meters at the
impoundment structure. Switching to full sink line and large
wooly buggers. Recommend you do the same."
"I copy that, 334, switching to full sink line, large
woolly bugger, aye. Using level 3 high-strength
monofilament knot protocol."
Then my wristwatch fish finder beeped--it was indicating
an actual fish for the first time. We'd been using it only
for depth readings. This looked to be for real! Vern's voice
immediately came over the radio, and seemed a bit strained.
"FDD-333, FDD-334, I have a large submerged contact in your
baffles at 12 meters depth. This is your first command, I
request you bear off to starboard and let me take care of
this target. Prepare to commence response plan Delta Tango
7 at my command."
"Aye, Sir, bearing off to starboard. My helm is 324." My
arm was sore from fighting Grayling anyway, and I was sick
I released another 10 feet of line on the sonar sensor,
and flippered away to watch the action, both above and
below. I could clearly see the blip on the display now.
It was big! A lurking Mackinaw? Rumor had it that the
state Division of Wildlife had released Lake Trout here
this summer to reduce the Grayling population.
The radio went off again, and Vern's voice was showing
the strain for sure now. "Torpedo in the water, target
engaged, I am under attack!"
But something didn't look right. His rod was bent, but
it didn't seem be moving around much. His reel wasn't
making any noise, either.
"Uh, Vern, you sure about that?" I radioed back.
"It's huge! Proceed with response plan Delta Tango 7
and get in position for a photo."
"Uh, Vern, are you REALLY sure?"
"Vern, you OK?"
If a radio could crackle sheepishly, Vern's sure did.
"Hooked a friggin' log. @#&$^#$."
I keyed the mic, and sent back "FDD-334, FDD-333. You're
violating radio protocal, Sir."
"@#$** radio protocal!" yelled Vern.
I knew that, finally, plain talk might have won out
over nautical jargon.
We fished for another 3 hours, and our catch and release
totals for Grayling both numbered over 20. Rainbows, Cuttys,
Lakers? Not a one.
As we stripped off our waders, I noticed Vern's radio
on the gravel, just behind my left rear tire, and didn't
say a word. The 'crunch' was audible even with the windows
closed as we pulled out.
"#$#*$&!, that was my radio!" yelled Vern.
"Oops," I calmly replied. "Maybe we didn't need those radios
or the towed sonar array to catch fish."
"That's a fact. I haven't had such a fine day fishing
in 5 years. My arm is sore from fighting Grayling.
Mission accomplished. Good sailing with you."
"You too, Vern, let's go get a beer."
The beer tasted GOOD! ~ DanBob
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