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THE SHOULDERS OF SLABS
Having chased trout and their species on both coasts and various points in between, it is easy to see why images of rising trout drive so many of us to the water. The romanticists add their spin as well, by setting prose to print and further that drive with vivid descriptions of pristine waters and the grace of a mayfly taking flight. How could we not fall into a love affair with trout? In the eyes of many there is no piscatorial species or their haunts more deserving of praise than that of the trout. Just browse the bookstore shelves and check out the covers. When is the last time you saw a beautiful mountain setting with a picture of a heirloom cane rod held next to a beautifully colored Bluegill? Over the years this fact has remained a conundrum for me, because I see grace and beauty in both warm and cold water fishing. Is it because so many of us never have pursued warm water fishing beyond the Zebco 303 of our youth, leaving only that memory to hold onto whenever the thought of a casting to bluegill arises? Or is it because so many of us have crowned the prince, and now only have the desire to walk within the royal circles?
Recently, while spending an evening on a small piece of local water, this scenario played out. After watching large bluegills chasing in the shallows, and countless fly changes to sort them out, I finally broke the code. Very much like your normal match-the-hatch game on trout waters, and when I finally figured out what they wanted I was virtually at my wits-end. I could have cast to the small shore-bound dinks, but, but the fish that were chasing held my attention. Tying on a lighter shade of a #10 Foam-Butt caddis, my first cast landed on the money into the only 3 foot opening in the vegetation I had to aim for. It was a 40 foot cast that I even surprised myself with. The fly landed with a small dimpling and a slight ring of ripples spreading toward the surrounding lily pads. As the ripples began to subside I twitched the fly about an inch, and that's when it happened. The fish came out of the lily pads cutting a wake and pushing a bulge in the water's surface like a 20 inch brown chasing caddis emergers. My fly disappeared in a huge swirl as the fish engulfed it and that quickly turned for the safety of the vegetation, as my mind tried to catch up and allow my hands to set the hook. With a sharp lift of the rod, the fish on the other end of the line fought as if it carried the shoulders of a 3 pound largemouth, or 16 inch rainbow in the current. It dogged in circles fighting for the vegetation, cutting line-humming straight line runs weaving through the lily pads like it held bonefish lineage. Then as the fish tired and came to hand, I was admiring a gorgeous fish by any account. The moss-green back faded into a copper flanks and black tail section shrouded by fins fanned out in pure defiance. The shoulders were nearly an inch wide with a color of coppery-bronze that only nature can possibly create. The gill plates and breast broke into a brilliant crimson fronted by blue and silver cheeks which drew your eyes in. It was an unrivaled rise, followed by a great fight which resulted in a beautiful fish in hand; but for some, it was not a trout.
Lucky for me, I am not part of that "some". The only difference between any trout I have ever caught and that thick slab of bluegill would have been the setting. I was in a township park, shrouded by little league ball field lights to my right, and to my rear, a large swing set and play area now vacated with the setting sun. No pristine mountain stream or dimpling waters of a high mountain lake. I was in town. Yet, I couldn't help but look around at vacant banks and water I was enjoying all to myself. Part of my was very thankful for the lack of fishermen, while in the same thought it puzzled me. While many others sat in their living rooms wishing it was the weekend and they could leave for a trout stream, I was enjoying solitary water, a good number of large bluegill, and the rise of fish to my fly. On Saturday I may be with those folks in their living room. But tonight, I was bringing fish to the fly and a bend to my rod. Life was perfect, carried on the shoulders of slabs.