Wildwood Outfitters Blog and Fishing Report
I have not and will not ever intentionally kill a trout. The word intentionally is quite important, as this story will show.
During my guiding stint in Rocky Mountain National Park, one trip in particular featured a father, mother, and their young daughter who was probably no more than nine or ten. Most of my time was spent with her as the parents were both fairly self-sufficient and also more interested in her success than their own. Just before lunch we had worked our way to one long run I knew was exceptional, so the plan was to hammer this for a bit then break for lunch. Things went just how we drew them up and upon arrival the fish started cooperating. Three casts and three fish lunges at our dry fly meant we were in business!
On our fourth cast an aggressive seven inch brookie just couldn't take it anymore and forced himself to be caught. The tenacity in which he struck our fly is as memorable as it is noteworthy. Luckily for us, fish of this size tend to be pretty cooperative coming to hand and this one was no different. As the fish slid into the net we had already begun preparations for a quick photo before it would be back into the stream for a presumed long and happy life.
I like to think that I am quite skilled at fish handling because it's something I've done tens of thousands of times over the course of 20+ years. Hook removal and fish holding are as natural as breathing to me. With all that said, when I popped the fly out of this brookie's mouth he instantly thrashed about and slipped right out of my hands. No big deal, as I had learned to keep the net safely underneath us to corral these errant fish in the midst of their escape.
Sadly this is where everything to started to break down, pun intended as you will soon see. The fish squirmed out of my hands and fell awkwardly onto a small rock head first instantly snapping its neck. I knelt there in shock as the fish gave two violent quivers that were nothing more than nerve endings giving out one final yelp. The girl then asked if she could hold it for the picture. I was now in a position where my young guest has asked to hold a dead fish (a fact she is painfully unaware of at this point) for a picture that will surely adorn the halls of Instagram lore as soon as we regain cell phone service.
Under the guise of needing to return the fish the water quickly I said we could, but we needed to be fast about it. I instructed her on proper fish holding techniques to be respectful towards the fish (an irony that is not lost on me) and also how to best hold it for picture taking. She assured me she was as ready as she would get so I left her to it and snapped a few quick shots with the camera. After the moment was awkwardly immortalized, the fish was placed gently back in the net and the young lady remarked, "it's amazing how calm he is!"
So with a smile and a congratulatory high five we prepped to release our brookie that had been dead for the better part of a minute. Luckily, my young fisher remembered some catches from earlier and how we always revive our trout by gently moving them back and forth in the water before they swim off. She reminded of me of this, so there I was, reviving a dead trout while a nine year old girl watched my every move. We shoved the fish off with a ceremony akin to a Viking burial at sea.
We decided against shooting flaming arrows at the fish but the girl asked me, "why isn't he swimming away??" Great, now on top of everything else I'm about to become a liar. "Oh sometimes it just takes a second or two for the fish to snap back into it. He's fine, don't worry!" I made sure that we started casting right away so that the image of our brookie drifting upside down wasn't burned into both of our brains forever. A minute or two later the girl's parents caught up to us and she couldn't wait to tell them about the exploits of this run.
Through a continued smile I swiped through pictures of our deceased fish (RIP) and boasted of how skilled our angler was at holding the fish for a picture! With much pomp and circumstance we broke for lunch feeling quite good about ourselves. I on the other hand, was feeling particularly uncomfortable with the events of the last few minutes but a brave face was a necessity. It feels mighty good to finally come clean.