A case of the rainbow trout heartbreaks

Splashing along the bank, shoulders slumped down, a feeling crept over me I could place perhaps only once or twice in my life before.


It felt like when Rebekah Norman crushed my eighth-grade spirit by turning up her nose at my request for a dance at the Mead Middle School spring fling.

There goes my girl -- done left me with a big case of the heartbreaks.

This time it was a fat rainbow trout crushing my novice fly fishing spirit by turning her tail to the rocks, her nose to the current and snapping my tippet clean in two.

There goes my fish -- done left me with a big case of the heartbreaks.

Close to midnight Sunday on the Kenai River, my friend and fellow fishing addict Dave Atcheson and I were hunting trout. He'd invited me out on his drift boat to check up on our local stock and see if we couldn't interest a few with flesh flies.

But my enthusiasm wore off as the hours and stream miles passed with no fish -- conditions just weren't ideal.

We parked the boat along a gravel bar where the river gets shallow and started casting into the deep channels.

Dave hollered a few minutes later that he had hooked a decent trout and I quickly closed the distance to see if I could land one as well. Soon enough he gave up, but I persisted.

Again and again I would swing my indicator, split shot and flesh fly up river watching it bounce down again with no results.

But as if the trout gods heard my pleas to end my suffering, they guided my fly into the mouth of a pig. I knew right away I had a fish, but wasn't sure how big she was. New rod, new fisherman, new fish -- this would be interesting.

At first I couldn't seem to budge her. She was holed up, stuck to the bottom like a suction cup on a windshield. But I stuck my tongue out and bravely started walking backward to turn her nose to the shallows.

We danced for a bit and she shook her head only once to remind me who was boss. By then Dave heard my hollers and came to the rescue with a net in hand. I had the trout right where I wanted her but as the net entered the water the tension mounted.

I could feel it, the trout could feel it and you could cut it with a knife.

And just as fast as she came, she went. She left me with only the sight of her splashing tail as my tippet snapped and whipped my line back at my face. Sometimes you've got to let them run a little bit, I suppose.

"Oh, man that was a big fish," Dave exclaimed. "Big, big fish."

There was cursing, but no amount of dejection would hook that fish -- one Dave later said was at least 21 inches and as fat as our oar paddle -- back on the line. It would have been my first Kenai River rainbow. I barely had the energy to re-tie and swing again.

The image that kept replaying in my head was the one of my fingertip still wrapped around the line and the bungee of it back in my face. It was much like the memory of Rebekah's pink gum resting between her molars as she told me she'd rather be friends and the shake of her hips as she sashayed across the dance floor replaying over and over in my head for days and weeks.

Rebekah was my first rejection and it seems silly now my reaction back then.

This is my first trout heartbreak and I'm still digesting but I know I'll catch many more trout and if I'm lucky one bigger than the one I lost.

I'd lost many fish before -- a big saltwater king I blindly tried to net, a 60-pound halibut that flopped off the gaff after a day of miserable fishing, an eight-pound walleye lost in the boat's prop. Those all hurt, too. But in the long run I suppose they made me a better fisherman.

The saying is that you can only be an expert once you've made every mistake in the book. So, then perhaps we should measure a fly fisher not by fish romances, but rather fish heartbreak.

Brian Smith is city editor for the Peninsula Clarion and a beginning fly fisherman. Share your stories of fish heartbreak with him at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.


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