The One(s) That Got Away
There's nothing quite like peak dry fly season in the Rockies.
Hot summer days filled with rising trout, size 10 stimulators, glacier-fed creeks, roaring rivers, high alpine lakes, frosty beverages, and caddisflies destroyed by the monstrous take of a brookie. These moments are branded into the angler's conscience, fueling the fire through the winter months. While it is true for me that the hook-ups of surfacing trout leave lasting memories, more so do the ones that turned away at the last second, the ones that just missed my untimely set. These moments are burned into my brain after each day of fishing. Every close of the eyelids bring flashes of gaping white mouths just missing my fly, trout rocketing from the river bed breaching like a white shark on a seal. These visions stick with me throughout the day and congregate most prominently when I lay down to bed for the night. Taunting me as if to say "remember all the fish you lost out on today?" testing my fragile angler ego.
This past August I found myself on a solo trip to Rocky Mountain National Park with the intention of procuring a grand slam on the Big Thompson. I succeeded in landing some beautiful Brown, Brook, and Greenback Cutthroat all over twelve inches. But for the amount of trout I had put in the net, I had lost just as many, if not more. The ones that were sure they had a caddis or yellow sallie in their stomachs, the ones that got away.
Overall the day was a success and I was headed to Granby to stay at a friends cabin for the night. But like clockwork, for the entirety of the drive over Trail Ridge Road and through Grand Lake, the flashes were there: A decent brown darting out from a bank after my hi-vis elk hair caddis, my impatient set, little cutthroat striking at my fly in the riffles, brookies just missing out as I prematurely lift my files out of their drift. As I laid there in bed they played themselves over and over again in a loop. "Why must I remember these moments?" I said to myself. Why is it that I remember all the missed opportunities and fail to look back at the moments I prevailed?
I believe the mind sub-consciously holds on to these moments with the hopes that a lesson might be learned. What did I do wrong? What can I do differently next time? If we're doing nothing but catching then we aren't really learning are we? With every missed fish comes a haunting memory, but an opportunity to learn.
So I say embrace your failure, when you lose a fish say "good" and move on, let those memories haunt the hell out of you. The more we think about our craft and look back at the times of success and failure the better anglers we become. Norman Maclean put it best when he wrote, "One great thing about fly fishing is that after a while nothing exists of the world but thoughts about fly fishing." I couldn't agree more.