This happened to me some time ago, when I was a younger, more purist-idealist type of fly fisherman, you know, the guys who aren’t fun to fish with cause they treat it like surgery..
A real trout bum, you fucking posers.
The spring run-off had just peaked. The water was dropping and the fishing was great, even for a Saturday. I had already hit a few spots on the river in downtown Reno and had them all to myself. Since it was still early I decided to brave my way to the Bum Hole, which unfortunately isn’t named after an infamous ass. It can be taxing to access for some fisherman but not for the reasons you’d think. You have to park in the ghetto, hide your stuff and hope it doesn’t get swiped, then walk through a scene of meth heads, junkies and drunks that could be mistaken for extras from a George Romero movie, avoid their advances, scramble through a dark brushy tunnel and get to safety about waste deep and 20 feet out in the cold water..
And that’s why this hole usually has a good amount of fish stacked in it. Occasionally one of the riverside residents will piece together some gear and use a piece of dat rock to catch some supper, but for the most part these fish aren’t toyed with very often.
I stepped over the twitching homeless guy who was unknowingly working as a door man pitched in front of the only path through the brambles that guard the Bum Hole. I accidentally knocked over his warm and long open 40 oz. and high tailed it to the river before he came back to reality and accused me of being a government agent trying to sober him up.
The run has several nice long slots in it, and I started close and worked my way out. Every cast into each seam produced a wild rainbow or cutt-bow. I was on the fifth or sixth cast when I hooked a larger fish and felt eyes on my back. I thought it was the arisen door man come to seek vengeance for my trespass upon his path and destruction of his treasures. I slowly backed to the bank while playing what seemed to be the fish of the day and turned and saw two black guys who looked borderline homeless staring at me. I was relieved it wasn’t the door man, and before I made it to the bank one of them said bluntly “Let us have that fish.” I froze up for a second, dumbfounded. As a nerdy white guy in the wrong part of town I thought I had pressed a bit too far this time. But I was more worried about the fish than myself.
You see, at this point in my fishing life I was as purist and idealist as they come, an evangelist for the prophet of Catch and Release – preaching its value to anybody who turned the corner and scolding anyone who dared tell me of whacking a wild fish in my home river. I threw rocks in holes being dredged by worm drowners, told tourists that Nevada had new regs that banned bait on the Truckee as well as some other things I won’t talk about. I was an asshole, no doubt about it. But at that time I thought I was doing the work of nature, for the greater good of her bounty.
“Hey man, we’re starving please let us have that fish!” one of them espoused again, more intensely than the first time.
I was back on the bank, trying to pull this fish in and preach catch and release to my new friends.
“I can’t give you the fish, it’s wild. You have to let the wild ones go.” My reasoning fell to more reasonable ears than the mouth they just spewed from.
“Well how can you tell? You ain’t even seen it yet.” Valid point, I thought.
“Well I can tell by how hard it’s fighting (which was fairly accurate) and I’m not gonna give this thing to you guys.”
“Man we starving! We came up here from New Orleans* and we just trying to make it man? What’s wrong with giving people a meal?” *(This was near the time of Katrina)
My heart strings were strangely tugging back and forth between the life of a fish and helping out my fellow man. At this point in my life I had put all of my unfounded and youthful pride behind wild trout and fought for them more whole heartedly than anything else in my life, and it was at this point that I realized I had become something I always hated – a god damn fundamentalist. I let the moment leak out of my frazzled brain and I almost forgot about the fish on the line.
As I turned the fish toward the bank the depths of my shallow ideals began to pucker with the sting of uncertainty, I juggled with the choice I had. When I was a kid I wore out a few Ugly Sticks throwing worms and grasshoppers into the local creeks and kept every damn fish, but I hadn’t dispatched of one in years. This fish seemed to be of healthy and large wild stock and its future spawns ran through my imagination for an instant.
But the right choice popped into focus, and I went with it. As the fish finally came into view it was indeed a nice healthy rainbow, twenty inches and painted pretty in his post spawn make-up. I also noticed something wasn’t quite right with him. He had eaten the bottom small nymph and the large stonefly nymph above it had pierced its way through his left eye.
Knowing that I crippled the fish softened the blow to my now destroyed sense of self as I applied the rock shampoo and felt the fish slowly twitch into oblivion. I handed it to one of the now beaming gentleman and they thanked me profusely. I told them not to waste a damn thing and made my way back home to began rebuilding my life’s philosophy.
Looking back, it was the second most freeing moment of my life and I’m glad it happened. And I thank that fish for showing me some humility.