Fighting small fish with my big brother
It wasn’t a constant aggravation, but I was often tormented by my big brother when we were growing up. Hal drew great pleasure from using his superior intellect to set me into many a blind childhood rage. He would patiently taunt me in small doses until I couldn’t stand it any more and would come uncorked. Looking back I was like a volatile puppet and I played into his hands perfectly. Our last scuffle was probably 25 years ago and ended in a draw when our mutual good friend (and boss at the time) MiHu decided he better jump between us and put an end to it before someone really got hurt. That, and the fact that we were fighting while on the company clock wasn’t something he could allow to continue. It should be noted that MiHu enjoyed egging us on from time to time as well, and clearly enjoyed refereeing many bouts. Even once I became physically up to the task I was never able to defeat Hal – there was always that psychological big brother barrier that kept me in check. Since then we’ve matured considerably and brawling is no longer a part of our relationship. That’s a good thing because one or both of us would likely throw our backs out before the first takedown was ever scored. Always the referee, MiHu still likes to jump between us.
So evolved has our relationship become that we seldom disagree, openly at least. Yes, we’re different people but we share a mutual respect for each other (at least I do). Fortunately fly fishing is something we both find agreeable. Hal doesn’t fish as often as he should, instead leaving the obsessive compulsion to his younger brother. Once a year, and sometimes more, we’ll set out together on a bonding mission to chase some trouts. Usually we head up to the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River and chase small cutthroat trouts. We can usually expect to catch a few small but feisty fish, and sometimes we catch more than a few. Recently Hal suggested that we were overdue for a jaunt to the Middle Fork so we set aside a day to make our annual pilgrimage. In the meantime I had received some intel from a secret source about some hidden water worth checking out. There are three forks to the Snoqualmie River, and I’ve fished both the South and Middle Forks. The third fork, which shall go unnamed, is one that I hadn’t yet fished. It’s more remote and requires a bit further of a drive to get there, but according to the report I’d received it was worth the extra effort. I scribbled directions that I hoped would be accurate and informed Hal of our new destination. He was game for seeking out the new fork in the river.
We met at Snoqualmie Falls where Hal loaded his gear into the back of the Fish Taco. It was assumed that I would drive and I was OK with that. Something about taking a Toyota Prius on the dusty, pothole-riddled logging roads to go fishing wouldn’t have seemed quite right anyhow. I arrived a few minutes early and decided to take a quick look at the falls from the observation deck. Snoqualmie Falls is an impressive sight no matter the time of year, but the inch of rain that had fallen two days earlier made for a much higher than normal volume of water that cascaded over the 270 foot drop. I hoped that the water where we were heading wasn’t running high. I really didn’t know what we’d encounter.
One of the things that has always set us apart is that Hal is a contemplative man of infinite patience. He thinks long and hard on something before making a decision and once he sets himself on a task he has been known to stay on that task all day. I, on the other hand, give quick thought to something then act quickly. And since patience is not one of my virtues I move from one task to another relatively quickly. These personality traits follow us to the river, where Hal can stand in the same spot for what seems like forever, working the same water with the attention to detail of a micro surgeon. It drives me crazy sometimes. I’ll fish my way downstream, working through several runs and maybe catching a fish or two. Once I’ve covered the water and walked the distance back upstream, there he’ll be – in the same spot. Even if there are no fish rising to his fly, he rarely moves. And if he does, it is with all the velocity of a slug. I think he does this just to get a rise out of me, but it’s not something worth coming to blows over. To each their own. But sometimes—oh, never mind. Moving along…
It was one of those perfect late summer days as we drove deep into the woods. The sky was a certain shade of blue that revealed a definite hint of fall the air. Days like this are to be savored because soon they will be gone and we’ll face 9 months of gray. The directions I’d received were pretty much on the mark, although the mileage estimates were slightly off (in our favor, however) and one critical left-hand turn was omitted. Still, we found our destination, and also found ourselves completely alone. We hadn’t seen another vehicle for many miles and there would be no fighting for the best water, at least not with other anglers. I quickly geared up, selected a fly and was ready to make an assault on the first section of river. But first I had to wait for the plodding methodical older brother. In his defense he is 14 months older than I am and so donning his waders and bending down to lace his boots doesn’t come quite as easily to him. Once dressed he set himself to the task of selecting a fly. As he rubbed his chin and pondered several patterns I pointed to something big and bushy and said, “There- that one.” Soon we were on our way.
It didn’t take us 5 minutes before we got into fish. The valley is steep and narrow, so sunlight rarely shines directly overhead on this stretch of the river. Given the lateness of the season and that fact that it was 4 pm, the shadows were long and plentiful, and the little cutts were not shy about rising to dry flies. In typical fashion Hal situated himself along some nice looking water while I moved downstream, casting and stepping. Soon I’d covered all the water I wanted, caught a couple 4-6 inch fish, and headed back upstream toward my brother, who with his reptilian-like metabolism hadn’t moved. His methodical patience had produced a 10 inch fish, however. That’s what we were hoping for – something bigger than the typical 6 inch fish that we usually encounter on the South and Middle Forks. Nice fish, and damn him for being so patient!
Whenever one goes fishing it’s important to remember to look up from the water on occasion to take in the surroundings. Out in this neck of the woods we couldn’t help but be distracted by the beauty. It felt like fishing in a rain forest, and in fact the ground was still damp from the rains that had fallen two days earlier. The river had risen with the rain, but it was dropping and in perfect shape. The air was comfortably warm and damp smelling. The water was clear as vodka and cold, which made us glad that we weren’t wet-wading. We’re both on the scrawny side so it doesn’t take much to make us uncomfortably cold.
The day repeated itself in similar fashion as we moved downstream throughout the afternoon. After fishing a run and catching enough fish to keep it more than a little amusing, I would move down to explore some new water. If it looked good, I would wave to Hal to move on down. We’d fish the new section, catch more fish, and repeat. The river was small and never too deep to easily wade across. Plenty of structure created ample fishy water, and if it looked like it should hold a trout it held a trout, and often several. As the river wound it’s way through the cool shaded forest it changed personalities often and offered every type of water imaginable, from broad shallows, to deep cut banks, pocket water, runs and riffles. And every place held fish. Many of the native cutthroat were annoyingly small, but one had to admire their gumption. With a short growing season and lack of overly-abundant insects, these little fish are eager to take a shot at a properly presented fly. Sometimes the presentation didn’t even have to be very proper, which boded well for the Brothers Unaccomplished. When the river would plunge through a steep section, we drove down to the bottom of the grade and walked a short distance to more fishable water.
Hal’s 10 inch hog was the trophy of the day, but we’re I’m not competitive and there were plenty of 8 inch fish to keep us busy. To steal a great comment from a poster over at Skate the Fly (operated by fellow fish bloggerman Dylan Rose) “When it’s beauty that belongs there, size doesn’t matter.” Truer words were never spoken and these small native fish are as beautiful as they come. With their level of spunk I can only imagine what it would be like to hook up with a 12+ incher, which are rumored to lurk in the waters. I imagine it would be a better fight than those I’ve had with my big brother, Hal.