after you catch a rainbow…trout

The steelhead exploded out of the river like a submarine missile. Straight up. A chrome plated exclamation point with a pink stripe down its side. Thrashing off water like a wet dog. Thirty inches at least. Ten maybe twelve pounds. And it splashed down right past my orange crank bait. The guy in the sporting goods store said the fall run of Lake Michigan rainbow trout had started and they were hitting on orange in the Kalamazoo River. This fish hadn’t got the memo. In fact, he immediately jumped again flipping me a silver middle-finger for all my efforts, as if to say, ‘nice try, sucker.’

I had been trying—five times over the past three weeks. Up early enough to watch the day-glo purple sky suck threads of mist from the tea colored river. I would run my ten foot jon boat upstream to beat others to the hot spots where creeks or rivers emptied into the Kazoo…Rabbit, Swan, and my secret hole in the bend just past the power lines. I would anchor and cast. Blue and silver lures. Gold. White. Spinners. Spoons. Some ended up in trees along the bank that would look like Christmas trees once the leaves all dropped. Others snagged on sunken branches to wobble in the current till the hooks rusted free. Coming home some days, I wondered if it wouldn’t be faster to just empty my tackle box over the side and be done with it.

But then, one morning I got a strike. An angry rocket blasted off with my blue rattle-trap plug in its jaw…for a moment. Then she spit the hook—not good enough for her. Ha!…but at least the first glimmer of hope. As soon as I was back on land, I made my way to the tackle shop scoping the racks and racks of opal and ruby and emerald lures. They all had dangling hooks and needle sharp barbs but which one would catch the eye of a hungry trout? Hard to decide which bauble would do the trick—trapezoid or tubular, jointed or solid, deep-diving or surface, not to mention the capricious color-of-choice that was working on any given day.

Back out the next morning with a re-stocked tackle box, I anchored in my favorite spot off the sand bar. Coho and kings and steelhead jumped and rolled in blissful disdain of all my efforts to seduce them with my assorted jewelry. Thoroughly frustrated, with total disregard for the likelihood of snagging a waterlogged log, I tied on a deep diving lure. Maybe the guys jumping on the surface were just having fun. Maybe serious feeders were lurking below. Cast. Smash. My rod bent into omega shape and the fight was on.

True to form, this steelhead zoomed to the surface, thrashed and rolled and ran and dove. Great fight. I had waited so long to catch one that I was in no hurry to land it. By the time I got her to the side of the boat, she was so tired that I was able to net her with one hand. And then, there she lay (it was a her, a hen loaded with eggs for the upcoming spawn). Shiny and sleek and slimy and silver and pink, gills still working. Finally, I got me one. I had been so convinced that I would never catch one that I hadn’t brought a cooler with ice, and so, couldn’t make the classic charter fisherman CB callout—‘One in the box.’ Instead, I put her on a stringer and dropped her back into the river. Good as she was, maybe another fish would be better. So, for the next two hours I cast and cast and cast. But, I guess it’s hard to accept that if one is good, it should be enough.

Passing a fisherman on the way back to the landing, I couldn’t resist his, “Any Luck?” I had to heft my honey out of the water to show her off. The guy was properly impressed. I was immediately depressed. The beauty I had hooked at the sand bar was stiff, glassy eyed, drained of all color. I had finally thrown enough plastic hardware to outwit a cold-blooded animal. I had won. The challenge gone. Until next season when I walked the aisles of bubble wrapped lures daring me to best nature at her best.

4 thoughts on “Let Down

  1. I really liked this, Joe. WAs with you all the way. You made me fall in love with the fish you caught and I wanted you to let her go.


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