Written by: Bryan Eldredge
My teenage daughter’s text message said, “You’re stupid for running out of gas!”
I knew she was kidding, but I was stupid. And the real stupidity was that I had run out of gas along Utah’s Provo River with a truckload of fishing gear, but not one fly rod! I had sent a call for help, but it would be over an hour before my wife came to my rescue. With nothing better to do, I grabbed a streamer from the dashboard, pulled a lanyard from the backseat, and slid down the embankment to the river.
The water was a little high and a bit murky, but the edges looked fishable. I remembered my dad’s frequent telling of how he had fished with willows or, once, a broomstick when faced with no other options. I didn’t see that I had any options, so decided to find myself a willow. Finding them wasn’t hard, but dismembering them was. I didn’t have a knife, so we wrestled.
In the throes of my fight, I glanced across the river and saw a husky boy sitting on a bench near the paved trail that follows the river. As bikers rode past, the boy fiddled with his roller blades. I could see him peeking at me, a curious expression on his face. I ignored him.
Just then, a potato-sized ball of aluminum foil came bobbing down the river, and right next to me, a foot-long brown trout struck at it. That did it! I abandoned my fight and hefted a large, dry tree branch to which I tied a length of 3X tippet. I tied my four-inch-long, tungsten-head streamer to the tippet and swung the fly over the river. The fly swung toward the bank, and immediately the foil-eating fish flashed, but he didn’t take it. I dragged the fly past a large rock. Another brown, larger, nailed the fly, but my hook set snapped the tippet.
With my frustration now tempered by excitement, I climbed back to the camp trailer I had been towing. I hoped to find a tip section of my kid’s spinning rod, but I found only a garden-variety hot dog fork, with three prongs at one end and a wooden handle at the other. I subjected the fork to the wiggle test: it was about a three-and-a-half-foot, 26-weight, one-piece rod. Not perfect, but. . . . I tied on my tippet and then a Stimulator dry fly.
As I skidded back down to the river, I noted that two middle-age female walkers had now joined Skater Boy near the bench, and that his gaze was no longer surreptitious. My tippet and fly must have been invisible to them. Surely I looked mad, first waving the fork over the river and then—with my fly snagged behind me—dropping the fork to tear at the bushes.
Eventually, I took the trident in my left hand and threw the fly with my right. My second “cast” landed in a seam of current where, in a move demonstrating more compassion than I would have believed a trout capable of, a chunky brown rose and inhaled my fly. I set the hook, and the fight was on. As the fish leapt, my audience lost all inhibitions and rose to their feet, which prompted two additional walkers to join them. I still ignored them, but now I did so with a sense of vindication. As the fish ran, my “rod” gave enough to slow it without breaking the tippet, and he tired.
As the 14-inch brown came to my feet, I discovered an unanticipated problem: even with my rod arm fully extended above my head, my wingspan wasn’t long enough to reach the fish. After two failed attempts at stretching my frame, I led the fish’s nose to the grass, grabbed the tippet, and held the fish in place while I dropped my fork and gently lifted the brown from the water. I raised the fish upward toward the far bank, and my audience immediately broke ranks and dispersed, as though they had been caught peeking into a bedroom window.
I managed to get the traditional photo with my catch lying on wet grass next to my “rod.” The fish’s mission of mercy complete, I released it. Just then my wife and daughters appeared on the shoulder of the highway. I told my heroic story and proved it with the photo. My daughters still teased me about being stupid, but the story now had both stupidity and conquest.