Woke to windy conditions, a good predicted air temp and the possibility of BWO’s. Met up with my friend Heath and we hit a creek I’ve been visiting for four years now. We pulled up to the water with no idea what the day was to hold. When I began fly fishing for trout in the Driftless Area ~4 years ago now I fished a creek that was off the beaten path, ignorant I fished it in the height of the summer fighting the weeds, the forest, the heat and the bugs, all of it. I hiked up the creek fishing a #16 BWO dry fly not really knowing what I was doing. I came to a hole, I made a long cast and out came a trout that perpetuated a four year search that was concluded on the 10th. At the time he hit my dry fly so hard it startled me and I missed the hookset. Moments later after I had collected myself I was preparing to make another cast to that fish when a dog comes out of nowhere and swims right through the hole spooking the trout and killing any chance I had of catching that trout.
I first wrote about George in March of the next year, when a 20+inch brown nails your dry fly you tend not to forget it. I never forgot about that trout. I went back several times to attempt catching him, same hole, same feeding lane, same fish. I brought my friend and fishing partner Heath with me and we spent hours attempting to catch this trout, we studied his hole, his habits and the creek where he lives. I detailed this in the post where I outlined the difficulties associated with catching this brown, small creek, tight deep hole with a log running directly across the main seam making an upstream cast and a long deep drift virtually impossible. A year goes by and I still go the creek looking for this trout, another year goes by and I still hadn’t been able to catch him. ~2 years ago he disappeared. We went back time and time again to see no signs of the monster we knew lived there. We figured he moved on, died or was caught and was hanging on someone wall. Last year a rain event opened the hole up by moving the log that crossed the hole, by this time I’d been referring to trout over 20inches as a George. I had accepted that he was gone but everytime I visited that creek I referred to that hole as George’s hole.
Forward to March 10th, 2012. We pull up to a normal day with normal expectations, hoping to run into a few bugs, hoping to land a couple trout and avoid the wind that the rest of the angling population would be struggling with. The wind was avoided for the most part and we hiked the creek spying brown trout in large numbers everywhere, we both fished a small #18 PT that Heath had tied and which had been crushing trout on every other outing we’d been on in the last couple months. Just another typically day until we got upstream closer to George’s hole. Believing that George was long gone I offered the hole to Heath as I wanted to fish the hole directly downstream first. I pulled a couple small trout out and we moved upstream, with no log to hamper a drift Heath got in position and began casting line topped with his #18 PT. We heard a crash in the distance, we both stopped. It sounded like a tree had just fallen over. Heath on the opposite bank closest to the noise looked up to see a Cougar leaving the scene, fleeing up the bluff. We both stood a bit stunned, glad he ran up the bluff and away from us. Heath proceeded to look back at the hole when he stopped dead in his tracks, George was sitting in the belly of the hole. I chased to the other side of the creek, looked down and there was the trout that I had stalked for two years, believed was gone and had become a legend in my mind sitting there with no log to hamper the needed drift. We were both shaking, we had to stop for a minute. We evaluated the situation and got comfortable, we wern’t going anywhere until this trout spooked out or came to hand.
He was holding far up in the head over 4 feet deep, maybe 5. The fast current combined with the needed angle on the cast was going to be a challenge. Do you cast a super heavy fly to get it to him and risk spooking him out? We started with a small nymph but it quickly became apparent that more weight was needed to get the fly in front of this trouts face in the allotted distance/time the fly had to drift. We eventually settled on a #8 Hairball with an additional splitshot and Heath began casting, each time attempting to get the best possible drift without spooking him out or the rest of the trout in the hole. Heath proceeded to make cast after cast but each time his fly would either get stuck on a rock and we were forced to risk spooking him by breaking the line or it would go over his head and end up in the tail of the pool. We lost a handful of flies snagging them on the bottom and yet he didn’t spook. At one point during this hour long ordeal the tippet of Heath’s leader must have brushed against his backside as he moved from his feeding lane to another location, our anxiety grew with each cast. When would he spook, would he eat? Both of us were content to sit until he came to hand or disappeared, yet he continued to sit on the bottom looking like a shark amongst minnows. After 45 minutes I was beginning to lose hope, I was considering putting on a huge meaty streamer to see if we could get him to chase it down but if that failed he would spook out for sure. We stopped periodically and waited, he moved back up to the head of the run where the more difficult cast was required. Heath continued to cast and I continued to watch this trout’s every move for any sign that he ate the fly we were putting on him. Finally, close to an hour in he moved, the hook was set and what I thought looked big on the bottom was enormous near the surface. I was in the creek with the net almost immediately, a botched net job on my part almost lost the fish (something I still have to work on), a four minute battle saw him drive for cover rocks, hold tight to the bottom and eventually chase up a riffle. George, we finally had George.
We took great care to handle this trout with respect, photo’s were taken then a large amount of time was spent holding him in the riffles, making sure he was ready to go back to his hole before we left him. We each got to hold that massive trout, the colors, the spots, the jaw, the most spectacular Driftless specimen I have ever seen. Notch one off the bucket list. We sat amazed, we had just completed a journey, just concluded a legend. It may be my legend but it’s true, every word of it. Every trout I touch over 20inches will be known as a George for as long as I live because of the massive brown in a tiny creek that I ran into one August day in 2008 only two months after picking up a fly rod for the first time. I am thankful that we were both able to see this trout, I don’t mind not being the one to physically hook this fish, that means very little to me. It was more important that I was present to see this fish, that the one to catch it had put in the time and stalked it with me and that it went back to it’s hole un-harmed. I have plans to go check up on him soon but I don’t know that I’ll ever cast to him again. I’ll be content knowing we got to see the monster in the tiny creek and that he lived to see another day.