by Stephanie Parker
A cold wind fights against the warmth of the sun on this early-fall day of fishing. Not too far outside of Philipsburg – it’s apparently a secret location, but maybe you know it – the creek winds through the tall grasses. It is easy to take a quick glance at your surroundings and miss the abundance of life just under your nose. My companion’s attention remains on the creek and his fly line. You can see the years of practice in each back-and-forth of the cast.
I am distracted easily. I find a beetle in the grass, suddenly much more important than the fish I cannot see in the water. With each step I take, I see grasshoppers fleeing for safety and birds calling out just before they fly further down the creek. There is a scurrying in the short grass and I become determined to find the culprit. My partner, moving upstream to find the next best fishing spot, dismisses the scurrying. He guesses it’s a vole, which, to be completely honest, makes me more excited to find it. But my pursuit is shorter lived than I intended when I see a flopping movement out of the corner of my eye, and my attention returns to the creek and the fish hooked on the line.
With big smiles and wet hands, we admire our fish. A cutthroat trout, apparently. I get a quick lesson in fish identification. After a quick and, I hope, harmless release, we move upstream.
I appreciate the patience in fishing. The anticipation builds as you watch the fly float with the current. Is some poor fish going to take the bite? I imagine it must be disappointing to discover a tasty meal is actually a ruse designed for the sole purpose of your capture. You have to hand it to our fishy friends, though – I am unable to detect a single fish in this steam until it is being reeled in and its light underbelly is exposed in the struggle. The excellence of their camouflage prompts more questions on my part: how many fish are really in this creek? Where are they all living? Are they carried down by the current? If not, what kind of muscle mass is required to fight the current? I am left with more questions unanswered than answered.
I have to commend the predators, such as Osprey, capable of sighting these fish and successfully capturing them. Life in the water is a mystery to my naked eye. Perhaps more time on the water will reveal more of this ecosystem’s inhabitants. My companion reels in a different species of fish this time. It’s a brown trout. This non-native fish may not belong in our creek, but I am happy to take a glimpse at its spotty pattern. Round black spots are joined by bright red spots, all encircled in white.
After a few quick photos, we release our fish.
The pattern of the day continues: casting, catching, reeling, releasing, moving upstream and repeat. The repetitive nature of this fishing trip is accented with small bursts of excitement. A few too many fish nibble and then spit out the fly, escaping. Our final hurrah is a surprisingly forceful tug against the line – an approximately 14-inch cutthroat pulls on the line in a desperate attempt for freedom. This is most likely the largest fish we will find in this meandering creek. But in this Man vs. Fish struggle, the fish comes out victorious. Luckily, our excitement over the fish eclipses the disappointment of a missed catch.
Our only thought on the walk back to the road: we’ve got to come back out before the seasons change.