The First Fish of Spring

Picture this.

It’s thirty-four degrees. The sky is a light grey, clouds rolling in and the ground is covered in yesterday’s flurries. There’s a crisp breeze at your neck, and the double layer you have on isn’t enough to keep it from biting. The trees are void of leaves and buds, and the grass is dead all around you.

Where are you? When are you?

The answer should never be Missouri in April.

However in the year 2018, this is the state of the world. It’s bitter cold, there seem to have been more snowfall days than in February, and the low temperature of most days is ten degrees lower than the historical average. Yet with any set of data, there are outliers that even the playing field, and create the average. April 12th was such a day.

With a forecast high into the eighties, I sent a message to a buddy named Coach.

“Montauk Thursday?”

I didn’t get a reply, but I knew I would see him the next day at work. His name’s Jake, but at work he’s know as Coach. At work, I’m Tanto, but both of those are beside the point. Jake is thirty years or more my elder, but when you have a love for fish, everybody speaks the same language. After dropping off my visiting mother at the airport, I flew about nintety down highway fourty-four to the Phillips 66 in St. Clair. Jumping in Jake’s truck, we made the near two hour trek to Montauk State Park, where the trout were sure to be biting. As we bought our daily tags, we asked a fellow angler what they were biting today.

“Everything.” He said. “Now I just have to find out what the big ones are eating.”

Neither Jake or I care to catch the biggest fish in the river. We would never turn it down, but we would rather catch thirty fish a day than one monster fish.

We started on the water just up from the dam in the fly-only zone. Jake hooked into a fish on his third cast, and I was upstream one hundred yards missing the hook set on five different takes. I walked back down to the dam, and began casting. We stayed in the area for about half an hour, and after a pair of fish each, we figured we should try out some new-to-us water.

Jake walked ahead, and I spent some time drifting some nymphs through some faster runs. I only hooked into one fish there, almost completely on accident. I knew the cast was good, and as I stumbled through the rocks I glanced up just in time to find my griffith’s gnat disappearing beneath the surface. I set the hook, fully expecting to be hung up in the sticks and rocks littering the bottom. To my surprise, a nice rainbow was pulling back, darting in and out of current and under the rocks in the deep blue pool. I’m fated to never know how nice of a rainbow though, he tossed the hook just after I found my feet and pulled out my net.

A few yards down river, I see a nice fish suspended just in front of a boulder, riding the pillow of water and relaxing as food filtered straight into it’s waiting mouth. I placed my fly a few feet upstream, and after numerous refusals, I heard Jake shout.

“Josiah, come over here!”

I walked over to see Jake standing at the edge of a sandy drop-off, just short of a schooled up ball of trout.

“Come cast in here, they’re eating good.”

I make two false casts, and drop my triple rigged flies into the pool. First cast, fish on. Delivering a nice fish to hand, I moved down stream to the next pool and started fishing my own school. We stayed in the pool for a long while, both bringing more than a handful of fish to hand.

Jake with a quick release

Check back tomorrow for the final, most productive fishing run of our day.

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