Twenty Years Well Spent

Photos By: Justin Dobson     

I was 13 years old when my fascination with fly fishing began by watching Saturday morning fishing shows.  I bought a few mosquito pattern flies and would cast them out into ponds for bluegill using a small bobber and Zebco push button set-up.  I was hooked instantly watching those fish rise for tiny bugs.  It wasn’t long before I was combing through the catalogs at my dads’ fishing tackle shop searching for a real fly rod.  I ended up with a Berkeley Safari Series, attached to the butt end was my fathers’ hand-me-down Pflueger medalist.  I wore my new fly-line out practice casting before it even touched the water.

The first time I stepped into a river with that rod in my hand was at the catch and release/fly fishing only section of the Swift River in Massachusetts.  My mother drove me and she sat up on the grassy dam reading a book while I headed out to create a day I’ll never forget.  I was alone and TV had taught me everything I knew about fly fishing for trout.  Several fishermen were lurking around the Swift Rivers famous “Y Pool”.  As I stood at the river’s edge gazing into the gin clear water, I was a bit intimidated by the fisherman and fish alike.  There were dozens of big fish cruising the deep pool.  These fish were definitely bigger than the tiny stream brook trout I was accustomed to catching on rooster tails and spinners.

I recall the strange feeling of stepping in and having the cold water press my green rubber waders against my legs.  I waded out to a spot were the bubbler creek fed into the Y Pool and positioned myself just to the side of its current.  I peeled a big white and pink streamer off its paper card.  A Krystal Bullet Smelt (I still have that card).

With an audience of fishermen who looked way more legit than me, I placed my first cast and stripped it in.  A long, thick & dark fish followed that fly all the way in.  I cast a second time and held my breath as he did the same.  My heart was going to leap from my chest.  Everyone around me didn’t appear to be catching anything.  I was thinking to myself; were fish following their flies too?  Was this normal?  After all this is the big leagues and I was just a rookie, there was no way I was going to hook this fish.  On the third cast that big trout committed and I set the hook.  He thrashed on top of the water and turned that still, serene pool into a war zone.  Just as the old man next to me coached me “Don’t horse him”, my line broke.  Even though my disappointment was unbearable, I acted like it was no big deal in front of all those fancy anglers. I had grown up fishing with push button and spinning gear and had no clue how to fight a fish on a fly rod.  I returned a few times after this, but not as often as I would have liked.  My Mom wasn’t keen on being my fishing chauffer every weekend and I moved away before I had a driver’s license.  I never got a chance to catch that big Swift River trout.

Fast forward 20 years and I found myself back where I started.  On a road trip to Maine with my Father we stopped to fish the Swift.  The Y Pool was at max capacity and we poked around elsewhere to fish.  On the hike in we encountered other anglers who were on their way out and offered some advice.  My favorites is “if you aren’t using 8x tippet, don’t bother”.  We fished emergers and nymphs for a few hours before I decided to mosey back to the Y Pool and check the wait time.  As I rounded the corner I found it to be completely empty.  Just as I did 20 years earlier, I entered and positioned myself in that same spot.  I glanced over that clear water at all the cruising fish.  I changed leaders to a 3X and tied on a big Conehead Krystal Black Bugger.  I placed that first cast and I had 3 fish chasing down that streamer.  I felt like a kid all over again.  It seemed like I came full circle and I thought about all my accomplishments between then and now.  I was surprised how excited I was over a few 16” trout chasing my fly.  It was as if I had never hooked a fish before in my life.  The next cast I hooked a respectable, fat rainbow.  Mission complete.

Our day on the river didn’t end there though.  My Father and I ended up hooking some 20 fish each in a couple of hours.  All of them between 14 and 18 inches and thick around like footballs.  Sometimes I feel as if fishing is just being in the right place at the right time.  Although, I’d like to think this day was planned and has been in the making for 20 years.