I had to take William Wild out for a little canoe fishing on this beautiful fall afternoon. He'll be tying on flies himself before to long.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Fly-fishing for Ghosts
Danny T Quinto
Fly-fishing for Mackinaw (Ghost fish, I call them) in Colorado doesn’t mean presenting small bugs on fine tippets. These are meat eaters and when you’re sitting at the vise you question the strength of 1/0 thread. I use to tie buggers and leeches until Mother Nature shoved reality down my throat.
My buddy Donnie Bluekamp and I fished Rudi Reservoir (a lot) and one late afternoon in June our idea of fly-fishing for Mackinaw was blown out of the water; at that moment I realized my 6 weight was puny. I even questioned the 8 weight.
The storm began with a slight breeze, then a ripple on the surface of the water. Within seconds we were engulfed in gale forced wind. The rain came down in sheets, like a faucet opened full blast. I kept my gloved hand on the wide-open throttle and steered the Arkansas Traveler into the mouth of the downpour. The waves grew to white caps, hitting the front of the boat with such force it threw me off course. It took everything I had to keep the boat headed straight. Waves picked us up to their crests and slammed us down into the valleys, covering us with icy spray. The driving rain made the fifteen-horse boat motor sound off in the distance. I heard a faint whine as the propeller lifted in and out of the thrashing water. I kept the nose of the boat pointed right into the heart of this monster and as quickly as the squall came it went. I shut down the throttle, and let the boat drift in the calmest water we had all day, keeping the motor idling just in case. There was no longer any wind, but the rain fell so hard behind us it made a breeze of its own.
We were halfway to the boat ramp when I slowed the boat to troll in an area known as Freeman Mesa. I knew there were fish that liked to feed there, some in the fifteen-to-twenty-pound class. We watched the fish finder, but it lay silent. Then I caught movement in a small bay that made the point of the cove.
“Hey, what do you make of that?” I asked Donnie.
He squinted and tried to focus. “That’s strange, what is it?”
I turned the boat into the cove and slowly made my way toward the splashing in the water. Donnie lifted the binoculars and scanned the water. “It’s a baby muskrat headed for shore. Fast little bugger.”
I scooted the boat to within ten feet of the little guy and shut down the motor. We sat and watched the muskrat go like hell. Then the water boiled and the baby muskrat was gone.
“Oh shit,” I said.
The baby muskrat surfaced and fluttered toward the shore with all its might. All was quiet for about ten seconds, then the critter went airborne. The small muskrat’s body was so scrawny you could hear the rattle of its ribs as it twisted in the air. As soon as it hit the water, the glassy surface opened up again, this time with vengeance and the muskrat was gone. We stood motionless, floating in eight feet of calm water, scanning the surface trying to find the critter. Then a small wake caught my eye. It was a twenty-pound-plus ghost fish gliding just below the surface, cutting a thin line with its tallest dorsal fin bone like a periscope on a submarine.
I pointed at it and said. “Look man he’s headed right for us.”
Donnie and I watched the fish cruise right next to the boat. In its mouth the baby muskrat was still jerking, trying to free itself. The muskrat’s tiny black eyes helplessly stared at us from beneath the clear water. The ghostly shape faded into deeper water with its prey still shuddering, releasing the last of its air in a stream of tiny bubbles. For a time we sat in silence, then I realized the sun had dropped behind the mountain peaks and a chill had locked onto the lake. I started the motor and headed for the boat ramp. Donnie and I are fisherman, we rarely get surprised but we both sat in silent respect. Then a tear trickled from my eye, and another.
I realized that we had just witnessed nature at its best and worst, depending on how you saw it. I thought how fragile the balance was. Not eggshell, but the membrane inside fragile.
Danny was able to have this article published in a leading fly fishing magazine last month. Arkanglers has been lucky to have Danny and his vast experiences around the shop. Come by and see him at the Salida shop Thursday or Friday throughout the year.