Lesson learned at fish school

I have decided that fish are much smarter than we give them credit for. I also think they are mean, vindictive little creatures capable of orchestrating intricate plots designed to humiliate unwary anglers. My guess is that fish study the fine art of angler humiliation while completing the curriculum offered in their schools.

Like many of you, I long have considered myself a wary angler and therefore somewhat immune to the typical tactics fish use to induce a case of angler humiliation. However, after my last trip to Utah’s Kolob Reservoir, I’m beginning to think some fish schools are offering a graduate level program. Those familiar with my fishing skills probably would consider the graduate school comparison a bit of a stretch and kindergarten to be more appropriate. That’s what happens when you hold back and let your friends catch more fish than you.

Some people just don’t appreciate the sacrifice some of us are willing to make on their behalf.

When Mike Black of Henderson invited me to teach his Boy Scouts about fly-fishing during their summer camp at Kolob Reservoir, I gladly accepted. It had been awhile since I fished Kolob, and this seemed like a good opportunity to introduce my son, Dallin, to fishing from a float tube.

Kolob is located just north of Zion National Park, at an elevation of 8,118 feet. It’s surrounded by hills covered with quaking aspen, pine trees and oak brush. The reservoir is 249 surface acres when full and is managed as a trophy fishery for rainbow and cutthroat trout. The limit is one fish over 18 inches in length; anything less must be safely released. Anglers must restrict their bait choices to artificial flies and lures.

Naturally, when fish are allowed to grow to trophy proportions, their skills in the areas of fly-pattern detection and hook avoidance are well developed. Dallin and I found this to be especially true of the Kolob Fish School’s most recent graduating class.

We arrived the afternoon before I was scheduled to instruct the scouts. We located an area across from the launch ramp where the scouts could easily cast a fly rod without too much danger of getting their flies hooked in the trees. Naturally, we had to test this location for the presence of fish. Two hours and several fly changes later, neither one of us had netted a fish. In fact, the only bites we had were from mosquitoes.

The next morning, I was dodging Woolly Buggers and Hare’s Ear nymphs or untangling fly line as the scouts tried their hand at casting. The only problem was I couldn’t get the boys to stop casting and actually let the fly remain in the water long enough for a hungry trout to take the bait. Dallin, in the meantime, had abandoned me and was fishing from his float tube. Then I heard him laughing and calling my name. On his line was a plump rainbow trout that measured 16 inches long.

After taking a break for biscuits and sausage gravy, we headed back to the reservoir for another crack at its trophy trout. After another two hours of fishing — all the while hoping to teach Dallin a lesson this time — I had yet to hook a fish. The lesson would have to wait. And to make matters worse, one of the scouts caught a fish just as I was kicking my way back to shore. The slimy critters were practicing the art of angler humiliation — the fish, not the scouts. Then again, perhaps the boys and the fish had reached something akin to a humiliation agreement.

That evening, I dragged Dallin and his tired legs back out on the water. I was going to have my revenge and needed a witness to verify my catch. We fished and kicked for another couple of hours, but the fish had my number. No matter what fly I threw their direction, whether it floated on top or sank toward the bottom, the fish refused my offerings. Finally I decided to relax, enjoy the sunset and visit with my son. That’s when it happened.

As the sun dropped over the horizon, hundreds of trout began hitting the water’s surface. They were all around us. Everywhere we looked, huge trout were poking their heads through the surface. It was as if they were rising for the sole purpose of taunting us. My humiliation was complete. It’s a good thing I held back so Dallin still had something to brag about.

Doug Nielsen is an award-winning freelance writer and conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column is published Thursday. He can be reached at doug@takinitoutside.com.

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