Before I could even sit in the driver’s seat Sunday morning, I was astounded at the smell permeating from my truck. It didn’t reek, but the unique odors mixed with such harmony, I couldn’t help admire it. It was microwaved gym towel and concession stand complete with sour cream and union potato chip zest, only none of those items were ever in there.
Since road trips are so integral to the life of an outdoorsman with an indoor job, it’s refreshing to be able to smell the adventure leftovers the next day. My buddy Kurt had never caught a rainbow trout bigger than 16-inches, so we planned a day trip to the Redding section of the Lower Sacramento River. I woke up at 3:45, put the coffee on and started breakfast. Kurt arrived a little after four. We ate, cooked hot dogs, wrapped them in tin foil for lunch and were on our way by 4:30. We stopped at The Fly Shop in Redding for impulse patterns before hitting the water. Weather reports had agreed that it would rain, and rain it did. We didn’t mind because we were catching fish, but Kurt’s biggest fish was only 14-inches.
Just before lunch, he tied on a bugger and hooked up. The fish stayed low in the water and made Kurt’s 10-foot 4-weight rod bow in reverence. I edged the water, armed with my net as Kurt slowly backed up on shore. The fish wasn’t ready, but I caught a glimpse.
“Is it big?”
I laughed. Kurt knew the fish was big, but if I confirmed, would it make him nervous and do something stupid? Or if the fish broke off, would it crush him, being he had been so close to holding the biggest trout of his life?
“I’d say this would break your 16-inch mark.”
I dropped the net for a quick scoop, but the fish ran down river. We gave cautious chase. I again approached the edge of the water and attempted to net the rainbow that stayed on the deep side of the sharp drop off. Again, it disappeared into the seemingly bottomless pool. I had teased Kurt about how funny his cheap reel looked paired with such a technologically advanced, premium rod. I wondered if that worked on his confidence as the fight continued.
A few minutes later, the fish’s head came up and briefly broke the surface. It saw me and tried to dive, but my net was there. I lifted it from the water. The guy in the blue jacket across the river held his clenched fist and pumped it high, the international “Power to the Fisherman” sign of victory.
The sloppy measurement done by shaking hands put it at 19-inches. An ego-massaging guide would make it 20, no doubt. The fish was an absolute bus. It wasn’t one of those slender, sickly fish that when stretched gets rounded to 17 or 18 inches, or a soft, pellet-fattened stocker that’s clinically obese when released into a confusing world away from concrete.
This thing was Patrick Willis.
Soaking wet we sat in the truck which had been overtaken by the scent of cooked hot dogs which we quickly devoured with onions and potato salad. We turned on the seat warmers to address the chill. It didn’t dry anything, but did warm the wet. For a half hour we sat, eating and re-telling the story of Kurt’s fish.
We hit the water for another four hours, caught more fish in the upper teen-range, changed, then drove home.
I was a great day with big fish and seemed like a dream until Sunday morning when I opened the truck door, smelled the lingering reality, and smiled.
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