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Tropical Trout

The sun had not even come up yet when I was rousted from bed. The sun rises early here, too. We gathered our things, drank our tea and loaded up the truck and left. The hour and 45 minute drive to Rio Sevegre seemed to take 3 days. At one point along the journey, we were at 13,000 feet above sea level. >From there we dropped down a winding narrow dirt road downhill. From our ascent to the top of the mountain, we dropped to a place along the river that was nestled in the mountains at the altitude of about 8,000 feet.

We pulled into the restaurant for a quick breakfast and looked at the trout in the trout ponds there. Everywhere around us were flowers, and in the flowers, hummingbirds of many shapes and sizes and colors. I had never seen so many hummingbirds. After our meal, we were back out to the truck to get our gear ready. I strung up my 5 wt and tied on a new leader and picked a fly. I was told that dry fly action on the river was not that great, so I went with a bead head nymph that I found in my box. I was going nymphing. No strike indicator, no putty, foam, or anything else would go on my leader.

The 7 of us split up. They dropped me off at a place along the river and I was to fish downstream to where they would meet me after having fished upstream. Apparently because I was the youngest, and supposedly the most capable of that stretch, that is what I was given. I got out of the truck, said my good byes and we agreed to meet back on the road at about noon. I looked down at my arm at the place where a watch used to sit and laughed. I would get there sometime.

I stood on the side of the road and looked across the pasture to where the river was. I had never fished these waters before and am quite inexperienced with trout fishing in general. Through the barbed wire fence I went and across the field. My broken toes reminded me of their presence with every step. Across the pasture, I came to yet another barbed wire fence. As I started to go through it, I heard a familiar snorting sound, and looked up just in time to see the bull starting to charge. I backed out and looked for an alternative entrance to the river. I found one upstream a little ways.

To get down to the river, I had to scale a fallen tree that spanned the width of the river. The river itself is no more than 30 feet across at its widest and fairly shallow, but with good pools and a lot of falls. I got assigned the section with all of the falls. This was not going to be an easy trip. I almost regretted not having my waders anymore. As the water seeped into my shoes, though, the coolness began to numb my sore toes and I found it much easier to walk. I also found it easier to slip and slide.

For the first hour I walked downstream, jumping from rock to rock, slipping and sliding and cutting new trails through the jungle forest around me. It was nothing but whitewater for a long ways. I often stopped and admired the many birds and bugs that I saw. The insect life of the river was pretty amazing. Although there seemed to be some major hatches going on, by the time I got past the whitewater to some calmer pools, I did not see a single rise.

I spotted the trout in the first pool past the long trail I blazed through the jungle. They were tiny. I made a cast though and let the nymph drift down. I had about 3 feet of line past the rod tip out. I found it difficult to control a drift that way. Nonetheless, a few seconds later I was nearly launching my first official "real" trout of the water. A perfect specimen of the rainbow trout, exactly 4 inches long. I took a quick picture and let the little guy go. What colors these fish possessed!

I caught two more from that pool before heading to the next. One was 8 inches and the other 6. Down to the next pool I walked and there, on the same nymph, caught 2 more. One was a brute of a trout at 12 inches and the other was 10. I tried in vain for several minutes to entice the golden colored rainbow trout in the school to take a fly. I could no longer walk along the river again. I went back up to the road and walked downhill a ways until I could find another access point. From the road, I saw the pool and just knew that it held trout. I was not wrong. I pulled 2 from its waters. Each was an exact replica of the other and each was 8 inches long.

I decided to rest that pool and walk downriver along the road a little further. I passed a small bridge and walked out onto it and looked down the river. I saw the pool about 200 feet downstream and hoped that there was a way to get to it. A very large rock was on the side I would be accessing and I thought it would make a nice place to rest. I had been walking and fishing for hours. The thin air at that elevation reminds me that I do not have a full set of lungs.

I was in luck. There was a way to get down to it. As I walked down to the rock on one side, I spooked two trout, bigger than any I had caught so far. I stood there still for a bit and watched. I saw them rising. I ducked quietly behind the rock and changed flies. I put on a very small light colored fly and crawled around the other side of the rock and cast upstream. On the third cast like that, I had one on. It was 13 inches long.

It was time to take a break. I climbed up upon the rock and from there saw a small pool loaded with tiny trout. I put the nymph back on and sat there and played with them for a while. I did not let them take the fly… I did not feel like getting back down. It was amazing how quickly they would take the flies. These fish were stocked almost 40 years ago, and are naturally spawning now. I sat on my roost atop the big rock and decided to practice my drifting with so little line out. I found a small fall, about 10 inches wide and a foot or two deep. I would try to get my fly to go down that.

For five minutes I tried with no luck. Finally I got it to do what I wanted it to do. As it went down, the line tightened up. Damn, I was stuck on a rock. I lifted the rod tip in an attempt to let the current carry the fly off of whatever it was snagged on. With that action, something amazing happened. The only thing I heard was ZZZZZzzzzzZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. My reel was singing up a streak. My rod was bent over and 25 inches of rainbow trout leapt from the water in front of me. I was no longer sitting. I was sliding down the side of the rock into the pool I was playing in and starting my run downstream. I could not believe it.

After about 5 or 6 minutes of chasing after it and fighting it, I finally got it to me. I compared its size to my rod and went to land it. As I touched its sides, it flipped, slapped its tail on the line and zipped out of my hands and raced upstream. I had touched it though. I had caught a trout that was considered big for those waters. I was thrilled. I hollered and screamed and cheered and cussed. I danced in the water. Finally, I had broken the trout curse. Finally, after all of the miles, all of the places, all of the attempts, finally, I had caught my trout. I had caught several of them actually.

It was time to sit again. I walked downstream some more to the next pool. There in the middle I saw something moving. It was another trout, about the same size as the one I had just caught and brightly colored. There was something wrong with it though. It had a large growth on its bottom jaw and its tail was ragged. It did not move. I moved flies across its snout and it still did not move. I stepped into the water and walked towards it. It was not until I touched it that it finally darted away and hid under a rock shelf. It seemed sick, or dying.

The sun was high in the sky. I walked back up the road and began the walk back to the restaurant hoping that they would come by and pick me up. I did not realize how far I had traveled. I walked back up the hill nearly two and a half miles to the restaurant. Apparently my "watch" was wrong. Actually, they were late. I lay in the grass alongside the road across from the restaurant and peered at the river. I saw movement in one of the trees and was shocked to see the rare Resplendent Quetzal feeding its young in a nest dug into the tree. Its long tail talked of flies that it could make and I watched as the male and female of the pair took turns. The female did not have the long flowing tail of the male, but had the same beautiful colors.

As the male flew off down the river, the sun hit its plumage and it lit up like magic. Its feathers were iridescent in the sunlight like a peacock’s. I thought of Marvin and how happy he would have been if I had had a gun with me. I thought of how if I had been caught shooting at the "God bird"… I never would have made it out of Costa Rica alive. It is a highly revered bird among some peoples. I laid there watching the birds and soaking up the sunlight and somehow I guess I fell asleep. I woke up a while later; my friends still not back. I was early and they were late.

I made my way up to the restaurant, in a dreamlike state, the effects of my siesta not yet worn off. I pulled up a chair and asked for Un Coca-Cola por favor. I sat and sipped on my Coke and watched the hummingbirds all around sipping on their own sweet nectar. One by one my companions began to show up. One had caught over 30, and all on dry. Apparently the fish were actually rising way down where he had fished. The young ones had caught 3 apiece. One had caught 15. One had caught 14. The other had caught an even 20. I thought I had done well with my 9. I guess I was wrong. I was, however, the only one to catch anything over 10 inches long. I laughed at that thought. I teased them about what a pity it was that they couldn’t handle the section I fished.

We sat around and smoked our cigars and watched the kids pull dinner out of the trout pond. We talked, shared fish stories, I showed them the Quetzals and we all winded down after a good day’s fishing. I had no idea that trout fishing could be so good. I found it extremely ironic that I would have to travel to the tropics to finally catch a trout. I guess sometimes things just happen that way.

I now have to switch back from the trout frame of mind to the tarpon frame of mind… from one extreme to the other. A week from today or so, I am off to Nicaragua, and then to Lake Arenal. Between now and then, I have flies to tie, leaders to build, shock tippets to tie flies onto and lines to clean. I have loops to remake, knots to check and phones to answer. I have a lot of work to do. I can not wait until next week. It will feel nice to have a tarpon on the end of my rod again… but I have to admit, those trout aren’t as bad as I thought they would be either.