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Should be fishing
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I know that sounds like a trumpet call to stories about the bigs ones.

But, maybe not?

My most memorable catch is not like that at all. Hogs come and go. They don't always earn top ranking.

I used to live in South Carolina.

I found a little, itty bitty creek that ran through a state park. I had hiked there a lot over the years. One day I decided to fish that creek. I hadn't gone fly fishing in about a decade at that point. Other things took over in my life. Other interests and such.

I bought a fly rod at a gas station. I still have it. It's hilarious to me to pick it up now and realize the magnitude of its awfulness. It didn't matter back then, however. Best $35 I ever spent. That $35 included rod, reel, and line. Hell, $35 at that point in my life was probably pretty painful to part with.

It lead me to that park. That skinny water. The kind of place where you think nothing could ever live and flourish. It was a steep creek. Cascading down the gradient over and over again. Falls and pools. More falls...more pools. All of them about 3 feet wide.

It was just a little bit of an experiment. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. It had been a long time since I held a fly rod.

I spent a day just kind of "placing" my fly into tumultuous waters. I was pretty amazed at what happened. Fish. Fish happened. Over and over again.

Tiny fish, but fish! I couldn't believe it.

I spent a whole day just picking my way up this improbable little trickle in the South Carolina wilderness.

Something hit my fly pretty hard. I set the hook and proceeded to....well....just kind of lift that fish right out of the water. When it came to rest on dry land....I was horrified. This fish had horns. Three of them. Sticking right out of its head.

I wouldn't know what I had caught for quite awhile. I eventually found that it was a horney head chub. Just a little guy. Yet, when you are about to put hands on a fish and that fish has horns, you kind of pull back for a moment.

There are unicorns which are fake. There are narwhals which are real. Somewhere in between is the horney head chub. It's definitely real.

While big fish have come and gone to my delight, this chub is still my most memorable catch. I will never forget seeing those little prosthetic looking daggers sticking out of its head. I had to take a moment to decide whether or not I wanted to put hands on that fish. I wondered if I was fishing waters that had some nuclear waste runoff?

There will always be the stories about the big ones. Yet, I think there are probably also plenty of stories about the small ones.

What's your story?
 

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My buddies brother tells us about some skinny water, 10 hours from Portland . We were already fishing some other skinny water, but more well known, 8 hours from Portland on a trip, so what the hell, load up some Busch Lights and head out. We get there and the water is the width of a sidewalk and as deep as a puddle.

Feeling duped, 3 guys opt out of giving it a go. I walk down to it, upstream 10 yards and find a pool at a bend. First cast, fish on, leaps out of the water, lands on the bank.
10 inch cutthroat.

You've never seen 3 dudes grab rods and run like they did towards me.

The whole place was full of absolutely wild fish that had never seen a fly. All around that size. Walk, find a pool, catch a fish or two.
Fought like fish twice their size, but angrier.

2 years later, they were still their, but bigger.
 

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I will play:

Years ago my best friend and I went and bought matching outfits to go fishing that day. We looked so cute together. Anyway, we had a really fun day and each caught two amazing whitefish, both in the 14" class. I still swear they were the same fish but oh well. We spent the rest of the day cuddling on the bank as best buds do. It was probably my favorite day ever and most memorable fish.

He died later that year. Freak accident at the carnival involving a storm drain and hungry sheep...but no need to go there. R.I.P shit dog.
 

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I was sitting on a streambank in New Zealand, eating an apple to cap off lunch, when a big rainbow swims right under my feet to some frog water, hoping to chase down the equivalent of sculpin there. As he fins into the frogwater, I new he had to come back under my feet again when he returned, so I s-l-o-w-l-y reached over, grabbed my fly rod, with an emerger already strung up, pulled out enough line for the leader to clear the tip, set that fly on the water, and waited. 5 minutes later, here comes Mr. Rainbow, who leisurely swims over to my emerger and swallows it. Of course, I set the hook too soon, and it came right out of his mouth. Fortunately, he just circled around wondering what happened to his dessert, so I set it back on the water, and this time, waited until he took the fly and turned. What a fight on a stream that I'd be pressed to find water above my knees! It was my first decent-sized trout, and it's an understatement to say I was excited.
 

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mine isn't so much a fish, but a location. Several years ago, a buddy and I started trying to figure out a piece of water we saw in a video (one with multiple views throwing off the actual location--I love those types of professional videos). After extensive blue line hunting on many detailed maps, many calls to the district biologist we planned a trip last summer. After a multi-mile bike ride through thick clouds of mosquitoes, we came across this creek we could literally jump across. Within half dozen casts, we were both hooked up with some of the largest native trout I've been privy to shake fins with. We worked a short stretch for several hours, then, feeling satiated, rode back out. Just the legwork that went into it would have made it worth it, the size and aggressiveness of those fish were the icing. The great thing was though, this particular creek was one that was on our radar before ever even seeing the video. I suppose if I had to pick a single fish, I would pick one that my buddy caught. He was fishing a deep outside bend, just ripping a streamer just under the surface. All of the sudden I hear, "wake wake wake"....I look over in time to see a huge wake some 15-20' away from his fly and it closed that distance in a hurry and just smashed his fly (it reminded me of a toilet bowl flush a largemouth sometimes makes). It turned out to be a legit 22" thick pissed off redside but that visual was just incredible (we got a good number that were larger, but that was certainly one of the most memorable).
 

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Donny, you're out of your element...
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Something hit my fly pretty hard. I set the hook and proceeded to....well....just kind of lift that fish right out of the water. When it came to rest on dry land....I was horrified. This fish had horns. Three of them. Sticking right out of its head.

I wouldn't know what I had caught for quite awhile. I eventually found that it was a horney head chub. Just a little guy. Yet, when you are about to put hands on a fish and that fish has horns, you kind of pull back for a moment.

There are unicorns which are fake. There are narwhals which are real. Somewhere in between is the horney head chub. It's definitely real.

While big fish have come and gone to my delight, this chub is still my most memorable catch. I will never forget seeing those little prosthetic looking daggers sticking out of its head. I had to take a moment to decide whether or not I wanted to put hands on that fish. I wondered if I was fishing waters that had some nuclear waste runoff?
Nice writing Spud!
 
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My favorite fish was, unfortunately, not mine.

When I was maybe eleven we used to walk to the gallatin pretty much every day during the summer. It was a hike of maybe a half mile after a bike ride of about the same. We usually didn't fish, did more wading, swimming and normal kid crap.

One day the oldest of us (~14-15y/o) brought one of his dads spin-cast setups with a ridiculous looking lure--thing seemed like it was five inches long (I'm sure it wasn't). We are walking up to a pool in the river and he casts. Immediately the line goes tight. He hauls in a beautiful rainbow.

Dumbest luck I've ever seen.

The kicker of the story is that his dad had a powerful telescope and was watching us from his house and watched the cast. He saw the light shine off the line and said he was positive his kid had snagged something until he saw the fish jump.

My second favorite fish is a tie between a couple dozen brookies I caught one day on my grandmother's cousin's stream that same summer. He only let kids under 12 fish and the brookies would hit everything. I'm pretty sure I caught one without even having a hook on the line. Shoot, I think one jumped directly into my jacket pocket.
 

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Mine would have to be one of many big Browns caught at night from a smallish irrigation holding pond back home - more accurately, the collection of memories associated with that place & time. I'd work all day on the ranch, wolf-down dinner, grab my fly rod & head for the pond. Many times my Dad would drive out & meet me. I have so many great memories of times spent together & of fish we had no chance to stop.
 

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Joe Streamer
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A few years ago I caught a 24" football-shaped reptilian brown trout on a small desert spring creek. The big fella's proportions and toothy hooked jaw were memorable on their own, but it ranks as fish #1 in my 40+ year lifetime of catches because I sight fished hoppers to it, and the whole situation was just so cool. It took my hopper twice and even got stung the second time, after which I was sure it was spooked for the day. But I stood there anyway because the fish went back to his slot and looked so cool and huge there. I had a perfect view and I just wanted to watch. But I also thought about how to adjust my schedule for the following day so that I could take another shot. Meanwhile, I kept standing there and watched the fish for 10 minutes or more. Then I decided to cast a different hopper pattern one more time, "just in case". The fish inhaled it, I hooked up, and it cartwheeled so fast and high in the opposite direction that it landed 2-3 feet up the opposite bank onto dry land. I thought it would come unglued at that point, of course, particulalry since I use barbless hooks. But two minutes later it was in the net and safely released without me lifting it out of the water or touching it...except that I stroked its gorgeous toady head a couple times and touched his t-rex teeth. F---ing awesome awesome fish. I'll never forget that day or that fish.
 

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Favorite individual fish?

Probably a certain large tiger trout from a small stream maybe 90 minutes from home. I was coming up on either my first or second full year of fly fishing (having started in mid-summer) and a friend from another message board like this who'd been helping me out with my questions and offering tips and advice sent me a PM that he was headed more or less down my way for a family function, but that he planned on hitting this section of water on his way home Sunday afternoon, and that if I wanted to meet him, he'd be happy to fish with me.

So I made the trip and we had a great time fishing together, me struggling to get 1 or 2 fish, and him easily close to 20 trout, but that's how it goes when you're learning anything new.

Anyway, we met up at a deep pool/run and he said he had to head for home, but that he'd seen a large fish in this pool, and indeed as we talked, he spotted it again, maybe in the 16-18" range, rolling as it took nymphs in the green water. He gave me a few flies to try then headed out.

I proceeded to throw anything and everything at that fish, to no avail. Finally, I tied on an albino stonefly that he'd given me, and as it drifted down, I saw that fish roll and dart away, not taking my fly. Just after that though, an even larger fish came up out of the deep water and smashed the fly. As it turned, I could see that it wasn't just any large trout....it was a tiger.

It was a crazy battle on a 3wt, and certainly the largest trout I'd taken on that rod to that point, but after what seemed like an eternity, I brought it to the net:



After a few quick pics (with my pre-smartphone camera at a whopping 1.3 megapixels), I sent him back into the pool, where he quickly disappeared again. Still probably ranks in my top 5 largest trout of all time, though he's no longer top dog (that'd go to another tiger a few years later)...and he wasn't my first tiger (which would be about a 9" fish and the first fish I caught on a fly I tied myself), and it wouldn't be the last (that'd be 2 or 3 years ago now, on a tailwater that doesn't officially have any trout in it...caught on a 6" streamer)...but definitely my favorite one.
 

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Probably has to be a Cutthroat/Football that came out of a nameless alpine lake with views of the Stuart Range. First time I was up there was on a day trip with my wife. She spent the afternoon wandering around photographing wildflowers, and I had about four hours to fish. I could see that the lake was fairly productive with lots of free-swimming mayfly nymphs, but it took a while to spot any fish cruising the shoreline. Oh wow- nice ones!

But there weren't many. I'd spot one or two working the shoreline or outlet area, but they kept moving around, and I never found the right timing to put a fly in front of them. Hours passed, with occasional moments of anticipation.... hope.... waiting.... missed again. I hardly even got a cast in all afternoon.

Finally, late in the day, hanging out by the shoals at the head of the lake; time to go, game over. But, wait here's a fish working along the shallows, it's sure to see me and spook, but as it approaches me it turns toward the dropoff, and I have one chance. And it IS mostly a matter of chance, as I have no real idea where that fish is going, but well; here goes.

Nymph on a dropper below an Adams, cast and hope. Fish is going the right way, give that fly a twitch. Yes! It's so cool to see; a change of course, the gills flare, fish on. Chunky 16" or so Cutt, nicest fish I've ever caught in the alpine.

I could post a pic, but that's not what it's all about. Just that everything happened to come together at the last opportunity, and having that one chance succeed. Last time I was up there, didn't see a single fish though it does get planted occasionally.
 
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