Words: Alyssa Adcock
Photos: Ryan Forbus
Editors Note: if you missed Part I of ‘What Swims Below’ CLICK HERE
I met Meg on a boat ramp. We instantly hit it off when she told me her first fish on the fly was a bonefish in Belize.
2X River Quiver 4-Bangers On the Boat Ramp
Easy going, humble, and a dead ringer of a cast; she could effortlessly place the fly in each and every pocket.
We put in before dawn and had moved a couple of big fish, but were unable to get a full commitment. Fly change. Depth change. Approach from another angle. Fly change. Different stripping tempo. Boat positioning. Fly change again.
I often use the analogy of chess with my anglers; each adjustment is like making a move on a chess board. Make an adjustment, see if it works. Make another adjustment, see if it works. Ultimately, fly fishing is like playing a grand master. You must anticipate, you must be proactive, because the river knows when you’re distracted or off your game. And only then will she slip you the tiniest glimpse of what swims below.
We methodically worked through the bite, moving each chess piece, searching for the right sequence. It had been a couple hours with little success, yet Meg impressed me with her quiet determination to make every strip count. This was the moment I started to really feel the pull; we were miles into our float and had come up to one of my favorite banks. I’ve seen monsters move out of rootballs, and I told her to be ready, that it could all come together in the next 25 feet of river bank.
We didn’t make it into the first 10 feet. I had turned to look ahead at the next pocket when I caught Megan in the corner of my eye. Line ripped through the guides as she cranked down on what I realized was a thick, gold bar thrashing directly beside the boat.
In my boat, there are two golden rules: First, believe that every single cast, mend, and drift is to the 30” brown trout. You must bring the intensity every moment, playing Russian Roulette and losing because you weren’t ready - is soul crushing. Second, once you have the big one on, you must stay calm. The fist fight has just begun, and I can guarantee that fish has a larger stake in getting away.
We immediately locked everything down, only concerned with keeping the right tension and direction on the fish to combat the current and debris that were conveniently next to us. Meg performed flawlessly, taking each bit of direction I gave her. Still in heavy current, we played the brown downriver waiting for it to give up just enough for me to drop the oars. I vividly remember the moment that Meg yelled, “He’s coming up,” and watching the fish somersault out of the water.
There is something about those moments when everything goes still, your breath and your mind freeze, because the only thing you can do is fully give in to the experience. I wanted this fish for Meg so badly because she had proven that she deserved a shot. But there are no guarantees for an angler.
It wasn’t until the fish slipped into the net that my breath returned to my lungs, both of us immediately screaming in relief. The hookset had held, he hadn’t run into a log jam, the sequence of moves laid out by Megan was perfect. Checkmate.
As the rest of the crew moved down to join the celebration, I had a moment to pause. These moments of success are often hard fought, spaced out by countless empty-handed days; they are a result of quietly grinding without recognition or reward. This is the price you pay to chase the high. And if this is the punishment - being able to grab some fly rods from the truck and hop in the boat with friends with no guarantee of success beyond good vibes - consider me a lifer.