Dave's Place: The Trout Thief

Why my wife isn't an angler.

Field & Stream Online Editors

We were visiting with some new friends the other night when my wife, Robin, made me pay...as usual.

In these situations, the conversation commonly turns to hobbies. It usually comes out that I am a fisherman, and someone inevitably asks Robin if she fishes, too.

"Not really," she says curtly with a glance in my direction. Then she publicly reveals what an idiot I am. The fact is, Robin was once on the brink of becoming an angler, until I blew it.

* * * * *

Love is a powerful thing, especially when it's new. It can make a person do things he or she wouldn't even consider otherwise. For example, I am not a hiker. To me, hiking is much too much like exercise. Though the view at the top is invariably nice, I've never found it nice enough to justify all that uphill trudging. Yet when Robin and I were newly in love, I hiked all over the countryside--because that's what she liked to do.

Likewise, Robin went fishing. And she was a trouper. Despite the steep learning curve inherent in flyfishing, she endured. She had to untangle her leader every fourth or fifth cast, she could rarely reach the fish with her fly, and she even fell in the water once or twice. But when the time came to go again, she was up for it.

All she needed to do was catch a fish, and she'd have been hooked. But in this regard, the stars and their courses seemed to be set against her. It was as if she were cursed. Worse, when she went with me, I was cursed. No matter how promising the stream, how perfect the conditions, and even how skillfully she fished, she could not catch a fish--and for the most part, neither could I.

Things went on like this for quite some time. It continued throughout most of the day during a trip to New York's Ausable River, when conditions seemed ideal for flyfishing. But for some reason the bugs weren't out and fish weren't rising. We had a dinner reservation at 8 p.m., and at 7:30 I suggested that we check out one last pool. When we got there, a single trout was rising steadily in the middle of the current. It was too good a chance to pass up.

Since a few tan caddisflies were fluttering about, I gave Robin a size 16 Elk Hair Caddis. We got into position, and I coached her as she cast to the fish. She was doing everything right. Time and again, her cast unfurled perfectly above the water, and her fly landed softly on the surface, where it drifted drag-free over the trout's nose. But the trout wouldn't take. She tried twitching the caddis and did so almost expertly, but to no avail.

"Look," she finally said. "Why don't you take a few casts?"

"Okay," I said. "I'll move over a ways, and we'll both cast to him. We can take turns."

So I made a few casts between hers, with no better luck. Clearly, the trout wasn't taking caddisflies. Looking closer, I noticed that it was only sipping at the surface, its nose barely breaking the water. I realized that no other bugs were visible in the air. And it hit me: The fish was taking spinners.

Just then, I did something of which I am not proud. I must have gotten caught up somehow in the thrill of figuring out the fish because instead of telling Robin that it was taking spinners, instead of giving her a spinner imitation to tie onto her tippet, I tied one onto my own. Then I shot out a quick cast and instantly hooked the trout. Worse, suddenly feeling guilty--and adding insult to injury--I then tried to give the rod to Robin so that she could fight the fish.

This happened about seven years ago, but I've yet to live it down. The prospects of my ever doing so are slim. For as long as we get together with new friends, I'm sure Robin will get some justifiably vindictive pleasure in telling them how I stole an 18-inch rainbow from under her nose.

No doubt, it was a blatantly unchivalrous move on my part, and I'm sure I deserve to be perennially reminded of it. But in thee end, I wonder if it isn't for the best. Had Robin become an angler, there might have been considerable pressure on me to become a hiker. For the most part I still can't believe I did what I did. But once in a while, I wonder if the subconscious thought of trudging uphill for the rest of my life had something to do with it.