Wild Appalachian brook trout are ego fish.
Because their lives are such a struggle, catching one rarely is.
To survive in those small, tumbling mountain creeks, brook trout must be opportunistic feeders, aggressively gobbling anything that looks like food, including our flies.
So when we slinked into a shaded canyon in West Virginia's amazing Monongahela national forest on a recent warm, sunny day, and spotted three sizeable brook trout holding midway up the first pool, life seemed good.
Phil Smith, Sam Dean and I were there getting footage for a video project featuring the Mon, as this vast tract of public land is often called.
Phil was fishing. Sam was shooting footage. I was filling the role of sherpa/observer.
We needed a fish, and a good one would be a bonus.
Phil, chair of TU's West Virginia council, strung up, made a sneak on the pool and laid out a perfect cast.
The gaudy dry -- wild Eastern brook trout usually love gaudy dries -- approached as the camera rolled.
The fish -- one of which was pushing 12 inches, a giant in wild native terms -- didn't move. They didn't even give the fly a courtesy look.
This was just the beginning of what was to be a lesson in brook trout shunning.
Phil approached each pool with stealth and care, and his flies danced drag-free through every good-looking spot.
Sam dutifully set up at every pool, shooting hi-rez, fast-shutter-speed footage to capture the rises in slow motion.
Except there were only a couple of those rises, and they were only half-hearted.
We plugged on, amazed at the beauty of the little creek. And amazed at the fickleness of its fish.
Finally, Phil relented.
He tied an 18-inch-long strand of 7x tippet to the bend of his dry, and then attached a litle nymph.
We approached the next pool and made another perfect cast.
The dry twitched.
Phil gingerly lifted his rod, and pulled out the day's first -- and, as it would turn out, last -- trout.
It was a beautiful bookie, its flanks dappled with magenta and gold spots.
And it was maybe 4 inches long.
We all had to smile.
When the ego takes a hit, that's usually the best thing to do.