Voices from the river

Voices from the River: One big, angry fish

This hefty Virginia wild brown trout didn’t hit a tiny midge. It hit a big streamer.

By Mark Taylor

My brother is five years my junior but that didn’t stop us from being competitive as kids, especially once he transformed from a skinny grade schooler to a surly teen.

Our tiny shared bedroom was the site of epic Nerf hoops battles, dart games and wrestling matches. When I pitched BP to his youth baseball team I always threw a few at him just to keep him honest, and he countered with plenty of liners back at me.

For whatever reason we tended to be more cooperative during our fishing adventures, which were many. We worked as a team, a trend that strengthened after I moved East and he stayed home in Oregon.

So, it actually pained me to be crushing him on a smallmouth bass outing on Virginia’s James River one afternoon a few summers back when he was out for a visit.

I was throwing my normal array of soft plastics and crankbaits, and fly rod poppers and smallish streamers, and was connecting with lots of fish.

Greg had recently been enjoying some good action on big Zara Spook topwater plugs back in Oregon. He figured if it worked on western smallmouths it would work on eastern smallmouths.

Except it didn’t.

As my fish count approached 20, he remained skunked.

“You should try a Senko,” I urged, reference a popular soft plastic lure that was working well that day.

“Nope,” he said.

“How about this Sneaky Pete?” I implored, holding out the fly rod.

“Nope,” he said.

He was getting frustrated, but he wasn’t giving in.

“I’m looking for one big, angry fish,” he said, clenching his jaw chucking his giant plug toward the bank.

I could only shake my head.

A couple more hours passed. I lost count of the fish I had caught. The sun was setting when, on what was probably Greg’s 500th cast of the day, a nice smallmouth blew up on the Spook. It wasn’t a giant, maybe 4 pounds. But it was by far the biggest fish of the day.

And Greg had a satisfied look on his face.

“Totally worth it,” he said.

I think back to that day often during my trout forays, which recently have tended toward the “looking for one big, angry fish” approach.

Little flies can and do fool big trout. But we all know that most big fish don’t get big by eating tiny bugs.

They get big by eating the aquatic versions of double bacon cheeseburgers with extra mayo. Big forage fish. Crayfish. Little trout.

Big flies can also trigger reaction strikes that are more about anger than hunger.

Fishing with bulky and/or heavy flies can be a lot of work, a fact that Kelly Galloup and Bob Linsenman don’t sugar-coat in their excellent book “Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout.”

But the fishing part isn’t the hard part.

The hard part is having to the patience to stick with it.

If you’re going to go after one big, angry fish, you can’t bail and start fishing for small, friendly fish.

You have to clench your jaw and keep chunking the meat knowing that there’s a pretty good chance you’ll catch nothing.

If you don’t buckle, it’s gonna happen. Maybe not that day. But eventually.

And it’s going to be totally worth it.

Mark Taylor is Trout Unlimited’s eastern communications director. He lives in Roanoke, Va., not far from the Jackson River and Smith River tailwaters, which hold some some nice wild rainbow and brown trout, a few of which Taylor has actually caught.

By Mark Taylor. A native of rural southern Oregon, Mark Taylor has lived in Virginia since serving a stint as a ship-based naval officer in Norfolk. He joined the TU staff in 2014 after a 20-year run as a newspaper journalist, the final 16 as the outdoors editor of the Roanoke Times. A graduate of Northwestern University, he lives in Roanoke with his wife and, when they're home from college, his twin daughters.