Words and Images from Ed Felker

Rain Bow

Professional fly fishing guides Harold Harsh of Spring Creek Outfitters and Joel Thompson of Montana Troutaholics both volunteered their services at the Project Healing Waters 2-Fly Tournament at Rose River Farm. Harold, a generous supporter of PHW since its inception, and Joel, who flew east from Missoula, MT to participate in his first PHW event, are both good friends of mine. So with an extra day after the tournament before Joel had to fly back, Harold invited us to come out and fish his home water, the stunningly beautiful North Branch of the Potomac River.

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The forecast the night before our float was abysmal. By the next morning it was even worse. Rain, 15-20mph winds, gusts to 30. No good for fly fishing, or rowing. But we only had one day to fit it in, so I messaged Harold with a Go/No Go option. Harold, in his signature style, replied, and I quote, “Get your ass up here!” So we headed to western Maryland to meet Harold.

The weather started out quite beautifully, actually. But the fishing was slow. There had been a whitewater release into this tailwater for two days before our float, which can certainly impact fish behavior, and after the first couple miles it became apparent that it had. But if anyone can find fish in that river, it’s Harold. And if anyone can coax a fish who doesn’t feel like feeding to take a fly, it’s Joel. Sure enough, guiding and fishing skills combined for the first fish of the day. Joel netted this wild rainbow and got the skunk out of the boat.

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It was such a relaxing, comfortable float. Beautiful scenery, easy conversation and frequent, hearty laughter made it hard to even notice the rain that started at about the half way mark.

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It picked up steadily as we readied for lunch. Thankfully Harold has a special lunch spot with a covered picnic table. We waited out the heaviest rain of the day in comfort, fueling up for the next few miles, and toasting our day with Kettle House Double Haul IPA that Joel was kind enough to smuggle out of Missoula.

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But we weren’t ready to give up on the fish just yet! Harold strategized what to try next. We had seen a couple rises — the first of the season for that stretch of water — so on my rod he rigged up a big dry fly with a big, flashy nymph trailing about 40″ behind it.

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Joel really enjoyed watching Harold’s guiding style, and how he organized his boat and his gear.

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We pushed off in a light, steady rain, and rededicated ourselves to the task at hand: Catching fish.

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I was standing in the front of the boat, casting to my left. I had been watching my fly not get eaten for so long that even though I was focusing intently on the dry as I drifted it slightly ahead of the boat, I wasn’t expecting any action when it finally happened. First I saw a big trout swimming around underneath my dry fly. Well that’s interesting, I thought. While I was waiting for him to come up to slurp the dry, the fly started to move. Curious, I thought. Then Harold pointed out that the reason my dry fly is moving is because the fish is just chewing on the nymph like a piece of deer jerky while I watched him like an idiot. He said this in many fewer words than I used, but I know him well enough to know that’s what he meant. So I set the hook, finally. Fish on!

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That beautiful 18″ wild rainbow is, by a wide margin, my biggest fish ever from the North Branch of the Potomac. And it ranks among my favorite trout ever for a few reasons. It’s a big fish for me, certainly. It’s a big fish for that river. It’s a fish I worked hard for, despite nearly botching it at the most critical moment. But more important than all that it’s a fish caught on a memorable day, a day full of stories and laughter, a day spent in the company of great friends.

There was only one thing left to do: Harold needed to get a fish. So Joel took over the sticks and rowed while Harold fished, and it wasn’t long before he put a few more fish in the boat.

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In the end, we were soaked, smiling and laughing like fools at the takeout ramp as we toasted once more. As for that initial forecast, it could not have been more wrong. This day started out good, and ended up perfect.

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6 Responses

  1. Once again the prose flows from you like the Potomac you live on!

    April 29, 2014 at 6:47 pm

  2. Denis eichhorn

    I enjoyed meeting you at 2fly while at dinner with Bob Traxler. I won the guide trip with Joel at the auction. Didn’t have a chance to meet him but sure am looking forward to it. Traveling to Missoula for my grant child’s HS graduation. Great story of your day!

    April 29, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    • Hey Denis! Looking forward to meeting you and getting you out on the river! Email me at jt@montanatroutaholics.com and we will get things all squared away for you!

      April 29, 2014 at 9:25 pm

  3. Great stuff Ed Felker! I think my face in the picture of me rowing says it all! Could not have been better!

    April 29, 2014 at 9:26 pm

  4. david coffman

    hi ED- great story and pics as always. I’ve got cigars, special flavored cherry-apple cider and deer jerky to book passage on your next expedition- keep me posted . DC

    May 1, 2014 at 2:14 pm

  5. Pingback: Sweet Sixteen | Dispatches from the Potomac

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