King Size Intruders
The night before our historic trip we bellied up to the tying bench. Jason was in production mode, getting ready for a week of king fishing on the Kanektok. Lucky bastard. He’d already tied 30 flies, and was rounding out his collection. My situation was not so rosy. I was starting from zero and desperately needed a couple of flies to get me through a hard day on the local river. Since it takes me about two hours to tie a fly, it was time to get cracking. First I cracked a beer, then I got down to business.
My plan was to create a giant, flashy Intruder with large dumbbell eyes. I needed a fly that would get down early in the swing, so it had to be sparse. My prototypes from the week before looked okay, but when they hit the water, their failings became apparent. One was too bulky and couldn’t get down fast enough. Two had so much Flashabou they just collapsed into a giant strip of flash, with inadequate movement or contrast. I gave my best fly to Hickman, hoping he would test it out the next time he was surrounded by kings. So basically I had nothing that I could fish with confidence.
That night was one of those great tying sessions when you deliberately create the fly that you know will be the killer the next day. We drank a few beers, and by the last few steps of my second fly, my fingers were becoming thumbs. I ended up with two king-size pink and white Intruders. As long as I was careful, that would get me through the day.
The next morning we got an early start, figuring it would take a full day of swinging to get one shot at a spring chinook. A couple of hours later I stood thigh-deep in the river. It was a spot that we had been looking at for years, but had never fully explored. Today felt like the day. There were fish around, and no other people in sight. Jason and Jeff walked down to the next run. I stripped off a few feet of line and flopped the fly on the water. A short swing was interrupted by a jolt, then it came slowly to the bank. Had I just imagined that? I shrugged it off and made a couple more casts, letting out a few yards of line between casts. On my fourth cast, as the fly came close to the dangle, something grabbed hold and tore off into open water.
It was a savage grab, followed by a hard run to the other side of the river. There was no doubt it was a chinook. Now the only doubt was whether I could bring the fish to hand. We played tug-of-war for ten or fifteen minutes, but the bulldog finally showed his chrome sides, and I held him. My hands were trembling. It was a smaller fish, maybe sixteen or seventeen pounds. I pulled out my little point-and-shoot camera to prove the moment, then carefully released the salmon. I was alone, but I had the photo. My first king landed on the swing!
I took a few minutes to savor the moment, then stepped back into the riffle. I fished carefully through another full pass. Soon the water was nearing the top of my waders. I might only have another cast or two before having to back out and start again. I made another cast, and as the fly started its swing, my fly line tightened like piano wire and a big king broke the surface. It ran and jumped and ran and jumped again. I laughed out loud as the fish exploded all around the pool. On it’s final leap, it shook it’s head violently and the fly fell away. Rather than being disappointed, I felt triumphant. I had undeniable proof that my flashy Intruders were going to catch chinook.
That night I thought about the long circuitous path that had led me to that day. I realized that all of my best fishing experiences were gifts. Not imaginary, metaphysical gifts from the fish gods, but real, tangible gifts from my friends and mentors. Every single great moment in my fishing life could be traced back to the kindness of another. This day, my best fishing day, was a gift from several people. Ed and Monte gave me the Intruder, the greatest invention in the history of fly tying. Jeff and Jason put me on the fish. They knew I would appreciate it. And they were right.