Is size the only thing that matters? Get your minds out of the gutter, we’re talking about the size of the fish we’re catching. A similar question was posed earlier this year, basically asking the question of which would you rather- catch a bigger fish on a crowded river, or catch smaller fish with solitude? Thanks to “1fishwilly” for that thoughtful post. This does expound on that a little more, with some added nuance. But let’s get to the story behind my rambling.
The idea for this blog came to me after my recent trip up to the Black Hills of South Dakota; a place I had visited many times as a kid but never fished. Truly a beautiful place all on its own. If you’re used to the majestic Rockies you may not think it much, but there is plenty of beauty to be found. Feel free to check out my recent forum post entitled "Black Hills" for some photos and a link to my IG account.
The first day of fishing was lake fishing from shore; again something I never did growing up, and have only gotten into since moving to Colorado. Growing up having a boat, there was never a reason to fish from shore. The lake we chose to fish, there were fish everywhere within casting distance. And big fish, not the normal dink stocker fish we’re used to seeing cruising the shallows. Not only did that make it a good choice, it’s a gorgeous lake, Lake Pactola for those who may be familiar.
Now, even though there were plenty of fish, we still had to work for them. There was hardly any wind when we first got there, which I’m sure made the fish a little more weary. But once there was a little chop the fish certainly responded with more aggression. My buddy caught his first ever fish- a 20+ beautiful rainbow. He only hooked one other fish the whole morning, but he had a fantastic time.
I managed to hook into over a handful of really nice rainbows, and landed 3 of them. All of them thick, healthy fish. Even though there were a few other people on the lake with us, it was clear that these fish don’t quite see the pressure of some of the alpine lakes here in Colorado. Granted these fish were most likely all stocked, but they have survived long enough to be pretty strong and feisty. The last one I caught was by far the most fun, as the fight to bring him in lasted several minutes on my 5wt. And of the 3 fish I landed, plus the others that I had on the line, I would say all of them were 14+ inches, and at least 2 were close to 20; definitely the 2 biggest trout I’ve caught with my fly rod to date.
The next day our fishing venture was completely different, consisting of a couple smaller creeks that we hiked near. Not a rainbow to be found, but tons of small brown trout all along these streams. None of the fish were huge by any means, as per usual for small stream trout. But they were eager to take a fly, as long as it was presented in a natural way.
One brown trout in particular (the biggest of these small creek fish that I caught, probably close to 10 inches), I actually hooked with a small fly pattern but then he got off. So we finished walking the trail and got to the falls we were hiking to, and enjoyed our lunch, accompanied with more fish that I netted, and started our hike back to the car. We get to the spot where I lost that fish, and I look to the group and say “Hang on, I’m gonna go catch that fish that I lost earlier.”
Sure enough, after a couple drifts, I saw him eat my fly. Got him into the net this time, as well. That felt pretty great to be able to call my shot like that, and to see the eat of my fly, too. Especially since he didn’t take it aggressively enough to make my dry fly sink all the way down. I was happy I was able to see the eat for myself and set the hook right away.
Now mind you these trails we were on, we weren’t alone. Very narrow trails, and plenty of people enjoying the mild day before the winter storm that was coming the next day. So it wasn’t a solitude thing, but I think it might’ve been more of a “wild fish” thing. I enjoyed myself so much more fishing these couple small creeks for these small fish. Plus it wasn’t even a full “fishing” morning, my buddy and I were just enjoying the day with our wives hiking along and I just had my small creek fly rod with me just jumping in when I saw a promising spot or saw some feeding fish.
So back to my original question, is size the only thing that matters? I would definitely say not to me, but I’d love to hear everyone else’s thoughts, too. Maybe it was something about fooling the wild fish. Maybe it was the stealthy way I had to approach the creek and hide behind trees and rocks. Maybe it felt more of a challenge since I didn’t literally see almost a hundred cruising fish. Or maybe it’s something as simple as I’ve found that I greatly prefer creek fishing to stillwater when I’m fishing from shore.
I’m certainly not asking anyone to try and look inside my head, I wouldn’t subject anyone to that. But when you think back to days you’ve enjoyed the most on the water, there have to be several factors at play, right? Size just can’t be the only thing that matters… right?