Catch and Release Morality

Releasing a Rainbow

The One Truckee River‘s “River Stories” contest pushed me to finally write down one of my favorite memories of the thousands of hours I’ve spent on the Truckee River with a fly rod. Thank you for awarding my submission the first place prize.

Catch and release morality gave way in the fading September light. I casted to visible risers, and successfully raised my rod to take after take of rainbows, as the hatch continued on the Truckee just downstream of the California line. Darkness imperceptibly replaced sunset glare on the water, and my precision tactics were swapped for blind casting figuring that striking on the mere suggestion of a trout’s take, whether by spying the rise form or hearing its splash, could produce one more fish to net for the evening.

This calculus balanced a sporting relationship between predator and intended prey, with no regard to the other actors on my riparian stage.

Dropping my rod tip to deliver the fly sharply to its target, unexpectedly my line flopped before me on the water. Bewildered and annoyed, the answer to my sudden puzzle was presented as a small fluttering mass in the current.

A bat had taken my #16 Elk Hair Caddis pattern sometime between my backcast and forward stroke. Chuckling to myself at the comedy and tragedy of this predator’s flight interrupted by another’s pursuit, responsibility directed my wading into the feeding lanes, line nippers at the ready, to provide apology and relief to my unwitting catch.

Surgical skill removing tiny hooks from the lips of fish wouldn’t be employed for this release. I opted instead for a cut to my leader a foot away from the still-splashing bat. The job completed, I cheered quietly for the little guy to make it to the bank, my fly and tippet strand his new possessions. Keeping my remorse at bay, I hoped he’d have a chance to resurrect his evening.

A few more splashes and he burrowed into the safety of the stream-side brush. I too exited the water and retired into the night.