Friday, August 18, 2017

A Great Day at Nunya

With Dad being sick, the Merrill boys have spent more time helping to take care of him and less time out on the streams, even to the point of postponing a planned visit to Nunya at the end of July. Well, Rick's employer abruptly changed his work schedule to four-tens, which provided an unexpected open day on Friday. Neither Rob nor Tom were available, so I decided to go it alone to see if I could recreate the magic from our visit last July.

Arising long before sunup, I stopped at dawn for the #8 at McD's to maximize my chances for a successful day (which at Nunya usually means more fish caught than snakes seen). Rounding the last corner of the dirt road to the stream, my muscles relaxed as the empty parking area came into view. A short time later, I slid from the grassy bank into the water, which was surprisingly cool given the heat of the summer. The high waters from spring runoff have changed the stream a little, finally erasing the little hole where I caught the first big brown here years ago.

I started with hoppers, then alternated with the black bugger in some deeper runs, but there was no sign of fish in the first few holes. It wasn't until about halfway to the first corner that I found the first fish, a nice brown about 15-inches that took the hopper in the middle of the stream. A little further up, a smaller rainbow came to hand, but that was all the action to the first corner.
15-inch brown to start the day
At the corner hole, nothing came up, which left me wondering if this was going to be just a mediocre day at Nunya (2 fish and no snakes). But that was soon to change. Above the corner hole are some long, straight runs with deep undercut banks. I always remember a visit years ago when we seemed to find large browns all along these banks, even in the slow water at the bottom of the runs. Today, though, there was no sign of fish in those areas. But as I got up to where the current began to move along the grass on the right side, I drifted the hopper right on the edge of the bank, then watched a large head slowly rise and engulf the fly. A nice one! It took me downstream, went far under the bank several times, but finally tired and came to the net. A fat, 19-inch beauty, with a solid cutthroat marking. First time I have seen that in this stream.
A rainbow that wants to be a cutthroat, beautiful 19-inches
One more to hand here, another fought and lost, both in the 15 to 16-inch range. Both were similar takes, slowly rising in plain sight to the hopper right against the grass. Maybe it was the time of day and the fish were just waking up, or maybe they are just spotty throughout, but now the day was looking much brighter. The next run up, I landed another rainbow about 15-inches, then came to the drop-off at the dirt bank. Tom always likes to run big streamers through here and usually catches a nice fish or two, so I figured I'd tie one on and catch one for him. I picked out my big, ugly Skully Bugger, which had yet to catch a fish. That would soon change!
The Skully Bugger, big and ugly
Ran the Skully through the water at the drop into the hole without any interest shown. So I picked it up and started working it farther down into the corner hole. Still nothing. I hauled it a little farther, down into the slower water near the corner. Sink. Slooooow strip. Sloooo - solid stop, set, and a fish explodes out of the water. After a couple minutes of tail-dancing mixed in with solid runs, the rainbow in the range of 18" to 20" came off as I was bringing it to the net. It was fat like the previous one. Back into the water with the Skully, a little further this time. Sink. Slooooow strip. Sloooo - solid stop, same thing! Another powerful, lively fish, that ran up into the fast water, followed by a few short runs before coming unhooked. That one was for Rob (naturally). Now one for me. With a double haul, I got the fly all the way down to the large dirt bank. Sloooow strip. Slooooo - bam! Another solid, acrobatic fish, which after several more jumps and runs, was brought to the net. A solid 20-inches, another fish that would make any day.
The third rainbow of this size on the Skully
The day had gotten noticeably better! But the best, and worst, was yet to come. It was back to the hopper for the grassy runs upstream, and I found three more (only one to hand) in one of the small runs. All slowly rising on the hopper, right against the bank. Which brought me to the big, deep hole at the rock cliff. Spooked a nice one fishing a hopper along the grass in the run above the deep water, then tied the Skully back on to see if it would work its magic in this deep hole too. A couple short casts, then down into the deeper water it went. Sink. Slooooooow strip. Slooooo - stop. Set. This thing felt like a big log. It ran towards me into the faster current, then rolled on the surface. The fish was bigger than anything I had ever seen here before! Far bigger than the 20-inch fish I had just caught downstream. Easily many inches bigger than the 23-inch rainbow I found here last year. Naknek sized. Holy cow! Now I was kind of nervous. It made a bit of a run, and my heart sank as I saw loops of my loose fly line tied in a big, ugly knot that would never go through the eyes. Luckily, the fish slowed and held, allowing me to untangle the loops, let the line out through the eyes, and get it on reel. Then the monster started a real run, the line screaming out and the reel freewheeling, making another mess of loops of line. Again, the fish slowed and held while I cleaned up that mess and got it back on reel. A third run, and the fish was heading straight downstream. My fly line was approaching the backing when suddenly, there was nothing but loose line. And me standing in stunned silence. Retrieving the line, I found the tippet had parted in the 3x an inch or so below the tippet knot. Perhaps the line wasn't wrapped evenly as it got into the lesser used parts of the spool, causing the line to catch as it rapidly spooled out. Maybe it was just a weak spot in the tippet. Either way, it is now just another haunting memory of big fish lost.

I found one more rainbow up at the next corner, LDR-ing the 16 or 17-inch fish after a short fight, then it was time for the long, hot walk back to the car, wondering about what could have been. One thing for certain. I will have more Skully Buggers the next time I come.
Thirteen fish fought, seven to hand, three deer, no snakes. A great day at Nunya!

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