Steven Garbin remembers a fish he wishes he never caught.
On this particular day in Jackson Hole I was not fly-fishing, which is customary and requires a bit more skill. I wasn’t fishing on the Snake River either. I was in the back yard, casting from the same rock that I had been fishing from since I was six years old.
And I was getting impatient – probably sunburned. Frustrated by the wind and pond plants. But, I had felt a bite. As such, I was ignoring the impossibly beautiful scenery in lieu of a small palette of shimmering pond at the end of my line.
As far as fishing goes, I have had it pretty good. Aside from the well stocked pond in Jackson Hole, my family also owns property on a fishing ranch near Daniel, WY (pop. 100). People go there to do serious fly-fishing on the Green River and its tributaries. I never liked it much.
When I was ten, I went fishing in Northern Michigan and Sault St. Marie, Canada for some very large salmon. There are pictures of a 100 lb. me holding a 20 lb. fish from that trip. I caught it myself.
I also went deep-sea fishing when I was about thirteen. To me, it was hot and boring. We didn’t have many bites that day and spent most of our time just floating. “I’d rather be sailing,” I said. I meant it.
I finally had something on the line. (S)he was easy to reel in. Pulling the fish out of the water, I turned it over (to confuse it, I suppose?), exposing the characteristic red gills of a cutthroat trout. I went to remove the three-pronged spinner hook, but looking closer I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I forgot to clamp down the barbs on the hook.
This procedure of clamping down barbs on fish-hooks is sacred amongst the fishermen in my family. Although it makes it a bit more challenging to keep an excited trout on the line, it also makes the “release” portion of “catch and release” more achievable.
At this point, I knew I was either going to rip this cutthroat’s lip off or I needed a pair of needle-nose pliers. After placing the fish back in the water – still hooked – and securing my pole on the old rock, I started running.
There are hundreds of flies in the garage in Jackson Hole. I tied a number of them myself, back when I used to do that sort of thing. Nymphs mostly, but I liked the challenge of the occasional wooly bugger or hopper now and then. When I was seventeen I thought I wanted to become a surgeon and I believed that tying flies would be good for my dexterity. I’m not a surgeon. I never tried organic chemistry in college because I was afraid of failing.
Armed with pliers from the garage I set to the work of tamping down the barbs on the three-pronged hook, which had been purchased in town. This task was made considerably more difficult by the necessity of my holding a desperate fish in my left hand.
When I finally removed the hook I immediately tossed the trout back into the water. Although I hadn’t ripped the cutthroat’s lip off, there was a bit of blood on my hand. The fish was floating upside down. Do dead fish float? I reached for the murky water near the rock to wash the blood from my hands. When I looked up, the fish was gone. It swam away. Maybe it sank, and floated into the weeds.
On the rock near the water in a part of Jackson Hole, I think I killed a fish.
photo: usfwsmtnprairie / flickr