When Matt and I discuss Rocky Creek, it’s a bit like reenacting a scene from a 1980s Cold War spy thriller. The raven wakes at midnight. The Usual worked on the Stream. In a similar vein, if we were to tell you where Rocky Creek is (in keeping with the spirit, this is a codename given to it by Matt and used by the few of us who speak of it) we’d have to kill you.
Which is, of course, a joke. Mostly.
Truth is a lot more people know about the place than I’d like to admit. As I was walking away from the stream this afternoon I encountered a trio of older ladies—birders, I assumed, from the high-end optics hanging around their necks—who asked me how the fishing was. I downplayed it a bit, but one of the woman responded, Yeah, those fish are fun, aren’t they? I’ll admit, it upset me a little. Kinda broke my world view for a moment to think there are more than, like, six people who know this stream exists.
I take some relief in the fact that most people who bother to fish this place probably do it once and never again. It’s not the most intuitive trout water out there. It’s not the most accessible. It is steep and rocky with subtle lies that take repeated trips to figure out. Half of the time you’ll hook a chub, and most of the rest of the time you’ll hook brook trout that are tiny, even by brook trout standards. This is 2-weight territory, when the rest of the world is built for 5-weights and spinning rods.
Despite having no special regulation, the stream is essentially catch-and-release, since ninety-nine out of a hundred fish brought to hand will come in under 8 inches. There are, however, legends that we tell each other of bigger fish that exist here, in the almost impossible crags and mini-holes between the purple quartzite rock. I refer to these mythical beasts as The One That Could Be Kept.
I have caught a few 8-inches here, and maybe one or two that were touching 9 inches. I’ve never been quite sure if there would be anything much larger. Nobody that I know has ever seen one, if they exist.
So that was the background to a trip I took up there in early May, an after-work jaunt that allowed me to steal the last hour or so of daylight throwing dries (it doesn’t matter which dry, really, but I prefer a size 16 Elk Hair Caddis) to the little critters. It was a rather slow evening by Rocky Creek standards, and a rather poor performance from yours truly: the few rises I had in an otherwise productive pool I missed due to the evils of slack. Twilight began setting in, which comes even sooner here in the forested valley. I had maybe two fish to hand, another half dozen totally boofed, and was nearly out of light enough to see my caddis on the water.
So here I am, the last pool to fish before I pack it up and head home. I can barely see what I’m doing. This pool has never produced much for me, and it doesn’t look like it should. It’s shallow, hardly any depth change, a little bit of current. I send out a cast, get a rise, and miss another one.
This is obviously not my night.
Then, to the right of the pool, in a spot that looks unlikely as Hell, an unprompted rise. Now, you should know that even the littlest little brookie in this water will produce these spectacular rises that belie their size. But even understanding that, this was an ROUS: an Rise of Unusual Size. This was, no doubt, a bigger fish.
When you find a fish here, and you put the cast out where you want it, you have to expect that the fish will almost always take on the first drift. I couldn’t screw this up, in other words.
In the waning light I make a cast—not the best, but good enough—right where I saw the rise, and hoped like Hell I could put this one together and hold on to whatever bit back.
The fish rose, just like before. My rod tip rose in response. Now, again, this is 2-weight territory, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
But, I swear to all the Gods, that damned thing doubled over.
That fish took me across the pool, up a bit, across again, as I fought to bring it to net. It slashed once near the surface, and I could tell this was the biggest fish I’ve seen in this stream. Oh Gods, please don’t lose this one…!
When it touched the net it took off again, bending the rod all sorts of sideways. Finally, with a deft swing of the net, I had ‘im. The caddis popped free of its lip and the net exploded with life as I held it in the water. I gently raised the brookie and held it against the grip of my reel. The grip-plus-reel-seat on the rod is just a shade under 10 inches; the fish was just a shade longer than that.
I took a few quick pictures in the darkness, and let it go. No reason to cast again. I sprung back to the car, wadered down, and headed home, knowing that the rest of the work week would be a lot more tolerable now.
That 10-inch fish will likely be my biggest catch of the year. This was obviously not my night; it instead belonged to the beasts that legends are made of, in the most unlikely of places.