Quest For The Perfect Fishing Hole

Crafty reporter braves bruised shins, gathering thunder and the rude laughter of the trout

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I stand stalwart with my fly rod in the mighty East Verde, entertaining the hatchery trout to the best of my haphazard abilities. It seems to be working -- although I must admit these be hatchery trout: They don't get out much and as a consequence are very easily amused.

I flip my pseudo great hairy mosquito on the still surface of a small, deep pool at Second Crossing along Houston Mesa Road. The yellow fly line undulates over my head, collapses in a intricate pile on the water and drops my little tuft of hair and bristle like a rag doll ballerina atop the mirrored surface of the pool.

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Tonto Creek is stocked mid-week and some of the best fishing is downstream from Bear Flat.

The trout dumped by the bucket-full without ceremony or apology into the stream just that morning mill about in a tight little hatchery school for delinquents and hard cases -- forming a fishy mob just under my hopeful fly.

First one, then another, then a third, rise to the surface all about my fly.

They blow little bubbles: I can hear the silvery sound of trout laughter as the bubbles pop.

One comes right up under my fly. I think he intends to balance my fly on the tip of his nose, but at the last minute realizes that he doesn't have a nose -- which must surely disconcert him.

So he just kind of nudges it and makes a gurgly, derisive sort of trout raspberry sound. Then he goes back down with his delinquent buddies and makes some smart trout comment, that makes them all just shimmer down there. I am not amused. Trout have a weird sense of humor.

But perhaps I am taking all of this scorn for my fly too personally.

I mean. It's just a fly. It's not like they even know me. So technically, it's not a rejection. Is it?

Better focus.

My fearless editor said I should go out there and find some secret Zen incarnation of a fishing hole and then hurry back on deadline to reveal its precise location to our beloved readers. Normally, he wants me to hurry out and write about town council meetings -- so when he suggested the secret fishing hole idea, I was out the door before he finished the sentence.

So here I stand, at one of the deep spots the nice fellow from the Tonto Creek Hatchery stocks on his weekly run.

No doubt about it, this is an awesome fishing hole -- chock-full of fish. The woods climb the hillside away from the creekside. Not 10 minutes ago, a female elk the size of a furry-footed Clydesdale came crashing through the trees and stood there just across the creek -- slack-jawed and astonished to find me at her watering hole.

The wind at the front of a storm front shivers through the leaves overhead. The rich, damp, earth smell rises from the creek. I'm half high on thunderstorm ozone. Save for the mockery of the peanut-brained hatchery trout, I'm in this fervored, Zennish state of bliss. So, yeah. It's the perfect fishing hole.

Except, of course, I obviously ain't gonna catch any fish.

Shouldn't the perfect fishing hole be a place where you catch fish?

Hmmm. Best keep looking.

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Knoll Lake, on the Rim off Forest Road 300, has been a favorite fishing spot for years. The distance from Payson thins out the weekend crowds. The lake is regularly stocked by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Two trout come to the surface in the middle of the pond. One flips my fly to his buddy, who bats it back, laughing. They play badminton for a little bit with my fly -- while the rest of the rainbows clap their little fins.

So I reel in my fly, advise my poor little Pinocchio mosquito not to take it to heart that he's just string and fluff and that all those mean trout are making fun of him. I love him. That should be enough.

So we head off along the stream -- my fly and I.

I climb up some rocks and down some rocks. I cross on a narrow log with the instinctive grace of a one-legged orangutan on hallucinogens. I slip off a rock and bruise my shin and douse my cell phone.

And after a certain amount of adventure, I come to a place where the stream has cut a wide, deep slot in flood-smoothed granite. The pool is protected from the upstream trout stocking by a small waterfall -- so I know that it harbors no fish. I have made a deep study of trout and their habits. I know where to find them. This narrow pool contains no fish to mock me -- except, perhaps, for some gleam of a minnow that spawned in a raindrop.

It is nearly dark. The rain has gathered force -- and falls now in a cheerful spatter, making dozens of spreading rings like so many rising trout.

I care not a whit for fish. I'm drunk on the sound of the little waterfall at the head of the pool and the smack of the raindrops and the smell of the storm and the gathering of the darkness. The insect-hunting swifts with their heartlong skims across the water have already given way to the crazed flutter of the moth-loving bats.

So I uncoil my line and cast my fly upon the empty water, a ritual gesture to express my reverence for the moment.

The trout takes my fly the instant it hits the water -- and runs off with the line. I stand, thunderstruck, watching the line zigzag. He is the Michael Jordan of East Verde River trout. I could tie him to a rowboat and sell rides to children. He could swallow ducks and frighten bullfrogs.

So I play him and bring him close and compliment him on his rainbow and thank him on behalf of myself and my fly-- as we are both feeling all better. Then I take out my surgeon's lock clips and extract my fly and send him back out into the perfect trout pool.

The editor says I should tell you exactly how to find this pool -- this being my job and all.

But I won't do it.

You can pierce my ear with a barbed fly on the back stroke (been there, done that).

You can break my toe on a rock (been there, done that).

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The perfect fishing hole is not a place, it's a state of mind.

You can make me lick that disgusting gunk that makes the flies float (been there, done that).

But I ain't telling. It's for your own good. The perfect fishing hole is not a place, it's a state of mind, it's a fluke of fate, it is a happy accident. I cannot give you directions.

Please do not tell the editor this -- but I already knew this about fishing holes before I set out.

It was a trick to get out of the office. And it worked.

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