The brook’s a babbling — burbling even. I’m scouting the hole, planning my attack.
I know they stock here and studied the results of a Arizona Game and Fish survey that says hatchery trout don’t move far from where they’re dumped in the creek. Either they’re lazy, or their ambition has been blunted by life in a concrete-walled raceway.
So I’m focused right now on the stocking spots — trying to get my share before the flatlanders infest the place come Friday.
And brother — I’m looking right at my trout. He’s a little fella, hanging in the current in the partial shelter of an upstream rock.
Suddenly, a lunker flashes out from the overhang of that big old rock, grabs something off the surface and returns to his lair.
This means I’ve now got two targets.
Minding the admonitions of fly fishing guru Jim Strogen, I creep upstream through the underbrush, to cast from the head of the little pool, then spend 10 minutes drifting my fly down past where I know they’re feeding.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
Then some more nothing.
Been that kind of day.
And yet, I’m curiously unperturbed. That’s odd, considering I haven’t had a bite. Plus I’m old.
Oh, wait. You didn’t read Zachary Beard’s study on “Fate of Stocked Trout in Arizona Streams,” presented recently at the 10th Annual Native and Wild Trout Conference in Phoenix.
Arizona Game and Fish stocks about 2.5 million trout into Arizona lakes and streams every year — including Tonto Creek and the East Verde River, both included in the study. The biologists outfitted about 100 fish in each creek with little radio transmitters, then tracked their movement. They also interviewed hundreds of anglers. Along the way, they experimented by doubling the number of fish stocked in a given week to see how that affected catch rates and angler satisfaction. In the monitoring phase, they had about 1,000 radio-locations on the fish after they were stocked in the Tonto, East Verde, Black River and Little Colorado River.
They found the fish lasted an average of about a week — with some big swings from one stream to another and from one year to another. Virtually all the fish were gone within three weeks. Only about 20 to 30 percent ended up harvested by anglers — many just quit transmitting. About 80 percent of the fish never moved more than 600 feet upstream or down.
Turns out, doubling the fish in the creek boosts catch rates a little bit — but doesn’t have much impact on angler satisfaction. Most people are happy just being out there — especially families with kids. If they catch a trout, great. If not, they’re still having fun.
Fly fishermen report greater satisfaction on average, whether they catch anything or not. Spin casters aren’t far behind. The most discontented anglers are the poor fools going back and forth between spin casting and fly fishing — maybe because they’re so anxious to catch something.
And here’s the thing: Old people are more dissatisfied generally — especially if they’re not catching anything.
Now, technically, I’m old. But I’m fighting it, so I smothered by irritation at the two uncooperative trout. Moreover, I resolved to head off downstream, away from the stocked pools. That way if I don’t catch anything, I don’t have to take it personally — since I’d strayed more than 600 feet from a stocking site.
Besides, those unexplored stretches of the creek beckoned.
Sure enough, I fished one futile hole after another. I’d offer any hidden trout an opportunity to take my lovingly presented fly. But what I really wanted to do was to write off the hole so I could photograph the spillover.
In this manner, I worked my way a mile downstream in perfect happiness.
This brought me at length back close to a prime, stocked hole.
Here, one middling rainbow took pity on me, letting me bring him nearly to shore before flailing off the hook. I appreciated the gesture. That’s the sweet spot for most anglers — couple hours spent on the stream for a single trout. I don’t think a dozen trout would have made me one whit happier. The monsoon clouds came and went, the breeze rustled through the ash and walnut trees, the light glittered on the water and the music of the stream soothed me all the day long.
Maybe those other old folks get frustrated, thinking that by now they ought to be much better at fishing. But I’m a journalist, a professional dabbler. I’ve never actually gotten good at anything besides typing.
On the other hand, maybe we geezers just infuse our memories with a rosy glow, misremembering our youths as a time of golden promise — with all the pools teeming with fish. But I kept a journal in my youth. I can consult it now and see that I was full of angst and that girls weren’t much impressed by me.
So, far as I’m concerned, I’m peaking right this minute. I’m happy for every day I can still boulder-hop up a stream, savoring the possibility of trout. I’m grateful to the lazy little buggers for giving me the excuse to stand here, whether they let me catch them or not.