Large expedition lands big fish and big smiles
I’ve known thirteen-year-old Nick Cruz for a few years now. We go back about six, when I was enthusiastically coaching Mighty Mites and he was one of my favorite alpine athletes. I remember standing around at the bottom of Chair 6 many a cold winter morning, talking about fly fishing with Nick’s dad Gabe, as I waited patiently for several forty-pounders to exit the doors of Main Lodge and click into 90cm skis.
At the time Gabe had yet to try fly fishing, and I was in the infancy stages of starting to guide on river. It was only a couple years later, when I ended up on the Upper Owens River one summer morning with Nick, Gabe, and Gabe’s father, Victor that Gabe pulled the trigger from those conversations, and hired my services to teach them all to fly fish. It was a successful morning. I do remember, however, Gabe’s particular emphasis on the “catching” aspect of fly fishing. Gabe wanted to nail lots and lots of trout. If I remember correctly, it was a slow start that morning, but the action eventually turned on, and three generations of Cruz boys left the water happy, with a working set of fly fishing skills.
Fast forward to 2013. About four weeks back, I find an email in my inbox from Gabriel Cruz. Predictably enough, he wants to go fly fishing again. I was honored by the request. When three or four years pass since hearing from a client, you don’t know if they’ve moved on from fly fishing, or went out and found another guide. Yet, here was Gabe’s electronic voice again, with a request for a trip. He wanted me to take out, Victor, Nick and him again, only this time, we would be joined by four other anglers: two sets of father and son, their neighbors. Yes, seven total anglers. To date, I hadn’t received a request for such a large group, and it required some strategic planning. Especially, since the additional four had never cast a fly rod before, and didn’t know what they were to expect. Gabe and I talked price on the phone, as he was concerned that the total bill for three guides would be a bit high in the eyes of the rookies, who could be left wondering if paying for a morning on a river was really a sound investment. Gabe mentioned that he could duck out of the program, which would leave us with only six anglers, dropping the number of required paid guides from three to two. But, I convinced him that with the fresh talent he was bringing to the table, a third guide would definitely be the way to go. With Gabe convinced, the deal was sealed.
I’ve been spending some time on the San Joaquin River this season, which is producing great fly fishing conditions, but seven is just too large a group for that fishery. I inquired with longtime guide Terry Lucian, who guides of out Kittredge Sports as I do, about where we should go. Terry mentioned that the Upper Owens would be a great place. It has been fishing well. I got confirmation from fellow Kittredge guide Steve Curran that he was onboard for assistance for Friday, July 12, and the group of ten of us (three guides and seven clients) found ourselves at the doorsteps of Kittredge Sports at 7 a.m. that day. When Gabe pulled up with his highly enthusiastic group, the first thing that he told me was that Nick has been talking only about catching trout on the fly for a few days now. Pressure on. I took Nick, Gabe, and Victor under my wing. Terry took father and son pair Alex and Ben, as Steve gladly accepted the assignment of instructing David and Alex.
A short drive to the Upper Owens River, we found ourselves on a spot quite popular for guide trips. Fortunately, it was wide open when we arrived, and there was plenty of room for a group of that caliber. Terry addressed the entire group on the fundamentals of fly fishing, a fifteen minute instruction of everything from knot tying to bug identification to casting. Steve and I got the rigs ready. We got on the water, groups spreading out, and began fly fishing.
Gabe’s first catch was something measuring around the length of my pinky finger. Not impressed with the first trout of the day, he understandably wanted something much bigger. I changed up bugs on his rig, set him on a hole, grabbed Nick, and the two of us rolled upstream. Within ten minutes, I heard Gabe yelling, “Trout On!” and sure enough, his rod was bent. I ran down to assist him, to find an eight-inch rainbow in his net. He thanked me for the help, and sent me off to help his son. That’s when all of a sudden, the magic truly clicked.
I put Nick on a run just above Terry and his group of Alex and Ben. Alex and Ben were getting into plenty of bent rods. Giving the other two anglers plenty of space, I told Nick where to cast, and on the first drift, the indicator stopped dead current. He instinctively set the hook, and within a couple of seconds, we saw a beautiful, large brown trout on the other end of the line. In a world of foot-long planted rainbows, Nick had a trophy wild brown trout on his line. It was large enough, characteristic of brilliant colors, that I was beyond excited, as I even heard myself yelling downstream, “Terry, we have a HUGE brown trout!” The moment of enthusiasm changed to anxiety in a microsecond; as I realized that this trout was going to fight, and Nick had to do everything right to land it.
With three weight rod in hand, Nick was above the trout. The first thing I did, checking to make sure his line was tense, was tell him to get downstream of the trout, so the hook could be better set. “Rod tip up. Rod tip up. Rod tip up.” That’s what he heard me say, as I helped him step through the grasses and mud to better position himself against big brown trout. I sensed the trout begin to run, and commanded “Let line out!” He did, perfectly. As the brown stopped a few feet out, Nick heard me instruct “Reel!” We did this a few times, playing the game of cat and mouse. The brown trout jumped two feet out of the water, not once, but three times. My heart stopped each time it did, as I envisioned the beast spitting the hook. It never did. Eventually, the trout wore itself down and I sensed it could be beached, and beached it we did. Even though Gabe had hinted that morning that he wanted a dinner of fresh trout that evening, we snapped a photo of it, and sent it back on its merry way. I reconnected with Gabe sometime later. Taking the digital camera out of my pocket and showing him the evidence of the catch, his only word was, “Wow!” I can only assume what the desktop photo is on his computer today. The morning continued on, productive as expected.
At noon we all gathered around the trucks. Nick caught the biggest trout of his life. His pop got into trout. His grandfather was pleased. The other two fathers Alex and David are chatting with Terry and Steve about the cost of gear, a clear sign that Terry and Steve dialed them onto plenty of trout, and opened up for them the door into the world of fly fishing. The other two boys Ben and Alex were talking about how beautiful the surroundings were, and how much fun they had. In short, it was a perfect trip. We had three experienced fly anglers walk away content, and four new ones who were ecstatic about what they just experienced. I was so proud to be a part of the Kittredge team. We all shook hands, as we parted ways. I gave Nick a big hug, and told him how proud I was of him. He listened to every word that I said during that fight. We didn’t lose that trout, and we have photographic evidence to prove it. It was just a perfect morning on the water. That’s the glory of guiding, taking out great kids like Nicholas Cruz, and putting them onto trout. Boy, did I set the standards high for the next time Gabe Cruz calls me. It’s all good stuff.
A more detailed report can be found at http://kittredgesports.com/fishing_report.php. Leonard guides for Kittredge Sports. Call 760.934.7566.
Nick Cruz and a large Owens River Brown