The Lurker in a Sweeper

Fly fishing in September
Fly fishing in September

A tale of a fishing … fish? 

September is, to hear some tell it, one of the best fly-fishing months of the year. The weather is cooler, the water is cooler, the streams are low and clear, and the fish are really hungry. The colder water stimulates their metabolism and they feed with a renewed sense of aggressive urgency as if knowing, somehow, that winter is coming and food will soon be scarce. 

It’s as good a time as any to be out fishing and better than most — given the reasons above and the beauty of the mountains this time of year. I love it, but I’m just one of many small-stream junkies who gets their jollies sneaking around autumn-colored creeks with a light bamboo rod, a box of flies, and the innocent expectations of a 12-year-old. 

Last September, my son and I were fishing a small, alder-choked headwater creek in the Mummy Range where the bushes grew so tight to the stream that, if you didn’t know it was there, you’d walk right past it. Casting, at least in the classic sense, was out of the question. We had to sneak up to the edge of the creek and reach over the alders with our rods to dangle and dap our flies on the water. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. We caught lots of brook trout and some pretty, little greenback cutthroats doing exactly that. 

Eventually though, we grew itchy for some casting room, so we reeled in and headed for bigger water downstream. We finally came upon a stretch of open water with a high, grassy bank on one side and a big, dead, fir sweeper piled up at the end of the run. The water ran deep and dark against the fallen tree and a frothy carpet of foam swirled in the eddy at its base. It couldn’t have been more obvious that this was the home of a big trout if there’d been a sign with his name on it and an arrow pointing at the eddy saying “Cast Here.” 

So, I did. 

Unfortunately, my cast was off target, and my leader wrapped itself around one of those springy, black fir branches, leaving my fly to dangle and bounce in the current above the hole. Of course, you know what happened next: A fish rose from beneath the fly and grabbed it. Only instead of the big old brook trout I expected, it turned out be a dinky little 4-incher. He hooked himself on the tangled fly and hung there, thrashing helplessly. I was about to wade in and release him when a brown trout that looked to be as long as my forearm slid out from under the tree trunk, snatched the dancing brook trout and disappeared beneath the foam — fish, fly, leader, and about six inches of fir twig went with him. I wondered if that trout enjoyed September fishing as much as I did. 

Dennis Smith is a freelance outdoors writer and photographer whose work appears nationally. He lives in Loveland.