"Bonjour my friend. It is so good to see you!" Eric happily replied, and then gestured to the man standing to his left.
"This is John Paul."
"Yes, John Paul!" I said, recognizing him from pictures Eric had sent me of them fly fishing in France. I shook his hand like he was a long lost friend before we made our way to the SUV. After my gear was loaded I headed for the back seat.
"No no." John Paul said quickly stopping me, "You go..." He said, and pointed to the front seat.
I was about to protest before John Paul spoke again.
John Paul had the same shocked look of a cat that was being held over water, and he quickly turned to Eric to explain in French. I picked up a few words in their conversation, but not enough to know the full context.
"He said..." Eric began to say, but I stopped his translation by raising my palm at him.
"All he had to say was Eric's driving, and I understood." I said. Both Eric and John Paul started to laugh, but it was right at the Mountain Home exit when I was reminded why John Paul chose the back seat.
We came to a stop behind a train of ten to fifteen cars off the single lane exit into Mountain Home. This exit is just like every other exit: you either turn right, left, or go straight back on the freeway when it's your turn at the intersection. I sank bank into my seat, figuring we would have to wait a while before turning like everyone else, but Eric had other ideas. Bobbing his head around like a caged emu looking for food, Eric cranked the wheel left and stepped on the gas. I snapped up to attention, not anticipating his move ,as Eric proceeded to cut ahead of every car.
"Uhhhh." Was all that came out of me as a car ahead of us breaked just before we clipped his driver-side fender. Eric kept going despite my attempt to slam down on the imaginary break at my feet. I looked over to see the driver flailing his arms while signalling hand gestures one could only learn outside of the classroom.
"That guy's pissed." I said, as we rolled by.
"Ah yes." Eric said, about as casual as warm socks, "Next time I come I should put a sticker on the car that says 'Sorry, I am French'." Eric smiled as I looked back to John Paul who patted the backseat with a warm smile, casually leaning back and feeling safe.
"Ahhhh! It is so nice to be back here!" Eric said, after we had gone a few miles back on the dirt road heading to the South Fork. Eric slowed the SUV to a stop and opened the door.
"I have to take a picture." He said, and hopped out.
As he did I felt the SUV slipping forward as if we were heading down a slight incline.
"Oh my God!" I said to John Paul, and pointed to the driveshaft... "He left the car in drive!"
Eric got back in and took in a deep breath before closing the door. "It smells so good out here." He said, and stepped on the gas, fully aware he had left the SUV in drive.
As soon as we caught glimpses of the river all the worry of Eric's driving washed away. I smiled at the river like I hadn't seen it in over a year, because the absolute joy it brought to Eric's face was as contagious as a case of the chickenpox.
I walked a little further downstream, leaving Eric and John Paul to their run of choice, and by the looks of it it was a good spot. Eric was already on his fifth fish before my fly had even touched the water, and it looked like John Paul wasn't doing too bad either. I started a French nymphing technique when I hear a familiar voice shout at me from the trees.
"Uh, excuse me. Something I should know about?"
A smile crept on my face, recognizing the voice and the line from Top Gun.
"Brooooootherrrrr!!!" I yelled in response and turned to see him wading towards me, also brandishing a smile.
"That guy has caught three or four fish since I have seen him." Feef said, gesturing upstream.
"That's Eric Bacon, Brother."
"Yep, and he is one of the most strategic anglers I have ever met."
"Everything he does: casting, line management, fly, length of tippet... It all has a purpose." I said in earnest, adding, "He doesn't just slap on a nine foot 6-X leader and call it good."
"Eeeeee..." Feef said through gritted teeth...
"What?" I asked.
"I have a nine foot 6-X leader on and said screw it, that's good enough."
"Eeeeeeee..." I said back with a laugh, but was quickly distracted when a fish rose.
"Get it brother!" I said, knowing he was ready with his dry fly. Feef didn't disappoint. In the small amount of time it took me to switch my leader to a dry fly outfit, he had hooked and landed his first fish of the day.
Together we worked our way upstream, picking off fish as we ascended. Both Eric and John Paul had also started moving upstream, and by the looks of it they were doing just fine.
By the time we caught up with Eric and John Paul the pink mayflies were hatching, and my brother and I had just the pattern they were looking for.
Both Eric and John Paul had a pink pattern that was tied by one of the best, if not thee best, fly tyer in France, Christian Guimonnet. In all my involvements in fly fishing/tying, I have not seen a more appetizing fly than one Christian could produce. So it was no surprise that both Eric and John Paul were doubled-up onto some fish when Feef and I caught up.
Feef had never met Eric or John Paul, so a quick introduction across the river was all they got before Feef had to get going. He was able to hit the best part of the pink hatch before taking off, which is what he had hoped for. As we headed out, Eric had seen a fish rise while John Paul and I fixed up a sandwich.
We watched as Eric caught a second glimpse of the rising fish, and made a cast so that his fly landed like a feather on the surface of the water.
"Look at that!" I said to John Paul, whom was standing right beside me, also watching. I pointed down to the fly, but it wasn't the fly I was looking at. A shadow rose from the depth until it clearly became the outline of a trout, and it was pointed at Eric's fly.
Boom! The fish took, and Eric set the hook!
"These fish love French food!" Eric yelled up to us, as he fought his fish. I patted John Paul on the back as I ran off, shimming my way down the embankment in time to see Eric land his fish.
"That is a beautiful fish." Eric said, as he slipped it back into the water.
"Still, the dry fly fishing has really slowed down. Would you like to find a good spot to learn how to Spanish Nymph?" Eric asked me, as he stood back up from releasing the fish.
"Absolutely!" I said back, so we drove until we found a nice spot to practice. Eric explained the specific techniques used with Spanish Nymphing, from how to cast flies with a forty foot leader, to the specifics on how to properly allow your flies to hit first on the water, and finally how to keep constant tension on those flies.
"Wow, you catch on very quick." Eric said to me, after I had released a few fish.
"Go ahead and take my rod, if you want, and nymph with it." He suggested.
"Yes, if that's ok?" I said.
"Of course. I will watch you and let you know if you do something wrong." He said, quickly adding, "If that's ok?"
"Yes, of course." I replied, and took his fly rod to fish on my own.
There are so many subtle techniques to Spanish Nymphing, so I was a little worried I would completely screw it up without Eric's immediate council. Still, I walked along practicing the cast, and could really feel when I had performed the cast correctly. A correct presentation and technique allows your flies to drift through the water with you feeling every bump of a rock or, hopefully, tug of a fish. After a while of nymphing with not so much as a bump, I was starting to wonder if I was doing something wrong. Just then, in the middle of a drift, something jolted my fly to a stop. I quickly set the hook and looked back to see if Eric was looking as a fish flew out of the water again and again.
"Yes!" Eric yelled. He had been watching after all...
"You look French." Eric said with a smile, and with a Frenchman having just won first place during the world's fly fishing competition with Spanish Nymphing, I accepted the compliment.
"Thanks for teaching me. I have a lot of practicing to do." I admitted, recognizing some of the mistakes I had made.
"It's okay, you will only get better." Eric encouraged.
"It's getting late, do you want to look for some flatter water for the evening hatch?" I asked.
"Yes!" Eric replied, so we all piled into the SUV to find our final spot for the remainder of the day.
Being that is was passed 5:00 p.m., about 75% of the anglers had gone home for the day, leaving many of the well know flats on the river vacant.
"This spot!" I blurted out as we came to the turning point into a campsite. I had seen that it was uninhabited at the last second, but Eric had slammed on the breaks and practically drifted into the spot, so there was no need to safely slowdown and turn around.
"There is one!" Eric said, pointing out into the river where he had just seen a fish rise.
"There." John Paul chimed in, also pointing, seeing another fish rise.
"Looks like we have our spot." I said, queuing us all to turn away from the river and grab our gear.
The three of us stepped into the river together and watched for a rising fish we could each chase down.
A ways downstream I saw a fish rising ever so delicately, and wondered if it was worth wading all the way over to it. I had seen a fish rising in half the distance, and waited a while to see if it would rise again. When it hadn't I decided it was worth chasing down the further fish, so I started towards it. I froze mid-step, as the fish that was closer had risen again, only now it was so close I could have touched it with my rod tip. I could see the red stripe of it as it fed on the surface like it was starving, picking off small flies. I quickly readied my fly and thought about how to cast my fly to this fish. The leader I had my fly attached to was twenty feet in length, so I held the fly in my hand to perform a bow-and-arrow cast. I launched my fly out while simultaneously lifting my fly rod to make sure I didn't overshoot my fly. The fly hit the water a little more aggressively than I would have liked, but that didn't matter. The fish was mindlessly feeding, and lucky for me, it didn't let my fly pass by unnoticed.
After I had released the fish, I looked out to see if the further fish was still rising... it was. Of course, this fish not only pulled me much further away than I wanted to wade, but it was feeding in the middle of two seams that were making it very difficult to get a drift to this fish; and when I did get a nice drift, the fish would blatantly refused my fly. I easily worked this fish for an hour, changing flies over and over and over again. I was at a complete loss as to which fly to choose next, and then it dawned on me... I reached inside my vest to pull out a little, special, fly box I keep tucked away in the secret pocket of my vest. To any angler this little fly box would be quite the irrational panoply of flies, but each fly has over twenty years of technical fish-catching history passed down to only a select fraternity of French anglers. Amongst the fellowship, this fly is called the Jasques Dauty, named after the man who created and discovered its value over decades of fishing the USA. But to the people outside of the French brotherhood, this fly is simply known as the magic fly.
"Okay, Jasques. I know you are with me on this one." I whispered holding the fly in my fingers, and waiting for the right moment to present the fly.
The fly whirled overhead as I calculated the landing and let it fall to the water. The fly approached the fish with no flaw in the presentation, and passed over its head like it wasn't there.
"What the hell?" I said, and was about to pull up my line for a second cast when the fish did a 180 turn, and ate the magic fly!
"For, Jasques Dauty!" I yelled upstream to Eric and John Paul, as the fish bolted downstream. When the fish finally tired, I could see that the magic fly was safely secure in the fish's upper lip.
"You were going for that fish for a long time." Eric said to me after I had regrouped with him and John Paul.
"Yep, but I got it with the magic fly!" I said with a smile.
"Yes! That's why you said it was for Jasques?"
"Yep." I replied, and shot over a smile.
"The fish are starting to rise." John Paul said, looking at the water.
"Oh!" Was all Eric said, before darting away at the nearest rising fish. John Paul made a cast to a nearby fish when his line jolted to a stop. He looked back to see his fly stuck in a tree and said something in French, that I am sure meant, darn...
"It's just out of reach." Said John Paul as he strained to grab his fly.
"Is it one of Christian's flies?" I asked, as I stepped over to help.
"Yes." He said, and we both worked together to get his fly out of the tree.
"Grab that..." I said, after reaching with the butt section of John Paul's fly rod so that it hooked over the branch the fly was connected to. The long branch bent down as I pulled on it, and John Paul was able to pinch and hold a small twig that was connected to the main branch. I let go of his fly rod to get a better hold on the branch, because his fly was almost in reach. John Paul held onto his fly rod that was still hooked over the branch, as I went to grab a bigger part a few steps away when the small twig John Paul was holding snapped.
The branch sprang up launching his fly into obscurity, leaving me shielding my face and John Paul holding the tip of his fly rod; the rest of his fly rod had come apart and was hooked on the original branch above our heads.
Both John Paul and I looked at each other after the sudden commotion stilled, only to realize we were worse off than when we started. A yell off to our left grabbed our attention. It was Eric, and he has hooked into a fish. John Paul untangled the rest of his fly rod out of the shrubbery before we waded over to assist Eric.
"Oh my goodness, this is a nice fish." Eric said, palming his reel as the fish made for a run. I placed my fly rod on the bank and waded downstream to help land his fish. I waited for the right time to approach his fish, because right now it was just too fired up. A premature landing may cause the fish to bolt and snap the line, and we definitely didn't want that. As suspected, the fish started to tire, and I could see the head coming out of the water. I took a few long steps out and slipped my net under the fish to land it.
Eric didn't spend too much time admiring his fish, because there were now rising fish in every direction we looked. In fact, as Eric was fighting that last fish, John Paul had hooked and landed a fish on his own. We were definitely in the right spot because soon after I was in a fish too.
"Me too, me too!" Eric yelled back at me, after I had made my hooked fish known. Both of our fish were all kinds of fired up, and were making us wade downstream almost side by side. Eric's fish came in first, and because he was just downstream from me, he landed my fish in the same net as his.
"I think my fish is the bigger one." He said with a smile as he approached me.
"I bet you do." I said back, as we slipped both of our fish back into the water.
"I think I better stop with that fish." Eric said, as he gathered his fly line back together.
"Are you kidding? There are still so many fish rising out there."
"But I cannot see." Eric said.
"One more fish!" I chanted about three times before Eric stood back up, smiled, and said... "Okay, one more!"
"Yeaaaaaah!" I said, standing along side Eric and wading out into the darkness.
"THERE!" Eric yelled.
"Geez, already?" I said, as it had to have been his first cast to a fish. Either way, he was done for the night, and stopped to make his last cast at the South Fork one with a fish attached to it.
Eric took a quick picture of Christian's fly in the fish's mouth before letting it go.
"Come on, Erik, you have to stay out here until you catch a fish!" Eric yelled at me from the bank.
I was beginning to regret my decision to go for one more as I waded deeper and deeper out in the river. If before we could hardly see, now it was impossible. I stood with my fly in my hand listening for a rise.
The sound of a rising fish is subtle, but the slight disturbance in a riffle makes it unmistakable. Blind to its exact location, I cast slightly upstream from where I hear the noise and didn't hear it again. After a few casts I was starting to lose hope, but in the middle of a drift I heard it.... Blop!
"BLAM! I GOT YOU!" I yelled, as I felt the weight of a fish.
"YES!" Eric yelled from the bank, as I slowly started wading backwards towards him. Splashes and the thrashing of water was the only indication I had hooked a fish. It was too dark to see the fish in action, as it fought to get away. Eric didn't wait to be asked for help. As I brought in the fish I saw his silhouette out in the water, and he was already in position to land the fish. He stood there not moving a muscle, and therefore the fish had no idea he was there. I angled my fly rod around to bring the fish right at Eric, who scooped up the fish as soon as it was in reach.
"Last cast!" I said smiling, and held the fish up for a picture.
"It is always good to fish with you." Eric said to me, as we put our gear together.
"It is never long enough." I said back, and meant it.
"You were right, one more fish." He said smiling.
"It took me a little longer to get my fish." I said.
"I was starting to worry, but then I remembered... I am fishing with Erik Moncada. Of course he will catch a fish." Eric said, matter-of-factly.
"Now you're making me blush." I said back with a smug smile.
"Very good fishing with you." John Paul said, and shook my hand to authenticate his words.
"Yes, and very nice to meet you."
"Now you know three people in France, so you have to come and visit!" Eric said.
"I will do my best to get over there." I said, as we drove away from the South Fork.
Wingers was our final stop of the night, and we all ordered their gourmet salads which passed the taste test of both Eric and John Paul. We ate as they shared memories from fishing their home waters in France. The time flew by as we spoke about French rivers and how they differ from the US, French flies, and the Spanish nymphing technique... Indeed, the night lasted hours, but with three trout bums reminiscing around the table...we never noticed.