I could see the tail, bigger than my hand and slapping the surface as the fish fed in thigh deep water on the edge of the gravel bar. I was 100 feet away, and the stalk was going to be an issue. For some reason I hadn't put my wading boots on and I wasn't feeling very sure footed in the slippery cobble in my sandals. I inched forward, one careful foot at a time in knee deep water, willing the cobble to stick and not shift beneath my feet. I spotted a tailer about 30 feet in front of me and slowly came out of my crouch to stand tall and straight. The smaller tailer spotted me, but as I had hoped, he didn't hard spook...instead he simply stopped feeding and slowly peeled off into the depths. I kept going, back in a crouch, one carefully placed foot at a time. 70 feet...60 feet...50 feet...."I can make this cast" I thought but Rule #2 popped into my head (Don't cast until you can see their head) so I continued my painfully slow stalk. 40 feet...30 feet...I could see gills and a rounded head. I didn't dare get any closer. I stripped out some line, cast just past the fish and dragged the front fly (a San Juan worm) into position and dropped it. I counted to 5 to let the fly sink to the bottom in the slightly deeper water and as I said "5" in my head I saw a flash of white and set the hook hard.
I nearly lost the fish right then. Most 20 plus lb fish are dogs, but this guy blasted out into the river in an instant and I almost got in my own way. Fly line peeled off the reel, backing next and I looked out to see a barge way out in the river. I laughed at the idea of this fish catching the barge, then reconsidered the laughter as backing continued to disappear. Eventually, the fish slowed, and I towed her back in to my waiting net. 36 inches, 26 lbs...a real, serious athlete.