Stick Fish

Jason is just finishing the layout and design of book four in the Fly Fishing series. It’s title is The Angler as Predator, and this story is from Chapter One. Watch for more excerpts as we get closer to publication date.


I’d fished the upper Test several times before, but this time, I was on the lower Test, only a few miles above salt, and my host was Brian Clarke. It was midsummer, and the grasses measured themselves against the tops of the fence posts. The sun danced in a clean, blue sky, and the wind busied itself elsewhere. As we signed the register in the low, ancient stone clubhouse, a beekeeper arrived to gather a swarm and set up a new hive.

“The rules are very strict, here,” Brian said, almost apologeticly. “It’s dry fly only, and only to rising fish.

“What about fishing across stream or down with the dry,” I asked, certain that I already knew the answer.

“Across is okay if that’s the only possible angle,” Brian noted, “but downstream is strictly verboten.”

Jawohl,” I saluted in a mock military fashion.

The weather was certainly fine, and I was stalking wild brown trout with an old friend on a magnificent piece of storied water, what did I care if it was a river of “thou shall not.” It would be fun. Until we started, of course, and there were no rising fish. We watched and waited and watched and waited.

“You hang out here,” Brian instructed, “and I go upstream and see if anything’s going on up there.”

So I did. I was near a straight stretch of meadow water, and grasses crowded the banks, even tipping over into the water. Here and there a shrub edged in, dipping its toes and limbs into the stream. My side of the river was in full bright sunlight, the far one-third was in shadow. If there were any rising fish in this non-hatch period, they would most certainly be along the shadowy bank. That, of course, meant that being on the sunlight side made me all the more visible. I knelt in the tall grasses to be as unnoticeable as possible, and waited.

I found myself on the sunlit side of the Test and so knelt in the tall grasses to minimize my presence to the fish.

My patience was rewarded when I noted a rise in the shadows along the far bank. I looked more closely. There it was again, just down stream from a small, bare branch that dragged in the surface. As I watched I noted that the branch was dipping down a bit under the pull of the current, and then springing back again. Every seven or so pull/spring cycles, the tip of the limb would pop fully out of the water, and then dip under again.

I crept forward on my knees until I was about three feet back from the edge and settled in to watch a bit more. The fish was still rising, and the stick still dancing. It would be quite a trick if I could perform it. But this was a rising fish, and I was burning daylight. I counted the bounces of the stick. On number five I flipped the grass-green fly line into the air and shot the little dry across stream. It fell perfectly, right in line with the fish. The stick bounced again, number six. The fly drifted down, and it looked like I had taken a chance that wasn’t going to pay off. Then suddenly just as the leader was about to touch the stick, it lifted cleanly out of the way, and the fly slipped neatly under. The trout rose and took the little imitation positively. I tightened, and was greeted with the wiggles of a small fish. It was a brown of about ten inches.

After some time, and with no more fish spotted, I wandered up to find Brian. He was kneeling and watching a corner pool. Nothing was rising, so I called to him, and he motioned me over.

“I got a little brown that was rising just down stream of that bush on the other side,” I told him, and then explained my solution to the problem.

“Yes,” he remarked casually, “I’ve had him out twice—just wanted to see how you’d do with him.”

I wasn’t sure if I’d just passed a test on the Test, or if Brian was just messing with me. Either way, it was a perfect start to a day that ended with a heavy rise of fish just at dark. We caught many, but none stick in my memory like the stick fish.


  1. Theo Bakelaar says:

    Hi Gary…..great story, like the way how it all happened. But look out for English people, they fool around with you. They know all the weed in the river and they know were every fish stays. Maybe the fish has a number too.