Predators in the wild provide an interesting dynamic in the sport of fly fishing because they can change the role of an angler for one obvious reason: You become the bait! Crazy thought isn't it? One minute you're hunting for fishy lips to bruise and the next you could potentially be bruised or worse by a hungry man eater's lips.
My good buddy Chris Holman and I were fishing a stretch of our favorite river in Colorado when we had such an experience. This particular spot on the river is surrounded by nothing but hills and fields as far as the eye can see and is known for producing giant trout in the spring and fall when the rainbow's and brown's migrate for the spawn. This is a place where an angler can find total solitude and let his mind and imagination wonder.
That afternoon we got our butt's handed to us. Between the two of us we landed maybe three small trout, but as the sun started to set we began to see signs of large feeding fish; and it seemed for a brief moment that there were goliath fish rising everywhere. What they were rising to Im not sure which wouldn't matter because we would soon get a rise ourselves.
Photo by Daniel Zimmerman
With barely enough light to see my fishing partner pointed down stream to a bush, "Do you see that?" he said. Of course I could only see rising fish. Ironically these trout were feeding on the surface next to muddy banks covered with giant cat prints that my subconscious chose to ignore. It's funny how easy it is to stamp out the voice of that little guy sitting on your shoulder when fish are on the rise. Chris repeats what he said with more urgency and as I follow the tip of his rod to see what he's pointing at, I see the head of a mountain lion the size of my chest eagerly peeking over some bushes some twenty feet down stream from where we were standing.
You know those surreal moments when time seems to stand still and everything becomes a blur like you are in some twisted dream? This was that and a pair of crap filled waders all rolled into one. For the first time in my life my fight-or-flight instincts kicked in. Leaning towards flight myself, my buddy stopped me and told my 6'5" petrified boney frame to try to look really big and start waving my fly rod around while making as much noise as possible. After a few seconds the predator realized he was made and walked slowly out from behind his point of ambush. It was then that I could see that this lion was truly a man eater in size. We were nothing more than really loud flies drifting on spaceship Earth ignorantly going about our lives much like a caddis fly before its own life comes to an abrupt end at the fins of another kind of opportunistic freshwater predator.
Photo by Kristen Patrocky
It was then that I felt a feeling of helplessness that only a skydiver with a chute that won't open could feel. Screaming as loud and as fiercely as possible we managed to throw a wrench in the carnivore's mind. Lucky for us he turned around and jogged up the hill where it's assumed he lives. Using mostly moonlight we high-tailed it in the direction of the car which was now easily 5 football fields length in distance. Armed with a headlamp and rocks we took the straightest path we could all while continuing to scream fiercly for fear of a return visit, or a visit from one of the lions friends. "We made it!" said the extremely relieved giraffe, and the first thing the gazelle did was turn on the car's head lights and blast the stereo.
Under the warm glow of a machine that reminded us of mans so-called dominion over this planet and drenched in a nervous sweat we shed our gear. It is only after such experienecs when your safe that your mind switches from flight to rational thought. Thoughts like "I wonder how long the lion was stalking us before we spotted him?" Even worse the death and chaos that surely would have erupted if we blindly kept walking towards the lion like we were.
Fly fishers are elusive, often showing brief signs of intelligence followed by hours of repetition displaying a lack thereof. Needless to say the lessons learned that night only needed to be taught once, and every return visit to this magic spot by "Lion Hill" I bring a spotter (and I don't mean for the fish), a glock 40 caliber S&W, and a healthy respect for daylight. I can honestly tell you that with all the talk of fear and death I love that lion, and not just because he didn't make a meal of me, but because he gave us an adventure. I'm greatful for the outdoor's and for fly fishing without which I would not have these amazing experiences. These are the things that keep us coming back and thankfully for once, I can be happy to tell a believable fishing story about the one that got away.