Mike turned to his guide, "Is it much farther?" he asked.
"No, in fact we're there," answered his guide nodding a horned head in their direction of travel.
Mike turned back and discovered that, miraculously, they were standing on the banks of the Henry's Fork of the Snake; he instinctively knew it was the Railroad Ranch pool. The sky was so blue it hurt his eyes, and it stretched from horizon to horizon in the dazzling manner only found in the west. Fluffy blue clouds dotted the skies, a light breeze swayed streamside grasses and the sun edged towards the mountains casting long shadows. The air was cool enough to touch the skin gently and it was alive with large, careening bugs.
"Salmonflies", the guide mentioned casually as he watched Mike's eyes light with wonderment, "We've hit the hatch at its peak."
On such fabled waters amongst such a legendary hatch, Mike felt inadequate standing in his dime-store waders carrying a stick he had purchased at a tag sale decades before. That was until he looked down and realized that his waders were in fact new, and the stick in his hand feather light. G3?! H2?! His bones and joints felt lighter than ever and his vision keen. And his mind was clear. What magic had brought his elderly form to this state?
The pool ahead was alive. Salmonflies danced and skittered, flapped and struggled. Trout, trophy sized rainbows and browns, rose and slashed at the lively foodstuffs.
And there were no other anglers in sight.
The guide, who went by some unpronounceable name, tied on the sweetest Salmonfly imitation ever created. With a quick glance it could have been mistaken as a natural if not for the barbed point protruding from its end.
To Mike's surprise, the guide tied the fly onto a twenty foot leader terminated in 12x tippet. "They're leader shy", he said with a wink of a great red eye.
Mike's worries about small tippet and large flies were soon realized as the too small tippet tried to carry the too large fly through the air. The fly spun as he cast and fell limply in a pile of fine leader not far from the bank.
Frustrated Mike started to lift the line from the water for another cast. Just as he began the motion, a menacingly large rainbow rose from the murk and seized the fly. Too late in his back cast to react the leader lifted from the water and the 12x parted as it it wasn't there.
The enormous rainbow cartwheeled in the air a large fly dangling from its mouth. The aerobatics were as awe inspiring as the girth of the beast. Mike stood agape as the trout leapt dozens of times.
Mike turned for another fly.
"Damn, that was my last one" said the guide.
With graceful ease the guide produced another rod, a beast of a twelve weight, single-handed rod; light as a feather. Mike thought that he'd be chucking large, jointed streamers but instead the guide threaded on a #22 Griffith's Gnat.
"Really? A gnat?", Mike asked.
"Oh sure", the demon replied, "I see a beauty of a trout out by that rock sipping gnats as they pass".
Mike scanned the water. Sure enough, about sixty feet away, slightly obscured by the haze of swirling Salmonflies, Mike saw the nose of a beautiful Brown gently sipping on the surface.
So he cast.
The first cast was right on target but the heavy line splatted against the water and spooked fish for a dozen yards. After resting the water he cast again and couldn't get the fly into the zone or spooked them again or the fly dragged in the myriad currents. The rod felt heavier and heavier and the casting became harder and sloppier and no fish looked at his fly. And still they fed on Salmonflies, except for the one.
The guide switched flies regularly moving to a #24 and then a #26 and then even smaller. Soon Mike couldn't tell if there was even a fly on the line but he cast. And in those rare moments that the fly made it into the right lane, he had refusal after refusal. Sometimes the trout's snout even touched the fly. Once he hooked it and snapped it off as he set the hook.
And the sun hung just above the mountains at precisely the angle when he had started. And it was warmer. And the demon went into the fly box once again looking for just the right thing.
And still trout slashed and frolicked. And the Salmonfly swirled and skittered. And Mike cast.
After a time, two other anglers came to the banks but Mike didn't see them as he cast to the sipping trout twenty yards away.
"He's a good guy to fish with", one said to the other nodding upstream to Mike and his bat-winged guide, "It's good to see him."
"Yes it is, Steve, yes it is", said Tom.
And they cast small flies to ambivalent trout and hooked nothing.
And so it went.