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Salt Lake City, Utah

Rod Breaker - A Fish Tale

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Rod Breaker - A Fish Tale

An Dinh

Ben's Rhodo rod above snapped fighting Rod Breaker (image reconstructed by forensic artist based on eye witness accounts)

Ben's Rhodo rod above snapped fighting Rod Breaker (image reconstructed by forensic artist based on eye witness accounts)

This is one of those stories where you have to be there to fully appreciate the epic details.

I've encountered Rod Breaker thrice. 

The first time was like turning a corner to find myself face to face with a grizzly (I imagine).  The shock paralyzed me from doing anything meaningful.  Far too late, my brain finally processed that the creature finning within arms reach wasn't an otter or a beaver and probably wouldn't eat me, but also probably  saw me clumsily round the corner.  And just as I stepped backward, reaching for my line, the dark shadow sunk to the depths of the pool and vanished.

Dramatization of true events  - Rod Breaker is presumed to be much larger than our stand in (above) using the best scientific estimates.

Dramatization of true events  - Rod Breaker is presumed to be much larger than our stand in (above) using the best scientific estimates.

This is a small stream that you can stride across in two steps.  Most of the stream is 6-12 inches deep with a few deeper pools below dead falls that might reach your waist.  It has better than average fish - lots of 13-14 inchers, so there is plenty of food in the stream.

About 1 month before this encounter I visited this favorite stream only to find it blown out by runoff.  That's when I met The Contractor, a part retired fly fisherman who owned a construction business in Southern Utah.  He was packing up his camp after fishing the previous week while it was still clear and awesome. 

This was the first time I'd ever come across another fly fisherman on this stream. 

I got the impression he was highly suspicious of me being on his stream, but given that the water was high and I was a catch and release type we chatted each other up a little.  We spoke mostly in generalities that the fishing is usually better than other places without being too specific about where we liked to fish on this small stream.  This is the fly fishing equivalent of circling each other with daggers drawn waiting for the other guy to flinch.  Then The Contractor flinched.  Just before launching into a paranoid rant about local bait fisherman, DWR conspiracies and his problems with pic-nickers he dropped a bomb.  He distinctly said that because of said atrocities there were fewer 20 inch fish in the stream. 

I immediately filed him away under crack pot old timer.  Surely, he was just baiting me.  This stream was too small to have any fish over 17 inches and that would be really pushing it.  I figure he has poor depth perception and is probably yanking my chain.  But, I can now confidently discount any information he purports as the ravings of an old crank and slowly make my way back to my car.

Discouraged by the early runoff, I didn't return for another month. 

I usually fish the same mile or so of stream.  It has a low canopy demanding a 9-10 foot Tenkara rod or a 7' western rod with a short line.  At one point the otherwise long straight runs of wadable stream hit a stand of big cottonwoods digging a deep pool and cut bank under a gnarled and intimidating root ball I call the "Jaws of Death".  There the flow reverses direction and snakes around this immovable column of trees.  Below the deep pool a wide shallow pool has formed where the smaller trout (though smaller is still 12-14 inches) act as look outs for Rod Breaker in exchange for the crumbs that are not worth his time.

I continued fishing the runs above here for another mile or so, as I hatched a plan to catch the behemoth. The fishing above here is excellent.  But it was a little overshadowed by the thought that I might catch one of the largest and smartest fish in my life. 

To my reckoning the odds of me failing were huge.  Since I was fishing a small water, I was under gunned with only a 3 wt bamboo rod and my 9 ft Soyokaze.  To even get a cast in, I would need to clear the lower pool of fish without spooking them and letting them sound the alarm.  Even if I manage to get into position to cast by creeping in slowly and staying low, I'd have to deal with the bizarre eddy the deep pool creates as it redirects the stream backward on itself and around the Jaws of Death.  So even if I make the cast and keep enough line off the water to avoid drag and coax Rod Breaker to eat, the Jaws of Death are right there - waiting to eat my line and provide sanctuary from pesky fishermen.

I back tracked downstream, hid behind logs for cover and began picking of the sentries one by one.  Then I crept along the outer bank to stay out of the water and avoid sending ripples into his lair.  I waited and watched.  There were several good fish working the drop off, but they were not Rod Breaker.  I must have missed a patrol fish or wasn't as stealthy as I thought.  He wasn't there.  I was bummed.

Then a hapless caterpillar plummeted from the branches above and splashed on the water.  Several big fish turned with mouths gaping but Rod Breaker materialized below the squirming terrestrial.  The beta fish peeled off and let the alpha casually follow the meal for a few seconds before rising just beneath the surface as the caterpillar disappeared with plop.

A shadow from the deep

A shadow from the deep

I rigged up a big high floating stonefly with a fat pink killer bug dropper on 4X.

The stonefly got Rod Breaker to surface, but he turned and hit the simple dropper - Oyster shetland spindrift yarn (pink) wrapped on a curved hook.

It was on!  I splashed into the water as my rod doubled over.  Rod Breaker splashed angrily back.  He headed straight for the Jaws of Death.  The tippet snapped as he weaved his way through the roots and snags.  He took my pride and both flies with him.  As I said, I was under-gunned.  But I had to try, right?



I whispered an apology to the Contractor under my breath.  He was right.  There are 20 inchers in here.

Round 2 with Rod Breaker ended in much the same way.   I brought my Helios 2 10 ft 5wt rod, used a tenkara rod to pick off the sentries.  This time Rod Breaker was cruising beneath the Jaws of Death and making casual but steady forays into the main current to gulp large drakes. I crept into position and rolled a nice cast into the zone.  This time he took the dry - a big parachute adams.  I kept side pressure on him as he bull dogged toward the Jaws of Death.  I actually worked him into the shallow pool briefly as I fumbled for my net as he leapt out of the water and crashed backward and off my line.  Flies and fish huddled deep beneath the cottonwoods.

No one back home believes me.  When I mention the Contractor and my own experience, folks basically debunk me.  They think Rod Breaker is a Sasquatch and they have fairly convincing reasons to downsize the beast.  They think that there probably is a big fish, but it's not as big I know him to be.  The stream after all is a freestone and the fish have a short growing season.  I was half convinced myself.   I told myself, he could still be 18 inches and dwarf the other fish in the stream.

Afterward I had my eyes checked and my prescription didn't change at all.  I need a witness.

Ben, needed to catch a few fish so he volunteered to drive to the remote stream.

We set up on Rod Breaker's lair as planned.  Ben pulled a nice brown out of the guard pool.  I went in for the kill shot and hooked into what I thought was Rod Breaker.  I steered it clear of the Jaws of Death and Ben helped me net the handsome fish.  But it was only a 17 inch rainbow.  I say "only" not because it wasn't a gorgeous and healthy specimen, but because it just wasn't what my imagination had conceived.  So I was more than a bit deflated that Rod Breaker wasn't as big as I thought.  I guess the light and shadows magnify her silhouette (this rainbow was a female).  The post adrenaline let down meant that I didn't take any photos or an underwater release shot.  I just wasn't into it.  I told Ben to fish the rest of the pool while I rested my ego some.

Ben exploded into chaotic excitement, he was fishing a tiny tenkara rod - the Rhodo and it was severely bent as Ben tried in vain to keep Rod Breaker from the Jaws.  And just as suddenly - SNAP! Ben's rod shattered just above the handle.  The handle segment is the strongest segment and rated over 30+ pounds!

We were both in actual shock, trading bewilderment over the shattered bits of graphite and that Rod Breaker is real!

The break looks clean because we tried to salvage the rod piece leftover hoping we could keep fishing this it.

The break looks clean because we tried to salvage the rod piece leftover hoping we could keep fishing this it.

Thanks to Tenkara USA's great warranty and customer service, Ben was able to get the broken sections replaced.   And since we both carry several rods with us when fishing, we had backups to finish the rest of the day.  Admittedly everything afterward paled in comparison to the first 15 minutes of fishing.

Believe what you wish.  But I know Rod Breaker is out there and I know where he lives.  There have been other sightings of lunkers in tiny streams.

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