I am a brown trout enthusiast and I make no apologies for that. There is nothing I like more than the tug of Trutta on 0x and a bass gaffer hook. Their power and ferocity are enough to keep a guy up at night. With that said though, my knees weaken and my hands tremble with the mention of slow rollin’ cutthroats, in particular the Snake River varietal. In my mind Cutthroat trout hold a cumbersome amount of patriotic appeal. Their’ native roots provide a “leatherneck toughness”, while their fragility renders them vulnerable to a plethora of obstacles including the simple presence of non-native salmonids. In a way their everyday battles seem analogous to that of our forefathers trudging west, across rugged terrain in search of a new life full of riches and prosperity. Perhaps though, like a magnificent bird of prey, it’s simply their beauty that seems to elegantly hum Sweet Land of Liberty through my accepting ears. Now, couple these extravagant fish with the red, white, and blue of some Pabst and you have a patriotic cocktail of the finest flavor. It is with this in mind the 1994 Palomino camper, a patriot in its own right, blasted across the plains for northwest Wyoming in search of some therapeutic recreation, Cutthroat trout, and a small fraction of the Land of the Free.
Three sunrises into the trip the amount of Snake River Cutts landed had become ridiculous. There was nothing huge, nothing big, really nothing of any size, but more fun than I can remember having on the river in quite some time. Beyond Salmo Trutta I admire nothing more than the fine spotted Snake River Cutt. I love her lazy choice of water. I love her proclivity for the dry fly. I love even more her affinity for the twitch. To say I was happy would be an understatement. So as I stalked up to the next hole I tried to take in the scenery, something I’m trying to do more often while on the water. It’s not that I want to become an “Oh, it was just nice to be out” kind of guy, but because we fish so often in places world travelers flock to. So as I stared at the red slash of the next Cutty’s throat juxtaposed by Indian Paintbrush, the only thing I could think to do was strip line off the reel. So, that’s what I did. My right arm then began the rhythmic back and forth motion as my left hand continued to strip and feed sea green line through the silver guides. By then the Yellow Sally was set to land on the water’s surface and inevitably drift downstream. After an upstream mend and twitch a small cutthroat would come to hand. It would continue this way for the next half hour. Then the dark clouds would begin to form over my left shoulder as if to say come “We’re almost done for the day”.
As my next presentation drifted down, twitched, and disappeared into an eager splashy rise, my conditioned response was to set the hook. I did and played the fish quickly to the calm shoreline. It was then I noticed a drastically larger shadow methodically tailing the fish on my line. Its movements seemed to convey an intrigue, but a conclusion that this meal was too many calories spent. I immediately released the 8 incher, checked over my shoulder to see how close the storm was getting, and pondered my next move. Everything about the situation cried for the streamer and after my latest float trip I felt confident that the aggression from the large fish coupled with grey sky could have created the perfect storm, quite literally. As I checked for my streamer box, I realized I left it at camp, content with fishing dries to petite fish for the day.
It was then I remembered tossing one black S. Dungeon into the bottom of my bag last trip. It would have to do. With my 0x loop knot secure, the dungeon was hucked ungracefully back upstream. There it would slowly sink and be gently pulled slowly back…. back…. back…. smack! The fish missed the double hooked offering. Surprisingly, this take though was not the intended adversary. Two more casts were stripped through the run until I realized I needed more depth and a slower retrieve. The next cast tantalizes the target from the jet black hole at the far end of the short but sexy run. The spotted specimen passively trails the target contemplating a Mac truck session. My reaction is to pause. I don’t know how or when this became completely impulsive, but it did, and for that I’m thankful. Like a Driver’s Ed instructor I stomp the breaks. The dark as night, mangled streamer immediately plunges downward to meet its rocky abyss. Prior to connecting with the bottom though, the creature sucks it in with a single inhalation of the gills. One bass masters style hook set later and it’s game on big boy! We dance the dance for a few minutes but the double hooked offering and robust tippet is too much for this bulldog to shake. In time I palm the beauty. Not needing a measurement, I gently release the fish back into the gin clear water knowing how special of a moment I had just experienced.
As I hiked back to camp there was a feeling of contentment. Occasionally we get more than we deserve, rather we search endlessly for that pinnacle moment. We plow through knee high weeds to find miles of low water levels. We plan for the climax Trico hatch only to find 40 mile an hour gusts blowing them away. Other times we drag ourselves to the bank, tired and beaten, to float endless drifts for any sort of a tug. Every so often though, we cash in before the house knows we were there. On this day I was more than willing to accept the Big Guy’s offering, give thanks and praise, smirk to the heavens, and crack a red white, and blue peeber…Cheers.