The One That Did Not Get Away – A True Fish Tale

One of the highlights each year of the annual pilgrimage to Montana is the opportunity to fish some of the finest spring creeks in the world, courtesy of my father-in-law (John). My very first trout-fishing experience was at Milesnicks, regarded by many of the cognoscenti as the uber-spring creek. To say that I was in over my head would  be neither an exaggeration nor a pun. It was a wasted rod-fee, but I was, and forever will be, hooked on fly-fishing for trout.

Now, after seven years, I appreciate the generosity of John and the experience that fishing a spring creek offers to the disciples of this great sport. This year, I had a chance to fish Nelson’s for the second time.

Here is a picture of the spring creek…..the haze that slightly obscures the mountains is from the Mill Creek Fire currently burning in the Mill Creek area of Paradise Valley.

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Earlier this week, we met our guide and proceeded to Nelson’s. Without going into a lot of arcane detail that would likely bore our reader(s), let me just say that these fish are SPOOKY and have rejected the presentation of flies from the best fishermen in the world. To have a fish even look at my fly would have been the highlight of the week. But twice that day I caught fish…two very nice rainbows, about 18 inches each. Both fought valiantly, but were brought to the net and carefully revived before being released to frustrate another fisherman another day.

The day, and the experience, would have been complete with just that, but something else occurred that is almost unbelievable.

My father-in-law, a veteran of the "trout-vs-Man" conflict, hooked, after a long morning of frustration, a very nice, very large brown trout, a species known and appreciated for their cunning and determination in evading the net. After a lengthy fight, at least five jumps and several runs, the fish, apparently exhausted (nearly as much as the angler), was inexorably drawn to the awaiting grasp of our guide. Just out of reach, the fish summoned its last reserves and took off for the far bank. The struggle was too much for the leader and tippet of John’s gear, and the fish managed to break off. A typical ending to an all too familiar story.

Gear reset, we resumed fishing, or should I say we resumed waving our rods while standing in a stream, scaring fish and wearing ourselves out. After 45 minutes, our guide mercifully suggested a break for lunch, a motion agreed to by acclamation. Lunch meant a 10 minute walk to the truck, parked beside a small shed provided by the owners to give weary anglers some relief from the brutal Sun and the chance to sit down. Leaving our small island in the middle of the creek, we moved slowly through the crystalline water, careful not to disturb the creek-bed. As we approached mid-stream, the guide suddenly halted; a step behind him, I noticed that his attention was focused in the water and I, too, immediately stopped, motioning John to do the same.

There, not 36 inches from the outstretched foot of our guide, sat, unmoving, a very large trout. Partially hidden by the grasses of the creek-bed, it seemed asleep, not at all aware of our immediate presence; this was an unnatural act on the part of a very natural member of the water kingdom! Ever so slowly, the guide maneuvered his net closer to the fish, and with a swift motion snared the unsuspecting fish in the fine mesh. Brought to the surface, we examined the fish. There, hanging from his mouth, was a very fine tippet, attached to which was the very small fly from John’s collection. The trout, apparently exhausted from his epic struggle, had found a quiet, safe piece of water and was recovering his strength. Gently removing the hook from his jaw, our guide revived the trout, who slipped from his grasp and moved away into deeper water.

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The guide says that he has never heard of this happening before, but claims that he remembered where the fish had broken off and intentionally walked toward the spot to "see if he could see anything". I think the story is unbelievable without that last bit, but will leave the final determination to you, gentle reader. John, who has fished these waters for nearly 20 years, notes that he has never heard of this happening before. I am just glad to have been around for this wonderful fish tale.

Here’s John, contemplating the miraculous…..

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