Saturday, October 15, 2011

The River Wolf

Years ago I learned of a salmonid species that will eat just about anything. The Taimen is the largest salmonid in the world and is capable of growing to 6 feet in length. They are vicious predators and I have read many stories about their more than aggressive feeding behavior. For example stories told by the local inhabitants about dogs and small children being eaten. The Taimen has been given the nickname "the river wolf" for its voraciousness. Such a fish would be the ultimate catch for me. The last stronghold for the Taimen is in Mongolia and parts of Russia. I hope that someday I'll get the opportunity to hook up with one.
Until then I have found my own river wolf. The bull trout. Also known for their aggressive behavior and eating fish up to half of their own size, these fish are at the top of the food chain. They also look very much like the Taimen and I wouldn't be surprised to find out that they are somewhat related to each other. Their over sized head and mouth make them the ultimate predator in rivers in the Pacific Northwest. I've been fortunate enough to land a few bull trout and it seems like that's all I can catch lately. I streamer fish for browns and rainbows and I get Bullies. Like I've said in the past though, its perfectly fine with me.

Today I fished a new section of the Blackfoot River with Chris and Riley. We arrived at the access area around 4pm and started fishing. It looked like a great section with many big boulders and short deep runs. I decided to head downstream while Chris and Riley stayed upstream. I missed a fish with an olive streamer in the first 10 minutes. I switched to a brassy colored streamer and moved downstream. I found a very nice stretch of big boulders. Each one of the boulders created a deep pocket downstream of it and I started working the pockets. I made my way to the center of the stream. The current was pretty swift so I stood right on the edge of the drop off before 2 big boulders. I casted my fly directly downstream and stripped it up through the current. My fly got hammered and I missed the fish. I casted again and it was hit again. The fight was on and I could see it was a nice rainbow. I landed the fish, took a few pictures and released it.

I got right back out in the stream and positioned myself right upstream of another set of boulders. I casted to the end of the pocket and began stripping my fly very fast. A pretty decent fish swiped at my fly and missed. I kept stripping and another fish came up and missed. I continued to move the fly up the current and when my fly hit the white water right near the boulder a big head broke the surface and slowly came out of the water. It was a Bull trout and it was pretty big. I estimated it was probably more than 23 inches. None of the fish hit after that. I decided against changing up streamer colors because the fish were definitely reacting to the gold/brassy fly that I had on. I fished the next pocket and hooked up with a nice bull trout. It was a decent fish of about 17 inches.

I was very surprised that the streamer fishing was so good in this short section. I had gone about 50 yards and hooked up with/ missed at least 5 fish. I fished a couple more pockets and then the river flattened out. I could see some more pocket water downstream so I started walking down the bank.

I came to a deep pocket/run and began casting. On about the third cast I let my fly swing out and then began stripping it through the slower water on the side. I could see my fly very well and I watched it closely. When the fly got about 15 feet from me I watched as a 20+ inch bull trout came flying out of nowhere and swiped at my fly. He had bumped it and I set the hook. The fish left as fast as it had come. I had a bunch of adrenaline going from seeing the big fish and I quickly made a cast out into the current. I did the exact some thing and let my fly swing out before stripping it up through the current. I stripped it faster this time watching closely. The fly hit the same spot where the strike occurred and then it happened......A huge grey slab shot from the depths and engulfed the fly right in front of me. I almost had a heart attack. The fish was HUGE. Really huge. And the head on the fish was gigantic also. It was a monster bull trout.
The set was as good as it gets and the battle began. The fish made some huge head shakes and then bolted itself in the current. It was a very powerful fish. Unlike a smaller bull trout, I knew this fish was in control of the situation. The fight continued the same way for a while with the fish bolted in the current like an anchor. I was getting pretty tired and the fish was becoming a real challenge on my 5wt. I kept the pressure on and began to try and turn the fish towards shore. I neared the fish to shore a couple times only to have it slowly move back out into the current. The fight went on for what seemed like forever and I tried yelling to Riley or Chris in hopes that they might hear me and come get a picture. All I knew was that I needed a picture of me and the fish. For me it was the fish of a lifetime (bull trout wise). The fight continued for a while and after not spotting Riley or Chris I knew it was up to me to get the picture. The fish was tiring out and I turned my rod sideways and neared the fish to the bank. I quickly tailed the fish and took a quick picture. It was a sight that I'll never forget.

Huge head, pale orange spots, huge pectoral fins lined with stripes of white. The fish was perfect. Its giant mouth and huge "upper body" gave the impression that this fish was a dominant force. I went to remove the fly and noticed the many sharp teeth. The fish was going into spawning mode and was starting to develop a kype. After taking a good look at the fish I put my camera on self timer and placed it on a nearby boulder. I wanted to return the fish ASAP so I only had time for one picture. I was hoping it would turn out pretty good and I didn't look at it until after I released the fish. It was.....exactly what I hoped for. 
                                                       My River Wolf

The fish swam off strongly. After watching the fish disappear into the depths I stood up, put my hands to the sky and screamed as if I had just won the Olympic gold medal. I was overrun with excitement and adrenaline. I couldn't help but notice not only my hands were shaking, but my legs too. I estimated that I probably fought the fish for over 20 minutes but it may have been even longer. I know that when you're in the moment of the battle, time flies and time is no longer a factor for anything. Fighting a fish and being in that moment is actually one of the few times in life where time doesn't matter at all, and I love that feeling.

I took a few moments to chill out and then returned to the top of the run. I made the same cast once more and watched as that same 20+ inch bull trout trailed my fly and then drifted off into deeper water. Did he not just see his bigger friend go nuts? I guess not. The fish didn't go for my fly again so I decided to head back upstream. I met up with Riley first who told me he had caught a nice cutthroat. He asked me if I had caught any. I replied with a "Yup. A rainbow and two bullies. One was pretty good sized." I decided to wait till I had both Chris and Riley together to show them what I had caught. While we were taking off our wading boots I showed both of them and explained the story. I don't ever think I've been so excited to show my friends a fish picture before and explain how I caught the fish.

All the way back to campus I replayed the moments in my head. The cast, the chase, the take, the set, the battle, the landing and most of all.....the release. I will never forget this day for as long as I live.

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