Netting a fish on the Bitterroot

Well it’s the first day of February and I am procrastinating fly tying so I will talk about an arguable subject involving hooking fish and playing fish. I’ll also share a factual story from last season.

Big fish late in the summer are tough to fool on busy rivers here in western MT.  They have seen hundreds of flies, boats, and cast happy anglers.  Last September was typical, we were having some good days but the big fish were illusive.  My kids floated the mid Bitterroot and gave me a promising report.  “Dad, I found a huge brown on this weird flat” my son said excitedly.  I knew it had to be a heck of a fish because he doesn’t get jacked about a trout unless it is over 2 feet, he is more of a pike guy lately. He said he saw this big dark fish kinda cruising, he said it was as big as a large carp (we don’t have carp on the Bitterroot).  He punched a streamer past it and It followed his streamer back to the boat, Monsta!!  Well, he and my daughter marked this brownie for me and I paid attention.

A day later I’m in that section and I mentioned that my kids found a big fish here and we decided to take a few minutes and try to find him.  Well I got too close to him and yeah blew him out, I did however get to see this cranker brownie, probably 25-27 inch fish.  He looked like a medium sized northern pike with beautiful dark brown, gold, sides, while sporting his black and red spots that some old browns typically have.

bent on the Missouri river near Craig Montana

Two days later I’m back in there, its cloudy and a few fish were crushing hoppers, some nice trout were on the prowl trying to put on some weight before the fall. My front angler could cast but he had a heavy hand and didn’t like to let the fish run (take line).  Two things happen if anglers hold the line, 1. they snap the fly off, or 2.  they pull the hook out of the fishes mouth.   either scenario is bad. Usually when guests snap off fish they blame it on me for not tying a sufficient knot.  We’re fishing this sneaky low profile hopper, I tell my guy there has been a toad of a brown on this flat so be ready, he might crush your bug.  Many guests think that big fish only live under sunken trees, undercut banks, behind rocks, or deep water.  Yes big fish live in those spots, but they also live in less obvious places.  When you say “Hey, there is a hell of a fish that lives on this big flat in the middle of the river”, I often get peculiar looks from under a straw sun hat.

My guy punches his fly out on this flat below the boat 40 feet or so in the vicinity wear that fish was, an enormous trout comes up and sips our bug.  This fish looked like a beaver, it is Huge! I’m excited as hell!  My guy sets the hook perfect and game on this big fish is stuck, he swims towards the boat like they usually do, my guy strips some line in trying to get tight, the fish turns and swims directly away, also a common  trout move and Snap this burly brown is gone!  I usually don’t swear but this was the fish of the year, and I wanted to see it in my boat potentially more than my client did. I swore!  My guy held the line tight like it was a lifeline that would break and cause all sorts of peril if he let go.

People who say you don’t need a drag on trout, haven’t  guided very long, or haven’t watched the above scenario that I have seen countless time.  If you keep the rod bent, steady pressure on the fish, keep em tight whether they are on the reel or not, when they run let em run while keeping tension, when they come at you reel or strip line in.  It takes some practice but I prefer to get big fish on the reel if I want to see them in my net.  It makes for happier Anglers.

Stay Bent, keep em tight but not too tight!   Let em run, let em run, let em run run run!!

bitterroot river brown trout