The Big One!

I caught the biggest trout I ever caught in the Big Thompson River yesterday. Twenty-one inches. A huge, fat rainbow, like one from our trophy lakes.

That big boy came out of the stretch of river in the lower valley where it slows into a riffle above the irrigation dam. It was about 7 pm. The slanting light from the setting sun lit up every bug like a firefly, including my size 16 royal trude. The cliffs above were ablaze, and it was hard to not look at them instead of focusing on the end of my line.


I was using a skittering technique. The royal trude hung as a dropper about two and a half feet above a size 14 blue quill wet fly. I would cast downstream at an angle, let the flies drift for a moment, then raise my rod tip and wiggle it. The blue quill would drag along just under the surface, and the trude, its white wing easily visible against the dark water, would dance along the surface, suspended from six inches of tippet. You can only use about twenty-five feet of line with this technique. Any more, and both flies drag in the water. Any less, you’re too close to the fish and both flies come out of the water.

I was easing my way downstream about half-way through the riffle. Strangely for that time of day, there were no rises. Yet I had already caught a half-dozen smaller fish, on both flies, all rainbows (I love seeing those little rainbows, which mean that our good ole Big T may have evolved a strain resistant to whirling disease). My mind was starting to wander back to the cliffs again, when a fish flashed under my fly. A big one. It got my attention.

Five more casts, five more skittering retrieves, and two more passes by the same trout. Finally, on the next cast, he took the trude. The water is clear by mid August, so I could watch this Moby trout swim back and forth like a nuclear sub, then power upstream about a hundred feet, then turn back to me. Luckily, it didn’t head downstream. I strained to get his head out of the water, caught in that dilemma of pulling too hard and breaking the tippet or playing him too long and allowing him time to work the fly out of his mouth. After about five minutes I was able to drag him into my inadequate net. He was gasping for breath. So was I.

The barbless hook slipped out easily, and I was able to lift the trout up parallel to the net just long enough to set his nose against the net rim and see his tail stretch clear to the end of the handle. Then a big flop, and he was gone. I let the net drop. My hands were shaking.

I waded ashore and clipped off the flies. Any more fishing would have been anti-climactic. I walked back to the car and measured the distance from the net rim to the end of the handle. Twenty-one inches. I’ve been fishing this river for sixty years. A decade ago I landed a twenty-inch rainbow on the main ranch grounds, but it wasn’t nearly as hefty as this one. I sat down, took a deep breath and watched the last of the sun burn on the cliffs.

– David Jessup