Psychedelic Trout

By ROB BREEDING for the Flathead Beacon

The story I heard some years ago was that when Norman Maclean was trying out perspective bidders for the right to turn his classic “A River Runs Through it” into a movie, actor William Hurt got a chance to pitch his vision during a day fishing in Montana.

Hurt, unfortunately, showed up late, an unpardonable offense for the author, and without a license on top of it. They still went fishing, but as we know, the movie rights eventually went to Robert Redford.

Fact or fiction? I’m not sure. One thing I’m sure about is that in my world, being late for fishing is just part of the routine. I can’t recall a group fishing trip where someone wasn’t late. Usually more than one. You’re fine so long as you’re not the latest of the late.

This phenomena has been amplified since I started fishing with my now young adult daughters. Perhaps it’s the unconditional love thing they’re banking on, but they have yet to betray any trace of fear that my annoyance will last longer than in takes me to say, “Get in the truck. Let’s go.”

Picture1But they pressed me to my limit the other day. The plan was for an early dinner followed by the nearly one-hour drive out to the Thompson River to hopefully hit an evening hatch. Well, early dinner turned into late dinner and what I assumed was a decision to pass on fishing altogether. That’s not how they saw it, however, as they pushed away from the table at 7:30 p.m. and one of them wondered aloud if we had a shot at catching any fish.

It was late, but what the heck? We drove to the river.

We arrived with maybe an hour’s light left to fish, and that’s only because we were nearing the summer solstice at about as far north as you can get in the lower 48, and at the very western edge of our time zone. And there was a bit of a hatch on. Not wide open, but the surface was dimpled by rising fish here and there. We tied on dry flies and gave it a shot.

We missed a few fish, and were distracted by a beaver that seemed intent on swimming back and forth through the run we were fishing, occasionally slapping its tail in a thunderclap to let us know he shared Maclean’s contempt for tardy anglers. I suspect the river is usually his this late in the day.

Then I got a couple small browns that were nonetheless fun to catch on dry flies and a light, noodley four-weight. I’m a bit of a sucker for small-stream browns as they’re the trout I learned to fly fish on decades ago in the mountain streams of Southern California. Small browns, like those in the Thompson, are some of the most beautiful trout I’ve ever caught. Their flanks are butter yellow, speckled with blood-red spots.

In the fading light the gill plates shimmered with a trace of turquoise. That color was also apparent in faint halos around the spots.

It always surprises me that such gaudily colored fish blend in so well to its environment, but as I slipped the fish back in the water they nearly disappeared, mimicking the gray-green stream bottom so well it would shame a chameleon.

And then one of my girls landed a fish. Not a monster, but it was her first-ever brown trout. We’d been late because she had been packing for a year-long trip studying abroad. This brown might be the last Montana trout she catches for a long time.

As she released it into the inky dusk we agreed it was time to leave.

Being late for fishing may be an unpardonable sin for Maclean, but I know one far worse: not going fishing at all.


thumbRob Breeding writes an outdoors column for the Flathead Beacon newspaper in Kalispell.  He teaches journalism at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming.