Greasy Summer Stories – Part 2: Yellow Bellied Bulls

Every story has its beginning, and often those beginnings come out of simple choices that lead down great paths. This story is no different. In the summer of 2016, three friends and myself decided we would use August long weekend as chance to explore some unknown backwoods. There was a particular river that I had always wanted to get to, but getting there proved rather difficult. Years ago I had attempted the journey, but found the road much to rough for my smaller truck. A few years later floods had wiped out the road completely, leaving little chance for me to get to this mysterious and majestic river.

However, as luck would have it, I was in town not far from the river on a different fishing trip and mentioned that river to an old timer. He explained that there was a second, longer way into the river. I was elated to know there was a chance to get back to a place not many go. Once I got home, I pulled up Google Maps and marked the route out. I also made sure to mark several great holes the satellite had shown me.

I set out a plan with my friends to explore this unknown area, with hopes of catching a few fish. I figured we would get ourselves into some decent cutthroat trout and not much else. With the plan agreed upon, we stuffed the four of us into my friends new truck and loaded it to the brim with coolers and supplies.  The journey took us through several familiar places, then down dirt roads that slowly got less familiar. I kept Google Maps going, long after we had lost signal. As we approached our destination, we took a final turn and were greeted with disaster. A recent mudslide had taken out the whole road. We discussed trying to make our way through, but one step of my foot into the thick ooze showed that it would be impossible. We were so close, but once again I was unable to make it to this river that had teased at my soul. I spoke to my friends about our choices and had suggested to turn back and go to a more familiar river. We would catch fish, have a great weekend, and everyone would be happy. However, my friends voted that we go back to a fork in the road and take it. At this point Google Maps was off, so we turned to our backcountry map book for guidance. They were right, that road would lead us to a different, much lower section of the river. With the sun quickly setting, we got back on the road and headed toward the unknown.

Eventually, we ended up down a long stretch of logging road. We made the first turn off we saw and arrived at an unbelievable camp area. We were amazed that there was a picnic table, outhouse, and even a fire pit to use. How on earth is no one back here, we thought to ourselves. We unloaded our gear, set up the tents, and cracked open some beer in celebration of our arrival. We soon nodded off to the sound of the bubbling creek beside our camp, slowly lulling our dreams into thoughts of fish filling our nets.

With our heads still spinning from last nights brews, we slowly emerged from our tents to begin our hunt for trout. With the truck loaded, waders on, our packs full, and a few extra beers for the road secure, we made our way towards the river. Without the areas I had marked on Google available, it really came down to us guessing where to stop. At first, we were high above the river, making it impossible to get down the cliff face. Eventually, however, the road began to slope downwards towards this wonderfully blue and swirling water. We found a spot to pull the truck in, tied on some flies, and began the walk down a creek that would eventually meet the main drag.

We emerged from the creek mouth, to this wonderfully deep and soft flowing pool. The confluence of the creek and the main river made for a perfect place for fish to sit. We crossed the river, to set up on the opposite side of where the creek flowed in and began to fish. I distinctly remember hooking into a small cutthroat, and then an equally small white fish. I was actually disappointed that this unbelievable hole had not produced some unreal fishing. With that, my friends had began moving downstream, leaving me to work the hole alone. Suddenly, my line became taut and an unbelievable pressure was put upon the tip of the rod. The line did not move, but this was no snag. Soon the line began to zing left and right, pulling deeper into the pool. Whatever this was, it was huge. I began yelling for my friends to come back, as this monster fish had me in a battle that no one would believe. For 15 minutes we were locked in arms, only to have the tightness of the line snap as this fish escaped into the depths. I didn’t even have a chance to get a look at this behemoth, not even its shadow became visible. I sat on the shore cursing myself for not using a new leader, as I had previously debated changing it before starting. Disheveled, I made my way downstream to where the group had been fishing. For the rest of the day we ended up catching a few nice cutthroat and bull trout, but I left wondering what on earth had been on the end of my line.

The next morning I woke up even more hungover than the last. I tried to drink away the memory of that lost fish and ended up only feeling worse for wear. With a quick breakfast in our bellies, and with last nights bender slowly fading, we planned out where we would go. We decided to head further downstream than yesterday, hoping to find deeper holes that has similar beasts that I encountered the day before. After a long and bumpy ride, we soon came to a bridge that crossed a small creek. Looking at the map, we saw that it eventually dumped into the main river not far down from the bridge. It looked as though it might rain, so we threw on some rain gear and made our way down the creek. It was slow going, with lots of bushwhacking to make our way to the confluence. Along the way we tossed dries catching a few small cutthroats from the trib.  Eventually, the river appeared and we made our way to another fantastic looking pool. However, yet again, we were unable to pull anything but the odd whitefish from the hole. So, slowly, we made our way downstream in search of those line snapping monsters.

After a few hours, and with little fish to show, we arrived at a section of river where it had split and then rejoined itself. We spread out and began to drift our indicators in unison. Soon I had something pulling at the line and was easily bringing this fish toward shore. But, in a flash, the line once again went taut, with that same pressure I felt the day before. Soon my rod was doubled over and pressure was put upon my line and reel. Soon, however, the line became slacker and I was able to begin reeling my fish in again. Just as I was retrieving my whitefish, a giant golden mouth appeared from the depths, trying in vain to snatch the fish dangling from my line. I was slack jawed, I could not believe the enormity of this fish. It was the biggest bull trout I had seen in my life. Just downstream I heard from a friend hollering that he also had a monster on. We all dropped our rods and made our way down to watch the fight. Soon, he too felt that unwelcomed slack to his line as the fish must have escaped. Shortly thereafter, we witnessed a small cutthroat float to the surface, only to be suddenly demolished by a yellow-bellied creature, dragging its prey back towards the dark depths of the pool.

With our hearts in our throats, we continued casting with shakes pulsing through our hands. I watched with bated breath as my indicator made its way towards the final stop of its drift. Without warning, the indicator shot down like it had been pulled by the weight of a boxers punch. Soon I had that familiar rod bend and zing in my line. However, this fish wasn’t going to get off so easily. I fought with this fish for close to ten minutes, and finally was face to face with the biggest bull trout I’d even caught. It’s yellow body glimmered in the sun and I felt triumphant. With both of us weary, I released this golden bodied jewel back into the current. I watched her swim away and felt only the thud of my heart as it beat loudly against my chest.

The rest of the camping trip turned out to be pretty tame. A few beers, a few more fish, and a load of laughs. Yet, if my friends hadn’t made the call to take a different path, mine would not have crossed with the most beautiful fish I’d ever had the pleasure encountering. It just goes to show, sometimes it’s important to go to new spots, try new things, and get out of your comfort zone.

Tight Lines,