By Eric Ross, as told to Abbie Digel
This article originally appeared in the summer 2012 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine. Read more at explorebigsky.com/publications.
First things first, I have to catch my bait. Salmon fly nymphs, dragon fly nymphs, and worms are useful, but to catch a hog I need a sculpin. Besides, I don’t like fishing with worms. They easily rip into little pieces, making the fish go wild. I only resort to those tactics when it’s really slow.
Sculpin are small bottom feeding fish that live under the rocks. Catching a sculpin is just as fun as fishing. To catch one, you have to place a fine mesh net down current of a rock, then slowly pick up the rock, being careful not to cloud the water. Then just stare down there. Sculpin don’t move at first; they hold their ground. Once you see one, put your hand in real slow and scare it into your net.
After a few minutes, a few rocks and some good luck, I sweep up a fat one. I slice his belly open and like sharks in bloody water the hogs start to go crazy. Since I catch and release, really I’m just feeding my pets.
After a huge backhand cast my strike indicator disappears. The fight is on.
There’s slack, I jig, another hit, another jig, and now I have what feels like a log. It must be the biggest fish ever. A few minutes pass, and I haven’t made any progress. Maybe I’m hooked under a rock. The hog doesn’t know it’s caught.
Then it starts thrashing.
Next thing I know the behemoth is at the surface, and I see that my hook is in the middle of his back. The trout sees me and keeps his distance. Without leverage I can’t even crank my reel.
Slowly, it starts to move down past Anceny’s pond. My 100 yards of line are all out, the trees are encroaching on the river and I’m forced to wade out to the middle.
“Bring the camera!” I yell to my wife Valerie, who’s sitting on the bank. Tripping on the rocks, I fall and scrape both knees along the rocky bottom. I’m in the middle of the rapids before the bridge, pulling some real Brad Pitt moves. My arms are above the water, holding tension. The trout drags me under the bridge into the deep pools next to the horse pasture along Highway 191.
Pulling myself out of the river is not easy in flip-flops, but luckily I still have my shorts.
Round three begins. I start reeling the beast up from the depths. After a couple more runs to the bottom he’s tired and finally I get my hands under his belly. Pulling him up I scream in his face, “I got you, I got you, I got you!”
Somehow, my hemostats are still pinched to my shorts. I try to remove the hook but can’t because his skin is too thick, so I put the fish back in the water to rest. A few minutes later Valerie zooms up in the Suburban and runs the camera down.
I grab my prize. With a splash of his tail he dowses my face and snaps the line back at me.
“Nooo!” I scream, falling in the rocks. No fish, no picture, bloody knees and defeat. That 28-inch rainbow weighed at least five pounds. And he got away.
I’ve caught a lot of giant fish in Hog Alley because I put them back. I catch the same fish over and over again. They live in the same place unless a larger fish pushes them out.
I’ve caught a lot of brook trout there too, but I haven’t caught a big one in a while. The lifespan of a fish is 10 years, and most of the ones I used to know are gone.
Eric Ross has lived in Big Sky with his family for 10 years and has worked at many restaurants. A graduate of Bozeman High, Ross also attended MSU, where he studied art. His art major led him to food, photography and fish.