Southwest Montana's unseasonably warm January gave me the opportunity to fish an ice-free Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley this week. And that's pretty rare here for the first month of any new year. But the unusual weather brought me the even rarer chance to encounter an especially amazing wild trout.
I caught the largest Yellowstone River cutbow (a cross between our native Yellowstone cutthroat trout and a rainbow trout) that I've ever seen in the valley this week. She was just under 24 inches long, and too wide for my hand to wrap around.
This post isn't to brag about my skill as an angler. I didn't do anything special to catch this trout. I just drifted a size 12 Blue Psycho Prince through a slow pool, the same way I, and hundreds of other anglers, do it thousands of times a year. This post is to celebrate the special fish that ate my fly.
I've seen photos of large brown trout caught in the Yellowstone River by other anglers and guides. My clients and I have caught some too. But this nearly Great Lakes steelhead-sized cutbow, carrying native genetics from the time of Lewis and Clark, is much less common, at least in my experience.
Of course, I was by myself when I caught the fish, and that's one of the reasons for these less-than-ideal photos and videos that just can't do her justice.
This amazing trout has survived floods, droughts, ice-jams, predators, and 2016's PKD outbreak that killed so many other Yellowstone fish. Her ability to navigate the dangers found in the wild Yellowstone to reach such a size is a tribute to the genetics of the river's legendary trout.
After shooting a couple quick photos, always keeping her in the water, I slid this wonderful trout out of my boat net. She turned to try to hide under an ice shelf along the shore before I helped her reach deeper water and a return to her wintertime home pool.
Thank you! And goodbye. I hope we meet again some day.