The Slough Pig and a Monster Brown
by Gary LaFontaine
. . . The problem with every pond in the Deer Lodge valley is that the biggest
fish are brown trout. There are differences between the browns and the rainbows,
cutthroats, and brookies in these water. The differences are critical ones for an
angler tying to spot brown trout. The browns cruise and feed on the same food
as other trout, and they'll take the same flies presented in the same ways in
stillwaters, but brown trout have three quirks:
1) They often cruise deeper than rainbows during the day, and are harder to spot;
One of my partners for the valley stillwaters, Joel Hart, and I developed one solution
for the problem of deep-cruising fish. We chipped in together and bought an old
aluminum john boat. Then we welded an 8-foot stepladder to the boat's floor.
2) They cruise and feed in shallow areas near dark and into the night, long after
rainbows have settled down for the evening;
3) They spook more easily than rainbows, especially if they're in those shallow areas.
That stepladder is our observation deck. One of us stands near the top rung and
searches for trout while the other rows slowly across the pond or lake. When
the spotter sees a fish, the man on the oars picks up the fly rod and casts where
he is told to cast.
Pity the fisherman who misses a cruiser. Joel screams, "I said twenty-five feet at
four o'clock. Four o'clock. Not one-thirty, you moron."
"My watch is slow."
He moans and hits his head against the ladder, "I'm getting me a new partner."
Those deep-cruising fish can be chumps. No angler at water level can ever see
them. The trout feel safe in eight to twelve feet of water. Food is not quite as
plentiful among the patchy weeds of the deeper areas in our local ponds and the
browns actually seem less selective than the rainbows.
The virtue of this method is obvious: no blind flogging. Once we see a fish
and observe his path, the path he will follow time after time, we usually hook
him. Our best catches occur during the middle of the day under bright sun
with flat, calm water - not what most fly fishermen would call the magic hours.
The downside is that our boat, dubbed the "Slough Pig," is not not the most
seaworthy of crafts.
I recorded one of our adventures in my August 4 log entry:
Excerpt from Chapter 11, Fly Fishing
the Mountain Lakes published by Greycliff,
Helena, MT 406-443-1888.
The Major is so fond of Chester [see Going crazy; the World's Smartest Fishing Dog (#1)"] that not only can I come out anytime, but I can bring along
any fishing buddy. This has made me a lot more popular in my hometown. I'm
thinking of running for political office.
Joel and I launched the 'Sough Pig' and we started circling the pond looking for cruisers.
There are only stocked browns here, and to my knowledge it hasn't been stocked in
fifteen years, enough fish spawning successfully in a spring feeder to replenish the water.
The pond was not crystal clear, the growth of weed and algae making a few sections
impossible for spotting, but at the far end against the steep bank we saw shapes
crossing the light sand bottom.
The Major came down and sat on his bench. He called for Chester and threw sticks
out on the pond, but as much as Chester loves to fetch, he loves to fish more and he
ignored the fuss. He was perched up on the front of the boat and stared down into
the water as hard as Joel stared down from his position on the ladder. Whether or not
he could see the trout I don't know, but when Joel began huffing, choking and hyperventilating,
before finally blurting something about a whale, Chester leaned out to see better.
I stood up to see better and spotted the big brown feeding about twenty-five feet out
to my left (he was bigger than the seven trout that we'd already caught that morning,
bigger than the fourteen-pounder I'd caught on the Settling Ponds, and even bigger
than the brown that had followed my streamer all the way to the boat in New Zealand,
a fish that had the guide hoarsely whispering a weight in kilos that translated to more
than sixteen pounds).
I made a cast so perfect that not even Joel could yell about it. The fly landed far
enough ahead of the trout to sink just in front of the big boy's face. I gave the Bristle
Leech a small twitch and the fish started accelerating. Watching him come like that,
I just naturally went into that hunched up, forward lean as I got ready to set the hook.
Chester also leaned out a little further, and up there on the ladder, screaming Joel
leaned way out, and I'm not sure if I first heard or felt the cold wash on my feet,
but I looked down at water coming in over the the side of the tilted boat.
Chester jumped clear, but I ignored him. Joel held on as the boat floundered, ready
to go down with the ship, but I ignored him. I've never been so steady in a crisis;
my heart colder than a politician's - and I just kept waiting for the trout to reach and
suck in the fly. I was falling, pitching headlong, when he took the Bristle Leech, but
I kept my focus. I tried with every muscle to set the hook, twisting in the air to push
the rod back. There was no force to the set, and I knew it, stripping in line and
yanking repeatedly even when I was in the water, hoping he still had the hook in his
Chester abandoned us, swimming up on the shore and running over to the Major.
We grabbed the sides of the Slough Pig, now turned over, with the ladder pointing
straight down, and tried to kick with it over to the shallows, but it sank completely.
Joel snatched the rope before it sank and swam with it to shore.
The Major was laughing so hard he was down on the bench, rocking in a fetal
position, and all he could say as we sloshed up was, "You boys are worth the
price of admission." But we didn't care about the Major; and for the moment
we didn't care about the boat or the tackle on the pond bottom. All we could
talk about was the size of the brown trout.
"The Three Stooges go fishing," the Major added, and only Chester had enough
pride to look insulted. Joel and I just shrugged. ~ Gary LaFontaine