Trout-master Jim posing in front of the Castle Rock Inn Motel and Cafe along the Gallatin River.
It was the early 2000′s, and the Detroit Red Wings were a force to be reckoned with on the ice, and Trout-master Jim and I were still fired up about the great, but very brief, fishing experience we had in the Yellowstone area on a family vacation the summer before. It seemed that whenever we gathered for a family event, the rest of the family would have to endure our stories. At one meal, in particular, the gauntlet was thrown.
“You know,” Trout-master Jim slyly began. “If a person had the interest, it wouldn’t take much more than a days drive to get back to that river.”
Typical East Gallatin River Rainbow Trout (Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Feeling the pressure and desire to relive the fantastic fishing on the Gallatin River, I looked over at my lovely wife to gauge her reaction to her father’s challenge. She wore a beautiful smile, and sparkling blue eyes that seemed to say, “Go for it, guys!”
“Okay” I said, breaking into a mild sweat of anticipation. “When do we leave?”
“How about when school let’s out.” Jim suggested.
Both of us being teachers, this worked out nicely.
“Sounds good to me.” I said.
That was pretty much all there was to the planning! Sure, there was a to-do list that had to be attended to, but we still had a couple month’s for them to be all worked out. And the details were limited to fishing gear, clothing, road tunes, and grub.
On a beautiful June day Trout-master Jim pulled his Astro-van into the driveway. This was D-Day, a trip of a lifetime was about to begin. As he stepped out of the van, he asked my dear, sweet, lovely wife to grab us all a pop from out of the cooler for a toast. As she did so, I looked into the cooler and was astounded at how full the cooler was. I have seen grocery stores with fewer items than this cooler had! My wonderful mother-in-law would never let us leave the state without a full arsenal of snacks. It was impressive.
After retrieving the pops, and opening them, we held them aloft as my lovely wife toasted us with the slogan;
“Montana or bust!”
As I loaded up my gear, My dear sweet, lovely wife opened up the back door of the Astro-van and stuck a sign in the back window that quoted her toast; “Montana, or Bust!” We made small talk for a few minutes, before it was time to say good-bye. Then we lit out for the highway, to take us back to the great fishing of Montana’s Gallatin River, and possibly explore another river or two.
Trout-master Jim, and I alternated driving responsibilities for 27 hours from Michigan’s Thumb area to the “Castle Rock Inn Motel and Cafe.” The one located south of Bozeman, on Gallatin Road. We had stopped in for a cup of coffee there, last year, and it seemed like a nice place. We had made reservations for what we thought was a room near the river; but instead was half of a house with a kitchen, and a deck that extended almost the entire width of the river. It was nice.
Trout-master Jim and I getting coffee from the Castle Rock Inn, the year before the 8:10 trip.
After the long drive, our eyes were spinning around like those slot machine dials you see in the casino movies. But that started to change when we were checking in, because we were about to be educated by the owner; a really nice man named, Fred. Fred was mild-mannered, spoke with an even voice, was knowledgeable of local politics, and told funny stories of fishing, bears, and hikers. But as Fred began to talk fishing, Trout-master Jim and I listened in rapt attention as the spinning dials of our eyes stopped on big trout.
Fred said; “Listen, what you wanna do, is get up early in the morning, and go down to that big rock near the bend in the river. Then, cast around the rock, and let your rig drift into where the current eases up.”
Fred paused, like all good story tellers do, before continuing. “Last week, at about seven in the morning, I would watch a guy cast; just like I told you, and get into a tremendous fight with and enormous Rainbow Trout. It had to be this big.”
As he spoke, he held his hands about two and a half feet apart. Then he finished his story.
“He never got him in. But every morning he was there, the fisherman had ONE shot at him. Once the fish was hooked, and got free, that would be it for the day. He wouldn’t touch anything the fisherman threw at him.”
Trout-master Jim and I exchanged glances, and returned or attention back to Fred. No doubt looking as sincere as a couple of deputies just getting the warrant on a bandit who was to be brought in- dead or alive.
While we were unloading our gear, Trout Master Jim asked;
“What time is it?”
After the long drive, Fred’s big trout story and our need to fish, you would think that the answer would be a simple one. But certain details were overlooked. I took a quick glance at the 70′s era sunburst, yellow analog clock that hung on the houses brown-paneled wall.
“It’s 8:10.” I answered.
Since it was morning, “8:10″ was completely within the realm of possibility, and we were under the influences of Vacation Time. The effects, “Vacation Time”, have on the human mind are fast acting, and mysterious. Someone should do a study. It’s like your on vacation, and you are so absorbed in the good times, that time becomes meaningless. This is not the case in the regular world. In the real world, you are run by the clock; bed times, meal times, wake-ups, meetings, appointments; I even remember when T.V. shows ran on a schedule. The phrase; “Time flies when you are having fun” was made by someone caught in the grips of “Vacation Time.” Conversely, the phrase; “A watched pot never boils” was coined by some harried, overworked, under-vacationed chef…waiting for the pot to boil, wishing he was on vacation time.
Thinking that we had such an early start to our fishing vacation, Trout-master Jim could think of nothing else besides that monster fish Fred had described. And decided to take a crack at him to see if Ol’ Fred was having us on. He tied on a size 14 Parachute Pale Morning Dunn (PMD) and cautiously made his way to the river. I hung back to watch the master from my perch on the spacious deck. The view there was second to none. The river had an iridescent glow to it, almost a greenish-blue and was dotted with gem colored rocks as big as a pop cooler which gave that section of river a jewelry-like appearance. It was a nice distraction to ponder, while Trout-master Jim got into position. He had to take his time, because that river was a-ripping! One wrong step, and he would have been down the chute before I could get off the deck.
Trout-master Jim took a position upstream, and at an angle of the big rock Fred had described. I could see that Trout-Master Jim was keeping nearer the shoreline so that the fast current wouldn’t pull at him, while the rock would block his profile from the big fish. Once he was set, The Master began stripping line off of the reel until he had enough to reach his target. He let the line drift downstream a bit to set up a roll cast, and throwing a “Zorro-Mend”, or Reach-Mend at the end of the cast, to create a zig-zag pattern with the line on the water to reduce drag, and offer a more realistic drift.
The PMD drifted around the big rock and swirled around the calm back water for a moment before a giant trout rocketed out of the water with the fly in its mouth. From where I stood on the deck, it appeared that the trout was as tall as Jim was, even though he was only in water up to his knees! As the fish began falling back into the river, Trout Master Jim’s rod began bending with the weight of the mighty fish, then nothing. He got away. Trout master Jim held his position for a moment, either not believing it happened, or hoping it wasn’t over; I couldn’t be sure. But when he turned to look in my direction, he wore one of the biggest smiles I had ever seen on another human. He shrugged his shoulders and began reeling in the line, knowing that any more attempts this morning would be useless.
After that, we decided to throw some gear into the Astro, and hit some of our more successful haunts from the previous year to warm up on, before we went exploring. I’m glad we did, because it was just like old times! Trout-master Jim started the catching fish at nearly the first cast; which continued for pretty much the rest of the day. I caught quite a few; enough to make it fun, but not enough to be bored with it. We were having such a good time, that we hadn’t eaten lunch, dinner, or even a snack; and before we knew it night was setting in to chase us off the river. But we couldn’t leave because the fishing was too good to quit.
When we finally pulled ourselves off of the river; we were exhausted, but grinning from the satisfaction that we were repeating last years good fortune. There were no restaurants to be found in the area, so we returned to the cabin and began to forage for food in the cooler. We were grateful for Marian’s cooler packing skills, because we had a dinner fit for royalty. As we relived the day’s fishing events, I asked Trout-master Jim;
“What time is it?”
Looking at the yellow clock on the wall, Trout-master Jim answered.
“A little after eight.”
My mind was so filled with good fishing memories that I didn’t question the time. In fact there isn’t much I remember after that, except waking up in the morning from a blissful night of sleep that was filled with fishy dreams.
As I stumbled around, getting the coffee going, I could see that Trout-master Jim was getting his gear together to have another go at that “Monster Trout”. As he worked, he asked;
“What time is it?”
Looking up from the coffee pot to the clock, I said;
“Huh, that’s weird. It’s 8:10.”
After investigating we realized that the clock on the wall was unplugged! We laughed over this for a bit, and then became philosophical about it. We began to use it at any opportunity to remind one another that it didn’t really matter what time it was, only that it was time to fish. So whenever either of us asked the time, we always answered: “8:10.” It was our own personal, “5:00- Somewhere” cue to remind us to relax and enjoy the time we had on the water. And it was in this spirit, that having missed the big fish, once again, that Trout-master Jim and I decided to explore the Madison River which was a few miles away. The first section we encountered was called, “Black’s Ford.”
As we pulled onto the trail that paralleled the river; big, ominous looking clouds were building. We slowly drove along the river looking for sign that fish were there, so we wouldn’t waste time. As we drove the trail, Jim saw a couple “rises”, with one trout rising so high, he ran out of water. We pulled off to the side of the trail, geared up and we each sought out our own spot.
Trout-master Jim’s approach to fly-fishing is clean and professional. He works his way; slowly, and methodically casting to likely fish holding areas, and enters the water only to fight a fish, or when all likely fish holding areas along the shoreline have been cleared. Then he continues in the same cautious manner toward the center of the river. Not me; once I am geared up, I hit the water like a ten year-old at the water park. No doubt tripping, slipping, and stepping on 25 fish as I plod out to the exact center of the river.
Sometimes it can be a bit ticklish getting out there, because water depth isn’t always what it seems to be. And in this particular case, on this particular river I had painted myself into a spot where if I took a step up or down stream, I would be, “Taking on water”, as we fly fishermen like to say. So, with nothing else to do, I started casting.
I was fishing a section of river that had a weed bed which formed a sort of, “hump”, about 30 feet downstream, and at an angle from where I stood in the middle of the river. I would cast to both sides of the hump, starting from its’ beginning, and work my way down, trying to give a good presentation to any trout that lay in wait. After a while, I was catching some nice 9+ inch trout, some of them were Rainbow’s, but most of them Brown’s; and then I got a jolt that nearly took me out of my wader-boots. While using a size 16 Parachute Adams with a size 14 Bead-head Prince Nymph dropper, I let it roll on the far side of the hump; and a fish hit my rig so hard, I thought it was going to jerk the rod from my hand!
Typical East Gallatin River Brown Trout (Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After getting over that first shock, I began working the big fish. First, I would hold the rod with my right hand at about a forty-five degree angle. This would force the fish to have to fight two battles; the current, and the line. If you just hold on center with the current, that fish will fight all day, in fact they do that all day anyway. Then you switch to the left hand, and lean the rod out forty-five degrees the other way. The trick here is slow and easy. Don’t horse ‘em. Because if you do, you may pull the hook out, and the fish gets away. And I have had big fish get away, no doubt this one would to if I didn’t keep my focus. Trout-master Jim called me on the walkie-talkie, and said;
“It looks like you got a nice fish there.” Trout-master Jim observed. Then, offering encouragement said. “Don’t horse ‘em!”
I grinned as the first big drops of rain began falling. Then with my free hand, I keyed the mic attached to my fishing vest.
“You should net this big fish for me.” I suggested.
“If you think I’m climbing into that river, you’re nuts! That current is doing a hundred miles per hour!” He exclaimed. Then added; ” Anyway, that looks like a big fish. You have to fight that one on your own.”
It was good to know that we both understood the rules of landing big fish.
When he finished the last statement, the sky opened up, and the downpour began. In an attempt to offer more encouragement, Trout-master Jim’s voice spoke over the small radio.
“I hope the creek doesn’t rise!”
I nodded in understanding.
I slowly kept working the fish; left, then right, left then right. Sometimes, I would break the routine, go to center, then back in the same direction. Occasionally the fish would break his routine of imitating an anchor at the bottom of the river, and would shake his head. I would ease the pressure during these times, and pray a bit. The prayer may have lacked in detail, but they were sincere nonetheless.
“Oh, please! Oh, please!”
Left, then right. Slowly now. Hold on right. Start to move left, switch back to right. Ease up for head shake. After five or so minutes, I found my self in the zone. The rain slowed to a steady torrent, and I could see Trout-master Jim moving toward the van to watch the show from a comfortable seat. Slowly my mind began to wander; left, then right…easy, now. Take in some line, not to much. Left… I was thinking about big fish I have lost in the past. It’s very frustrating. I know of some folks who have broken rods over losing fish. Right… It’s kind of like sports. Like hockey! I was watching a game the other night before we left for Montana, The Wings, Vs. The Avalanche. Steve Yzerman had the puck and was skating head on for the goalie- an easy shot to the right because he had the goalie off-balance, and he MISSED! His reaction could have been explosive, full of rage, but it wasn’t. He was sliding on his knees, as his head tilted to the ceiling in the, “Oh, man! I missed!” pose; and he was laughing. He was not busting his stick on the ice, no cuss words were pouring forth; he was laughing, like he just enjoyed being there. “Oops, I missed! Maybe next time.”
Original Logo of the Detroit Red Wings. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“Hey Griz!” The radio chirped. “Do you know what time it is?” Trout-master Jim asked.
By now, it seemed like the fish and I had been locked in battle for hours. I shook my head, “no”, in response.
“It’s 8:10!” He said.
I smiled, as I tilted my head up allowing the rain to sting my face.
“I am here.” I said to myself.
After about three-quarters of an eternity, the fish began rising to the surface to surrender. It looked to be a really nice, 20+ inch Brown Trout. And I nearly had him. He was so heavy, that when I reached out to net him, his mass combined with the current speed pulled him away from me, keeping him just out of reach. I could see the fish was tired, and I wanted to get him in quickly to finish the battle so I could release him. I extended my hand to grab the leader to pull him in the rest of the way. As I did so, I remembered a piece of advice saying to never touch the leader or the fish would get off. Disregarding the advise, I grabber the leader, and pulled the fish toward me. The big Brown Trout suddenly gave a last shake of the head, which threw the hook from his mouth. As he slowly sank back into the depths, I swear I saw him wink, and grin up at me. Taking a page from Mr. Yzerman’s book, I just winked, and smiled back.
“What happened?” Trout-master Jim asked.
“He got away.” I said.
“You grabbed the leader, didn’t ya?” He inquired.
“Yup, I had no choice. He was done.” I admitted.
“Well, that’s fishing.” Trout-master Jim agreed. Then continued. “Hey, let’s go get a burger, I’m hungry.”
“Good idea!” I agreed.
The fishing went on like this for several more days. It was like we couldn’t miss, and even when we did, it still felt like we were ahead. With catch and release fishing it was like that.
On the last morning at the Castle Rock Inn, Jim went down to the rock, for one last go with the monster. This time, he went downstream of the rock, nearly parallel with where the fished had leaped out of the water every morning, since we first arrived. Taking my coffee out to the deck, as had become the ritual; I had taken my usual position over the gem encrusted stream, and waited for the show to begin; as did Fred, and some other patrons.
Jim stripped off some line, and quickly shot it low, toward the rock; hooking the end of the line so it pointed to that calm spot behind the rock, where the big trout was known to lie. The Parachute PMD lit softly upon the water’s surface, with barely a ripple. After a three count, in which everyone watching held their breath; the water exploded, and Jim quickly set the hook and worked his way behind the fish; pulling from behind. This seemed to confound the fish, because his next jump sent him to the shallow water just in front of where Trout-master Jim was standing; who had pulled out his net and leaped at the Trout like a cowboy roping calves at the rodeo.
Trout-master Jim quickly removed the hook, and lifted the giant for all to see. Unfortunately, nobody had a camera to commemorate such a catch, but I remember.
This is not the fish Trout-master Jim caught on the Gallatin, but as you can see; big fish= big smiles!
After releasing the monster, Jim sat in the river staring into the water, the current pulling his fly line taut. I chose this moment to key the mic.
“Great position, super cast, and a well-played fight. Time of catch, 8:10.”
I could see his head tilt back in laughter, as I went into the cabin to begin packing for the trip home.
***It has been years since we have taken that particular fishing trip. We have since taken other trips in that area, and even beyond, that have stories of their own. But whenever I check the time as I run through my daily to-do list, and find the hands stuck at 8:10. Well, I just pause, smile, and remember all of those fun trips; because on my list, “8:10″ is always the time Trout-master Jim and I go on a fishing trip.