For those who have seen my “Approach & Presentation Strategies for Trout” slideshow, you already know this shot. For those who haven’t here’s a little history:
In addition to being nearly microscopic, this little rainbow was my final trout of the day the last time my father I fished Montana’s Squaw Creek together. Squaw Creek, to the southwest of Bozeman, Montana, is where I caught my first-ever trout on a fly a few months prior to my third birthday (thus the “oldest haunt” part of this post’s title).
This particular day, my father and I had decided to forgo other angling options and walk the brushy, forested banks of Squaw, trading off a rod and just enjoying a lazy Big Sky afternoon. Not long after we started fishing, we heard the familiar afternoon rumble of thunder. A look to the canyon skyline revealed a thunderhead brewing behind us in the high-mountain rafters. Used to such storms, we simply fished on, keeping an eye on the ridgeline as we worked our way downstream. It turned into a truly memorable afternoon, with no company but the wind and the caddis and the little trout that rose eager to the fly.
Perhaps ninety minutes in, the thunder changed its tone. Sharper and more urgent. A cool wind sifted the willows and the sky grew heavy and dark. As we watched, the clouds above us swirled and roiled, tying, it seemed, to shove their way over the ridge by brute force. We decided to make a few last casts and head back to the truck. Even as I drifted a caddis down Squaw’s little flow, the storm seemed to gather itself and bellowed out a warning. In response, the sky shrank back, revealing only black and gray and purple. The thunderhead was making itself known as no ordinary mountain storm. A chilling wind began to slither its way along the valley floor and a few cold drops pattered the leaves.
A little rainbow, seemingly in defiance of the worsening situation, charged up and slashed my fly from the surface. I set and quickly stripped the fish to hand. With one eye on the fish and one on the surging darkness spilling over us, we took a couple of quick photos. It had become so dark that the camera fired its flash. And then, we were hustled for the safety of the Suburban. As we trotted along, flashes of another kind reminded us that we were more exposed than we should have been. We pushed our way through the trees and tossed our gear into the back of the truck.
Figuring we were in for a serious pour, we waited and watched to see what the storm was going to bring. Despite all of the bluster, it wasted no time in shifting its path toward the northeast, leaving us mostly dry and cold, and with only faint rumbles as a reminder. As the core of the cell left us, we could see the spectacular mammatus clouds under the anvil. It looked like a Great Plains thunderstorm—one of those monsters that spawns twisters and hail big enough to punch out windshields.
As it was, it was getting late, and not wanting to fish through the cooling backside winds, we headed toward Bozeman for dinner. As we worked our way up the valley toward Four Corners, we could still see the monster storm towering in the sky. It was moving fast off the peaks and toward its final, unknown destination.
As we neared town, something seemed different. The road-side trickles were now filled with rushing, dirty water, and the fields looked strange, too: hail was covering everything. The closer we got to Bozeman, the worse things got. With a rainbow etched against the dark purple backside of the storm, we soon realized that the city had been slammed. The cell had torn through town, twisting and snapping branches, dumping big hail in piles and flooding the streets. Our tires crunched and popped over ice and broken limbs as we worked our way through side-streets. Despite the previous violence, the early evening sun was already gleaming from wetness everywhere.
It turned out the storm was one for the record books. A savage reminder of the forces that shape land and water. The mysteries of mountain weather, however, had kept us from being the center of the storm’s fury, and at the end of the day I had one final trout to show from my oldest angling haunt.