New Heathens
16Jun/09Off

The Trout of the Trip

I just got back from a week in Montana where I did plenty of what I love to do most (besides playing rock 'n' roll): flyfish for trout. This trip was special. I brought my girlfriend, Kristen, home for the first time. In addition to meeting my crazy family, I hoped to show her what I love about home, namely troutfishing. We had some wild adventures and the whole thing got me thinking about a phenomenon I call "The Trout of the Trip."

A good trout fishing excursion produces a trout of the trip; the biggest, most memorable, most hard-won fish of the day. I love to catch trout, but thinking back it's always the trout my loved ones have caught that have made me happiest.

Here are my three most memorable trout.


This is probably my favorite photo from when I was growing up. It hangs on my mother's refrigerator. I'm about 12 or 13 in this picture, newly cursed with zits. My brother Sam is about 6, maybe 7. He'd never been fishing before. We went to Rattlesnake Creek, which flows a block from my mom's house and is filled with colorful little trout. I do mean little; a big one in the Rattlesnake is about 10 inches.

Sam was miserable his first day fishing. It was cold and rainy. Neither of us hooked a thing. Frustrated, Sam tried to cast the big, daredevil spoon I tied to the end of his spin rod but it plopped into the water by his feet. He gave it a tug. Snagged on the bottom.

"That's it!" Sam bellowed. "I HATE fishing!"

Suddenly Sam's "snag" shot out into the middle of the creek. His rod doubled over. Something huge writhed in the water, churning it to foam. Sam was in the fight of his life with something almost half as big as he was.

"Help, Nate! Help!" Sam yelled.

When we wrestled that fish to the rocky bank, we couldn't believe it. Our little creek just produced a 28-inch, 7 pound Bull Trout.

Sam's dad, my stepfather Bill, had come looking for us because we stayed out too late. He was going to be mad at us, but when he saw the fish, his jaw dropped. Our neighbor Karen took the picture.

As an epilogue, the picture is a little bit heartbreaking to look at now. That fish, the Bull Trout, is now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This was the early '90s and we didn't know better. I'd heard stories from old time Montana fishermen about catching monster bulls and I was so excited that my kid brother got one of his own. Were we to catch that trout today, we'd let it go immediately. (That being said, the damn thing fed our family for a week.)

It was the trout of the trip.


This picture is of my other brother, Andrew, who just graduated from High School last week. This was at Pyramid Lake about an hour away from Reno, NV. It's full of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, and is the only lake in that fish's native range to still hold Lahontans.

I'm a bit of a cutthroat trout nerd so I'm fascinated by Lahontans, which are the biggest cutthroat trout to ever swim. Their story is fascinating,. They were exterminated from their native range, including Lake Tahoe, and thought to be extinct. Then a biologist in the '70s discovered a strain of them in an unnamed mountain stream in Utah. From that biologists were able to re-stock them in Pyramid Lake.

For a few days Andrew, my sister Erin and I rose at 3 a.m. and headed out to the Pyramid Lake before daybreak to try and catch one of these monster Lahontans. It was all my crazy idea and, of course, Andrew was the one who actually reeled one in.

I was so proud of him. He caught the trout of that trip.


Kristen and I hiked more than 14 miles in two days, up and down a 2,500 foot mountain in Montana's Glacier National Park, for this beautiful Westslope Cutthroat Trout. At points along our epic (read: grueling) hike, in a valley populated by more grizzly bears than perhaps any other in the lower 48, along a trail blown out by avalanches, through fields of wildflowers, past postcard-perfect lakes, underneath jaggged, snowy peaks, I worried if I'd moronically jeopordized all I'd wanted from this trip home: to show Kristen what I loved about the Rocky Mountains and the trout that swim in her waters.

The hike to our lake nearly killed us. At one point Kristen, exhausted, said she worried we'd made a "terrible mistake" by going so far into the backcountry. Secretly, I did too. Especially when we heard a series of loud grunts near our campsite at dusk, grunts that I feared came from our neighbor, the grizzly bear.

After a nearly sleepless night, contemplating whether our battered bodies could withstand the brutal hike out versus whether we'd get dragged from our tent and eaten by a grizzly if we stayed another night (as happened to a young woman just three miles from our campsite in 1967) I set up for the main purpose of the trip: to get Kristen to catch a trout.

She did. Her first on that sunny Glacier morning was a feisty cutthroat from our mountain lake. God I was relieved. Kristen caught a trout! We didn't get eaten by a bear! Life was good!

Then at the next lake, the appropriately named Trout Lake, Kristen put on an applause-worthy angling performance. She caught no less than a half-dozen native cutthroats, all in quick succession.

The jewel of the trip was the gorgeous, 14-inch cutthroat that Kristen landed. A trout that size in water as cold as Glacier's is a bit of a Moby Dick. My baby nailed it.

I was so thrilled about that Trout of the Trip that it almost made the hike out un-excruciating. Almost.

(What's this got to do with rock 'n' roll you say? Well, via a split-second internet connection at St. Mary's on the East Side of Glacier National Park I got an e-mail from Roscoe saying he likes the new sequence of songs for our album. We're that much closer, so stay tuned. First, though, expect more blogs about trout.)

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