Spring fishing in Montana. It’s unpredictable and sometimes impossible once the runoff starts, but there are always places. It was a risky time to schedule a family fishing trip, but that’s what he did.
With mugs of steaming coffee and a cargo area damp with fishing gear, Matt and his two brothers drove the truck deep into a morning snowstorm. The air was thick with snow — enough to double their travel time. The crisp, dry snowflakes washed over the windshield in air-cushioned layers. No wipers needed. Just drive through.
“The snow will stop,” Matt told them. Finally it did.
The truck crested a ridge and poked through the clouds. They were above the storm for just a moment, then back down through it for a short period before finally shedding the snow for good. The truck entered an altogether different weather pattern about halfway into the valley. That’s Montana.
They parked in the dirt. It was clear and calm, with air and water temps in the low thirties. Matt tossed a fly box to his brother, Andy, as they pulled on fishing packs and jackets.
“Fish those ones,” he said.
They looped boot laces and tied knots in long leaders. They tucked sharp, curved steel around hook holders, reeled up snug and then walked in.
Matt and his brothers set up on a long pool about the size of a football field. At both the upstream and downstream borders — right where the end zones would be — the river raged with deep, high-gradient, bouldered runs. Between the goal lines, the flat water was shallow enough to be accessible, but deep enough to provide confidence and cover to trout. Big ones. Lots of them.
The raging, persistent water from downstream sounded like the machinery in a Pittsburgh steel mill, and Matt yelled over the commotion.
“If you really want to cover this water you need to stay focused. Find the seams and buckets. Try to make different drifts over each piece,” he told his brothers. And then Matt moved on.
Focused. Yeah, that’s what Matt had been for the two years since he’d moved to Montana. Day after day, he explored trout streams in every season. He found open water and solitude in the winter, so he fished through single digit days just to see what could be done. Why not? Matt didn’t know how long he’d stay in Montana, he just knew he was there right now. So he fished his ass off.
Matt walked to the top of the flat and set up on the inside seam, fishing a pair of nymphs on a tight line. He took a few steps downstream after every three or four drifts, working his way back to his brothers. A couple small fish came to net with sluggish, subtle hits, and Matt knew he needed a change. He added an indicator to the long leader and used it to even out the drifts into long, slow lanes, hugging the bottom of the river. In the cold water, trout weren’t moving far to eat.
Matt reached the bottom of the pool where Andy had crossed. He paused to change the dropper nymph and then started working back upstream, this time reaching further out into the river.
At the upper ten-yard line, Matt stopped. To prepare for a third pass he lengthened the leader, enough to probe the middle seam and get down into the heart of the flat he’d been saving.
Be methodical. That was Matt’s strategy since the day he’d arrived in Montana. He didn’t want to float rivers and rip streamers for a few big fish each day. He wanted to wade miles of water, tucking nymphs into every corner pocket, catching hundreds of fish and digitizing the data into memory. That’s how he fished.
Halfway down the flat, on the fifty yard line and right where the players meet for a coin toss, a small unremarkable nymph tripped over a stone and then recovered. It danced deep into the belly of a bucket, home to the largest and baddest brown in the river, and it paused . . .
One swift tail kick and an angled fin propelled the trout a few inches to the side. The hooked jaw open, captured and closed.
Matt saw the indicator hesitate, but should he set the hook? In an instant he calculated the chances of a take versus a simple bump on a rock. He considered the line’s position and saw the angle leading into darker, green-blue water, into the very guts of the pool. Matt knew where his fly was, and he set the hook hard.
The baddest brown didn’t move. After sixty seconds of strong side pressure, Matt finally forced the fish to yield, and it left the bucket. Matt and the great fish were locked into a tug of war for the next thirty seconds. The huge trout swam back toward the bucket, and Matt pulled as hard as he dared to keep him out.
Then finally, the fish surrendered his position. He turned downstream, and ran for the end zone. But Matt was ready.
Matt followed and stayed sideways. He kept the rod high as it flexed and pulsed and bent deep into the butt section. Matt pulled with side pressure as he raced downstream with the trout. And right at the last hash mark, just at the lip leading into the roaring, bouldered run where no angler could possibly follow, Matt made his goal line stand.
With one last thrust backward, Matt pulled hard on the rod. Every knot in the leader tightened and strained. And just before the 4X transition could snap, the baddest brown resigned.
The trout turned and rolled toward the inside seam, and Matt reeled against the weight. When he finally saw the size of the trout, another surge of adrenaline rushed through Matt’s blood, and he recommitted to end the fight.
With much of its super-strength spent, the great fish surged three more times, but Matt carefully held on. He positioned himself below the trout, somewhere around the twenty yard marker, and he brought the fish near the sidelines, scooping it swiftly into the net.
Sweating and shaking, Matt looked up to see his brothers near the bank.
“This is the one I’ve been waiting for,” Matt breathed heavily.
The trout measured in above the two-foot mark. So Andy asked,
“What’s his name?”
Matt chuckled as he slid the massive wild brown trout into the water and held its tail.
“The Bad Hombre,” Matt said.
With one solid tail kick, and with fins scooping like oars, the baddest brown returned to the fifty yard line, back into the guts of a river.
NOTE: Troutbitten tradition is to name all fish over two feet. And Matt Grobe is the one who started all this nonsense in the first place. It may be a silly tradition, but it’s our tradition. Meet: The Bad Hombre.
Enjoy the day
T R O U T B I T T E N