Imagine that you’re out wetting a line, fishing dries for genteel trouts, when the peaceful serenity of the occasion is rudely interrupted by an ill-tempered fish. Some trout fishermen have witnessed it firsthand. Others have seen videos of it. Certainly those who fit neither of the afore-mentioned categories have at least heard of it happening: a monsterous bull trout ambushing a more civilized trout while the trout is hooked and being played at the end of the line. I fit into the middle and latter categories: seen videos, heard of it happening. Never witnessed it firsthand.

Until recently. Well, almost. On a tributary of the Skykomish River about an hour from my home, I came this close to actually witnessing it happen.

My buddy Derek Young (Emerging Rivers Guide Services) called me up to see if I could join he and Patrick Konoske (Fishing for Words blog) and Patrick’s brother Mark, for a half day of wet-wading on a river which I’d not previously fished.  Pat was in town to visit his brother and family and I’d hoped to have a chance to meet up with him. We had met a couple of years previously but didn’t have an opportunity to fish together at that time.

This particular river is neither very far away from my home, nor is it terribly hard to get to. And yet it’s very remote in many ways: difficult to reach by road from one direction; nearly impossible to reach by road from another.  Why I hadn’t fished it before can be chalked up to laziness on my part (shame on me). And quite frankly, like many other west side rivers, one can expect trout that are quite small. While enjoyable, rivers with tiny trouts are not always high on the priority list. Nothing wrong with small fish, mind you, because an 8-10″ wild rainbow from any of these rivers is full of piss and vinegar, and plenty fun on a light rod. And I’m certainly no hawg-hunter, but my lightest rod is a 4 weight; slightly overkill for this game. With a day that held no pressing work deadlines, an opportunity to get out with a couple of good guys (and Derek) sounded like a reasonable thing to do.

We met for breakfast at the Sultan Bakery (for way more food than I needed) before heading up the Highway 2 corridor toward our destination. It was a typically cool, mostly cloudy day; typical for August in the Pacific NW. At least typical for August the past couple of years during which summer has evaded the region. Under intermittently cloudy skies we hiked in past a road that had been swallowed several years previously by an angry winter river that changed its course without getting approval from the Snohomish County Dept of Transportation.

Once upon a time there was a road…

…and now a river runs through it.

It’s amazing how nature reclaims itself. Had we wanted to we could have enjoyed exceptional fishing from the double yellow center line. But we pushed farther upstream where we encountered a river flowing over a more natural streambed.

That’s more like it.

As Derek and the brothers Konoske headed upstream, I commenced angling in a deep pool that was filled with water as clear as, well, very clear water. With a tinge of green. I tied on a bushy dry fly that would float high in the swirling current, and proceeded to hook a couple of quaint little 6-8 inch rainbows (more than likely they were actually steelhead parr). Typical. No surprise here.

Overachieving steelhead parr

And so began pretty much a day I had expected: small, cookie-cutter trouts eating most any dry fly that was reasonably well-presented and many that were not. And repeat. Or so I thought. On my 3rd or 4th cast I hooked yet another trout toddler. As the game little fighter lept and thrashed, from the depths of the pool I saw a large, dark form rush with blinding speed toward the hooked troutlet. “Holy Angling Ambush, Batman!” I shrieked, like a schoolgirl. Thankfully nobody was within earshot. I instantly lifted the tiny trout from the water to save its life and keep from losing my fly to the dark invader. It would have been quite an experience to have the meat eater snatch the trout at the end of my line, but who would have believed me as I retold the story? I had another idea in mind: I would unhook the trout, cut the dry fly from the end of my 5x, and affix a large streamer. I would do what I could to entice the meat eater to engage me–to pick on someone more his size. The culprit was either a bull trout or a Dolly Varden, depending on who you ask. I’m no less confused as to the actual designation now than I was when I wrote about it a few years ago, HERE. Whatever it was that had just attempted to eat my trout, I was going after it (without much hope of success, mind you).

So I tied on a sculpin-esque pattern that had treated me well a week earlier on an Idaho Panhandle cutthroat stream. It’s not huge by streamer standards, but at 3 inches long I figured it may get the attention of the dark form that had just interrupted my peaceful morning of trout fishing.

The streamer was not heavily weighted and the fast current swept it downstream before it had much of a chance to sink. I slapped the fly down on the water a few times, hoping it would become water-logged and descend a few inches deeper. It finally caught a swirling seam and dipped about a foot under the surface. After letting it swing toward the overhanging rock just downstream of my perch I began stripping in short tugs: 1…2…BAM! The same dark form, that had just moments ago atempted to ambush my trout, slammed the streamer with all the subtly of a 17-inch freight train. Angry head thrashing ensued and I was fairly certain the 5x would yield to the outrage. It held. In my limited experience  catching bull trout/Dolly Varden, they hit with ferocity but aren’t known for prolonged fights. That proved to be the case this time, but the relatively large fish was quite a thrill, and quite a surprise for an unaccomplished angler armed for typically small trout. It was no monster by monster standards, but it was 10 inches bigger than anything I expected to find here. If you play the relativity game, it was huge.  To put it into perspective, let’s say you’re fishing for trout that are 15 inches long (~twice the size of the trout I caught) and you encounter a bull char that’s more than twice the length of the trout. That puts the bull char at over 30 inches. That’s pretty big. See where I’m going with this line of reasoning?

Hello Dolly bull char.

Bull Varden?

After removing the streamer from the char’s maw, and wiping the sweat from my brow, I resumed my dry fly ways and caught a few more typically small trout as I worked my way upstream toward Derek and the brothers Konoske. Along the way I enticed a nice, 13″ resident rainbow to take a purple Chubby Chernobyl. It was a trophy for these types of waters that typically don’t give up anything other than 8-10 inch trout. And the occasional bull Varden char.

A relative trophy trout.

Thanks, Derek, Pat and Mark, for letting me tag along on a day that turned out to be anything but typical.

Derek and the brothers Konoske.