View Full Version : Ode to the Apex Predator of western Montana!

Zac Sexton
04-28-2010, 04:06 PM
Christian, a buddy of mine from Denver, came up this past week for several days of fishin'. He was looking to make up for last Fall's fiasco, when temps. dropped from the 70s, to the 30s, in early Oct. I promised him this trip would be better. And after five days of fishing from sun-to-sun, we figured it was -- considerably.

We started on this remote stream, to get our fill of slaying fichies.

Ariell, again waited patiently along the banks.

My idea was to fish the stream above a reservoir, hoping to catch the Cutthroat that I assumed would be making their way upstream to spawn. It took a little exploring, but we found some.

The pale color on this Westslope Cuttie, indicates it has been in the reservoir, and a recent arrival to the stream.

We got in to a run of Suckers, also! Christian is letting one go, here -- trying not to touch it. He landed easily a half dozen fish out of this run.

This one is all colored up, and getting ready to make new Westslopers! Look at the size of fly it took -- a #4 streamer.

One more beautiful WSC (Westslope Cutthroat):

The fishing was pretty good most the day, and we got about 20 or so fish each, then the fish seemed to dissapear. We worked our way downstream, closer to the reservoir. We found clusters of fish throughout the stream, all chromed-up and ready to race upstream. I didn't take any pics. 'cause I was too busy fishing. In one hole, Christian landed 19 different fish! Crazy.

So, after getting our fish on numbers of fish, we thought we'd target bigger fish.

Here's one!

The day on that river went pretty well, again with pods of fish stacked in some areas, and other areas seemingly lifeless. The next day was the big "Hoorah," as Christian was leaving the next day. I wanted to get him something special. The problem was my intended stream was brown, high and unfishable. I didn't know what to do.

The morning of the intended float, my good friend and guiding buddy, Tony, called to let me know the river was down and clear! Christian and I packed the car and hit the river.

The river.

It took some work, and some flipping of rocks to get the river figured out, but we started to hook-up in the first hole. Christian broke off on something big, and I had a decent Cuttie hit my nymph just as it hit the water! I missed that fish, but soon we found the bugs WSCs and Whitefish were taking.

The day was amazing. The weather was perfect. The river was perfect. We caught fish -- most of which I didn't photograph, as they were just average. But, about halfway down the river, Christian hooked in to something different.

We couldn't believe the size of this Sucker -- literally! It was a great fight and fun catch, but not exactly what we were after.

I tried throwing streamers in a couple holes, on the 3 pc., 8', 6 wt. I had just gotten fishable. And I hooked a frickin' Whitie! How does that happen? That streamer is about 5 inches long...

But, we kept working hard and enjoying the day. We stopped on another hole, and Christian once again hooked up.

This was a big fish. We knew that even before we saw it. And we couldn't believe what it was.

Yes, the Apex Predator of western Montana rivers -- the rare and mighty Bull trout. This bad-boy measured 27 inches long and 13.5 inches in girth. We guessed around 7 or maybe 8 pounds!

The release.

Back in its lair.

We celebrated with high-fives, yelling, cheering and scotch. That made the trip. Christian kept babbling about that fish for the rest of the float. Well, until I hooked up a ways downstream.

I don't know what this is, but it's BIG! I fought the fish for many minutes, and I couldn't get it near the boat. The rod flexed all the way through, and I just couldn't move the fish any closer to the net. I was afraid the rod was going to shatter.

So, I thought I'd take a break and sip some brew. Eventually, the fish wrapped my line around the anchor rope. I piled in the back and tried to work the line away, while Christian jumped to the sticks (oars), and pulled the anchor. I freed the line, and kept the fish on as we drifted downstream.

Christian had never rowed a boat in his life, excepting the few strokes he took on the big flat river we floated the day before. He wasn't real keen on being on the sticks on this rolly-tumbly river, with my huge fish on. But, he did a fine job of floating us down about 80 yards, where we beached against the bank. The fish shot under the frickin' raft, and I couldn't pull it out for a while. It wanted the dark. But, a few minutes later, Christian grabbed the net, I pulled a bit harder, and we landed 'er!

Another Bully!

This bad-boy measured 25 inches even -- I think. My tape only went to 23 inches. But it is the biggest Bull trout I've ever caught, and an amazing fight on cane! What a day.

Christian and I had an adrenaline rush that lasted 'till we got home. It was everything we hoped for and far more. He didn't want to go back, but he has a real job, and all that crap to get back to. I dropped him off at the Missoula airport, with images of monster fish rolling through his brain. He's coming back this Fall.

04-29-2010, 09:33 AM
Sweet report and nice fish! We get a sucker run her in Michigan and I have seen my share of them, but the one your buddy caught is HUGE!!!

04-29-2010, 01:19 PM
Thanks for a great trip. the photos were a delight and quite an eye opener. That Sucker looks to be an interesting but aparantly not a wecome catch although it looks as though it would put a good bend in your rod.

Of all the photos the one I find most striking is the one of your dog Ariel.
It just jumps out at me Nice Dog. Thanks again. Jax

Zac Sexton
04-30-2010, 12:13 PM
Thank you, guys, and I'm glad you enjoyed the report!

Soupmix: My dad is from Michigan originally (and I was born in Lapeer...), and told me about the sucker runs from Lake Michigan. They used to smoke 'em, and they tasted pretty good apparently. I never did catch a sucker on this trip, and haven't in years. Christian was using smaller flies than I was 99 percent of the time, so that may have had something to do with him catching all the suckers -- and I was rowing mostly, while he fished... I thought that was a big sucker too, only I didn't really have anything to compare it to in my experience, is what I'm trying to say :eh: . Glad it's appreciated!

Jax: I'm glad you enjoyed the pic. of Ariell! She will be three in a few days, and has been a wonderful pup from the very beginning. She's more like a kid than a dog, and I sometimes forget she's a dog. I'll ask her to make coffee in the morning, wash the dishes, mow the yard -- all the things kids should do, right! She just rolls over, wags her tail and looks goofy ;) . She's a good ol' dog. Thanks for noticing!

04-30-2010, 04:19 PM
nice bullies! and wsc's.
that river looks like the big blackfoot to me. or maybe the clark fork. am i right?

05-01-2010, 09:38 PM
Simply amazing!!
Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful experience.
Sipping beer(?) for a break while playing a fish in a stream !?:shock: This would never occur in my country.
In my standard, the rainbow you're holding is already "HUGE", and I don't know what to say about those two monsters.
I wish I could fish those beautiful cutthroat (they are "very big" for me).
I see your name on the cane rod. Are you a rod builder?


05-02-2010, 12:36 AM
Total suhhhhweeeeeeeeet !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can't stop slobbering !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :mrgreen:

Zac Sexton
05-02-2010, 05:33 PM
Satoshi: I'm flattered you like the fish shots so much :bigthumb: Thanks! If you ever make it this way, I'll put you on them for sure. There are even better spots than this one, for Cutties... Yes, I make my own bamboo rods. The one pictured with my name is an 8'8" 6wt., I've been working on, for tossing big bugs on big water, with big wind. I've designed six or seven different tips to match the butt, and still have a couple yet to build before I'm satisfied. I'm working off my own numbers, from the ground up, to get "my style" of a rod. The one I hooked the Bully with, I built off a blank that a friend gave me. It was his first blank, and he just never did anything else after putting the ferrules on. I told him, I'd finish it and fish the hell out of it! So, this was the second trip I went on with it. Not bad, eh!

I get a lot of rod-making help from the Boo Boys at Sweetgrass, as they have become good friends throughout the years. I still have lots of knowledge to soak up, and try to pick up what I can when I can. I travel a lot, and try to meet with other makers when possible. It's pretty cool to see what everyone is doing to arrive at their own type of fishing tool :D . It remains just a hobby. I made too many parts of fishing a job already. I would like to keep some part of fishing to just be for fun :? .

Brook trout: I don't mean to be a prick, but I will just leave the adventure(s) to being on a mix of wild western Montana water :shh: :thumbup: . It's likely water you've fished if you've been around... Glad the report stirred some memories!

Apache Trout
05-02-2010, 09:14 PM
In a good way of course. :cool: :clap: :thumbup:

05-03-2010, 06:53 AM
I made too many parts of fishing a job already. I would like to keep some part of fishing to just be for fun .


You are right.
I'm pretty sure that I can enjoy fishing so much because I spend many days just in front of a computer screen, daydreaming about catching big trout in a beautiful stream.

(Oh, by the way, I realized the person holding the rainbow is not you but your friend Christian ;) )


05-03-2010, 06:36 PM
I can't recall ever hearing of, much less seeing, bull trout that large.

Awesome trip. Amazing post!


05-03-2010, 07:06 PM
I've been trying to think of something to say about this report since it was first posted... Ultimately, I am simply in awe. Amazing fish, amazing fishing.

Zac Sexton
05-14-2010, 11:02 AM
Thanks for the warm comments. It was such a great day. And the Bullies do get much bigger than what Christian and I caught. Last summer I saw a few in the 3' range! Yep. One I remember could have neared 40". They move from the tribs. to the main rivers in the late summer to the early fall, after spawning. Then, they will hold at the tailouts of pools and we get glimpses of them as we float over. They are such an amazing fish. I wish we were doing more to protect them...