I have this secret spot I love to fish nick-named, “The Mini-Madison,” where I have caught some nice fish over the years, mostly big brown trout, but also a few rainbows, cutthroat and cutbows. One particular lie at the Mini-Madison regularly holds the biggest fish and I named it “the King Hole” over a decade ago.
The river has been so high these last few years that I could hardly get to the King Hole. I regularly watch the river flows and when it drops enough to fish, I make sure and get there as soon as I can.
The river did not drop this year until the first few weeks of July. The first time I approached the King Hole, a huge brown came up out of the water torpedo-like after my streamer, but missed it. He would not give my fly a second-look, but I knew he was there. So I devised a plan.
I called my friend Scott Johnson that night and said: “If you will tie me a mouse pattern, I’ll take you to the Mini-Madison. The river has dropped and I think those big brownies are going to be hungry. Those mice patterns will be just the ticket!” Scott agreed and sat down at his vise that night and tied up three ugly foam/deer hair mice patterns.
I picked Scott up at 5:45 a.m. the morning of July 11th and we headed to the Mini-Madison. Scott showed me three of his mouse patterns, which wouldn’t win any awards for beauty. Of course, he gave me the ugliest, most jankety one. Instead of protesting, I decided to let it slide as beggars can’t be choosers.
Upon reaching the river, I headed for the Long Run–another reliable spot over the years–and Scott headed downstream to fish another boulder run. I did not get so much as a look, but Scott repeatedly had nice browns chase the mouse as it skittered across the surface, even in some of the swiftest rapids. Scott hooked one, which got off before I could get there for a picture.
With no takers in the Long Run, we decided to make for the King Hole, which is consistently the toughest place to wade to, especially when the water is high. I felt a little braver with Scott there so we struggled through the deep current to the Courtyard, a calmer spot below and to the left of the King Hole. As we approached the King Hole, the sun was just beginning to rise over the thick trees along the bank, but the hole was still covered in shadow. Our window of opportunity would close soon.
Scott was gracious enough to allow me to fish first, so I made my way up to the boulder perch and cast first to the left to make sure I didn’t spook any fish out of this area. After a few token casts, I turned my focus to the Throne–the sweet spot of the King Hole–cast, and skittered the mouse across the deep run. Nothing happened the first two casts.
“I can’t believe he didn’t hit it!” I said out loud.
I cast again to the sweet spot and jigged the mouse across the current toward me. As the fly reached about midway across the run, a huge brown came up out of the water and hammered it.
“YES!” yelled Scott as he watched over my shoulder, “You hooked him!”
“OH MY GOODNESS!” I exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, Scott, this is the biggest fish I have ever seen here!”
The violence and the chaos of the strike caught me off guard and it took me a second to get control of the line, but when I did, he was on and he was mad!
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME, DUDE?!!!” I hollered as the fish charged into the falls and jumped a foot out of the water. The brown then jumped the heavy current to my left and barreled around a big log jam.
The only chance to land this fish was to get him around the log jam, so I laid the rod to the right and tried to work the fish around the jam in the heavy current. But the desperate fish dove under the jam.
“OH NO!” Scott yelled as he thought for sure I had lost the fish.
I jabbed the rod forward to try to clear the line of the jam and the line popped free.
“HE’S STILL ON! HE’S STILL ON!”
The fish then dove behind a big boulder in a calm and the line went limp.
“OH, HE CAME OFF!” I lamented. I felt for sure the wise old brown had hung my fly up on the boulder.
As I tried to figure out what happened, however, I felt the tell-tale head shakes of a still-hooked brown.
“HE’S STILL ON! HE’S STILL ON!” Utter despair turned instantly to pure joy. Scott then made his way toward me to help.
I thought we could land this fish the calm below the boulder, but when I approached, he again hopped the freight train current to the side of the hole and made another run downstream.
I worked the big fish into another calm spot along a big rocky outcropping. I put the skids on the fish and Scott went down into the water and grabbed it.
“HOLY CRAP!” Scott stated, “This is a big fish!”
Once I had him in hand, I confirmed, “This is the biggest fish I have ever seen here!” We took some nice photos and let him go.
As we drove home, I raved about how awesome catching that monster on a mouse was. Scott then said something that summed up the whole experience: “If that doesn’t light your fire, you’ve got wet wood!”