It has been over 50 years since I caught the great fish, a male brown trout from the storied Provo River in Utah. For over a half-century the fish and the day I caught it remains only in my mind. No photograph. No mount.


That day comes to me only sporadically, reappearing then fading away as quickly as it came, but always leaving a smile and a sense of gratification behind.  The time was special and I pondered over why it was suddenly important to me. I have caught bigger fish, even a bigger brown trout, but never on a river and not with a dry fly.

All of my life I have worn the title “angler” and I have fished many of the continent’s wild rivers and her deep clear lakes, always in pursuit of big fish. Those fish and those times are certainly significant as the mind stores them away in a filing system that is random and unorganized, turning the memories on and off without reason. This brown trout is significant to me not because it was caught and conquered, but perhaps how and where it was caught.

There is an unspoken hierarchy among fishermen and the fly fisherman stands alone. The reasons why are complex and plentiful, perhaps more so in the angler’s mind than in reality, but to me I would rather take a fish with a fly rod on a fly that I tied myself than any other way. To do it on a clear, cold wild mountain river or a tumbling valley stream completes the perfect picture.

To witness a rising trout and cast a dry fly that imitates the insect that the fish is eating, to me, is the ultimate challenge and it was and is the technique I have chosen to pursue. The challenge is greater, at least as I see it.

Of the many species of trout the fly fisherman pursues, the brown trout also stands alone. It is the fish of a thousand refusals, always wary, but ready for the fight when the barb is felt. Sight fishing a rising brown trout with a dry fly remains the highest of the challenges I have imposed upon myself as an angler. Perhaps this is not rational, but it is the path I have chosen.

Since the onslaught of the pandemic and the isolation, it brought all of us, I have been creating trout from resins and pigments of color that strive to replicate the magic of nature that makes these beautiful fish so special. This small business has been successful and I ship these trout I create across the country to anglers who are desirous of having a tangible manifestation of a memory; their first wild brook trout, a big rainbow trout caught on an Alaskan river or a fish caught on their final fishing trip with their father before he passed. A hundred different memories were tied together by a love of fishing and a day that became memorable.

I have some time and decided to create a fish for myself. As I searched the crevices of my memory trying to decide which fish to recreate, which one of the 1,000’s of trout I have caught through a half-century and more as a fisherman, this magnificent Provo River brown trout was the natural selection.

It was a humid May afternoon in 1972. I had been fishing the river below the dam at Deer Creek Reservoir with some success catching plump rainbows. Still wearing my waders, I went into the Chalet Restaurant for a beer before I moved to a lower section of the river. The amiable Billy Broadhead welcomed me as she went about her business cooking and serving customers who often included fishermen in the mix of construction workers and other traveling in the beautiful canyon. The bar had a large picture window that overlooked the river, allowing customers to watch the hundreds of hummingbirds feeding on feeders placed on the outside of the glass, as well as being able to watch the rivers activities as rafters floated by and wild trout rose to the occasional hatch. As she served me a beer she stated simply, “There’s a stone fly hatch coming off”.

That was all it took, I intently searched the river for evidence of an insect hatch and rising fish partaking in the protein bonanza that was unfolding before them. Even the wary brown trout throws away caution when these stone fly hatches present themselves.  I couldn’t see any stone fly nor rising fish for a while. My beer was nearly gone when I saw the big brown come to the surface and slurp a still unseen insect. With the dorsal fin clear of the water’s surface it was apparent that this was a big fish. He was feeding on the far side of the river tight to the bank in an area covered with willows that reached down and touched the river. A very tough place to place my fly from this side of the river with a fast current and the overhanging vegetation to contend with. I was not optimistic.

Outside now, I carefully entered the river’s fast current from below. The building and willows prevented a decent back cast and presenting the fish with a natural drifting fly would be nearly impossible from where I was forced to stand, but now I could see an occasional stone fly. One landed on my arm and it was indeed a stone fly, a specie called a “yellow Sally”. I had some flies that were similar to the insects in my box. 2 or 3 that might be similar enough to fool the big brown in its reckless frenzy.

I immediately lost 2 of the flies I had in the willows above the feeding fish. With my last fly I roll cast to the fish, only to have the fly hang up once again in the willows. In disgust and exasperation, I popped the fly free and it dropped onto the river, 2 feet wide of the feeding brown. To my astonishment, the big brown turned and instantly took my artificial and spun to return to its feeding lane and set the hook itself before I could react. The fight was on

At the feel of the hook in its jaw, the fish turned downstream with me in pursuit as much as the river allowed. I held my breath each time the fish took line. With my inability to follow the fish as it tried to free itself from the restraining hook and line, there was a very low probability of me landing this fish, but I was determined to give it my best.

There was a bridge downstream from me and several pedestrians had now stopped to watch me and the trout do battle. The deep bend of the rod and the protesting of the reel as the trout took line at will, told the curious onlookers that I was tight to a very big fish. I couldn’t hear what they were saying to me over the river’s song, but I imagined they were cheering me on.

Time both stood still or rushed by faster than the river’s current as the fish and I partook in a ritual as old as the written word. There are times that my memory reveals every second of that encounter and others when it is fleeting and the details vanish.

Finally, the fish was below me in stiller water, worn and tired after the battle for its life, but now manageable. I marveled at his beauty, Thick shouldered and nearly a yard long with spots as big as dimes. It possessed a big kype on its lower jaw that is found only on big old male trout. “It must be the biggest fish that lives in the river”, I thought.” And it is mine”.

Never had I seen such a magnificent fish and now I faced the task of netting it. My net was far too small to capture this fish and there was no one in sight who might be able to help me and I didn’t know what I would ask them if there were. I was on my own, just this fish who fought so valiantly to preserve its life and me, determined to end it, so I might have some fleeting bragging rights.

How long I looked at the now-spent trout, I cannot recall. Only the opening and closing of its gill covers in the clear river gave evidence that it was still alive. Surely, I must have been contemplating how I was going to kill it. I reached to pick it up by its tail and my hand in its gills. At my touch the big brown trout gave what might have been a final burst of determination and thrashed its way free, breaking the leader and returning to the river from which it had so long been the patriarch.

Had I won the battle or had the fish defeated me? This a question that stays with me, but through the years I can rationalize, that indeed, I was the victor and the fish was mine had I wanted.

Today the memory I have recreated of that day so very long ago is complete and the fish is ready to go on the wall. I am old and my memories are beginning to evade me, but each time I see this fish, I can only hope that the events of this day when the giant brown trout and I become one on the river, will remain as clear as the river’s waters itself.