Steve Henderson thinks the monster brown trout that Meredith Gilliland landed in the Yampa River probably was a rogue trout. Instead of guarding a perfect lie in a current seam and sipping the aquatic insects delivered by the river, Gilliland's trout probably was a cruising predator looking for triple-value meals.
"I don't think a trout can get that big just sitting and waiting for food to come to him," Henderson said. "His home range may have been a half-mile long. When he runs out of baby ducks to eat in one place, he moves on to the next group of baby ducks."
Henderson is a veteran trout guide and one of the owners of Steamboat Flyfisher, 507 Lincoln Ave. Gilliland was fishing with guide J.R. Russell last month when the trout struck a streamer in about four feet of water. It was caught on a private stretch of the river west of Steamboat.
So how big was the fish?
Gilliland said it was measured at 31 inches in length. She said Russell took girth measurements and estimated its weight at as much as 14 pounds.
"When it was still moving a lot, I couldn't pick it up by myself," Gilliland said.
The brown trout was resuscitated by holding it upright in the current so its gills could gather oxygen, and it was released -- bad news for ducks.
Does a 12-pound brown trout really munch on ducklings? Maybe that's an exaggeration, Henderson said. But they definitely swallow careless field mice that tumble off overhanging grasses into the river, veteran angler Jim Curd said.
Curd said September is a good time to begin probing the rivers with big streamers. Steamboat has had a half-dozen continuous nights of frost, and lower water temperatures trigger a response in trout. "This is when they get the feedbag on," Curd said.
Gilliland, a student at Montana State University whose family lives here, has been fishing since she was 4 or 5 years old. She said she changed strategies on the morning she caught the 31-inch brown because her sister, Lauren Matthews, caught the first fish of the day.
"Lauren does that a lot," Gilliland said. "I decided to start looking for pike and tied on a conehead sculpin. I was making a long cast to the dark water. I made several casts and hadn't done much when I thought I either got caught on the bottom or a log."
When she and Russell realized it was a fish, they weren't certain what to expect on the other end of the line.
"I had to fight it for 15 to 20 minutes," Gilliland said. "I didn't know what it was until it jumped. It was like a whale. We were all laughing."
After the brown was photographed and released, Lauren suggested to her sister that they call it a day.
"She told me it wasn't going to get any better than that," Gilliland said.
Henderson said there are signs that the brown trout in northern Colorado may have begun their annual spawning rituals early. Typically, browns in the Yampa River spawn in October, and it's possible to observe some spawning activity in November.
Henderson has heard a report that the brown trout in Troublesome Creek where it flows into the Colorado River upstream from Kremmling already have come off their spawning beds, and the browns in the Colorado River already are in spawning mode.
"It feels like it's going to be an early winter," Henderson said. "Of course, as soon as you put that in the newspaper, we'll have five weeks of Indian summer."
Streamer patterns imitate minnows and other small fish. In the Yampa, that means the homely sculpin and the common dace.
Henderson likes a "hair sculpin" tied with a white rabbit fur belly. The yellow-brown "autumn splendor" streamer imitates the dace. Curd says his favorite streamer pattern is a black woolly bugger tied with a bushy light-colored collar to imitate the sculpin's strangely shaped head. Henderson said using a rusty and black "furnace hackle" to supply the feathers for the streamer's collar also is effective.
Tie on a streamer -- you never know when you might catch the brown trout of a lifetime.
-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205
or e-mail email@example.com