Tom Ross: Brown trout won't let go of his dinner

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Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Tom here.

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Fishing guide Tom Knight, right, shows off a Green River brown trout landed by client Bob Finn of San Francisco. The big brown was captured in spite of the fact that it was never hooked. Knight netted the brown after it clamped its jaws onto a rainbow trout that Finn hooked on a small fly drifting beneath the surface.

— If this isn't one of the best fish stories you've ever heard, I'll eat my wading boots. And for the nonfisher people among my readers, I promise to work cute, furry mammals into the narrative.

We recently spent three spectacular days walking the banks of the Green River near Dutch John, Utah, where the river pours out of the bottom of Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

We listened to elk bugling on the ridge and commiserated with the coyotes that bemoaned the lack of a moon. We sipped a little expensive bourbon and caught a few trout on tiny mayflies.

Truth be told, October isn't the easiest time of year to catch fish on the Green - the trout seem to be in a bit of a funk as the dam managers drop the flow to 800 cubic feet per second for the duration of the winter. No matter, we're more than willing to sacrifice a few trout in the net in exchange for the relative solitude of autumn. Perhaps a dozen drift boats and rafts slipped by us every day, but we saw no more than 20 anglers spread over three days spent on the seven-mile stretch above Little Hole.

We show up every other year or so and never fail to be entertained by the wildlife. We've seen moose fording the river and almost always spy osprey flying upstream with fish hooked in their talons. But the real stars of the nature show are the river otters that hunt the shoreline in a pack.

Waking to 3 inches of snow on the hood of the truck Sunday morning, we put on layers of fleece under our waders and hit the river. Some of the best fishing of the trip took place in a drizzle at midday, but I put down my rod when I spied the otters working their way up the bank. They were in constant motion, porpoising into shallow dives with a flip of their sharp black tails.

I was standing motionless, enjoying the action, when three of the seven otters broke away and swam across the river toward me.

They surfaced every 10 feet or so to stare at me before resuming their approach.

When they reached the edge of the water, all three reared up and made huffing noises at me, in what seemed like a friendly tone. They were so close I could count their whiskers and admire their dental work.

The leader planted his feet on the bank in front of me and tilted his head from side to side much like a puzzled dog trying to understand what his humans are saying.

Speechless, I wiggled my fingers at the otters in greeting before they slipped back into the water and bobbed off to terrorize the trout.

And that reminds me, I promised you a fish story. Not long after, I was photographing a guide and his client floating toward me in a drift boat when the angler in the bow hooked what seemed to be a small fish. Suddenly, his rod bowed deeply for a few throbbing pulses, then relaxed again. The sequence repeated itself twice more, and both men became visibly excited.

When guide Tommy Knight dipped his big net into the river and scooped up client Bob Finn's prize, both men let out exultant whoops. Turning their attention to me, they asked if they could row to shore and share their story.

Knight, who is the Green River guide manager for Troutbum2 in Park City, Utah, said Finn was bouncing a small nymph along the bottom of the river when he did, in fact, hook a small rainbow. As he played the fish, a large brown trout surged out of the depths and clamped his jaws on the small fish, refusing to let go.

As Finn reeled in the fish that ate his fly, the brown slipped off. But he returned to nail the little rainbow not once, but twice more. Finally, Knight netted both fish simultaneously.

And that's the story of how Robert B. Finn, a financial consultant and senior vice president with RBC Dain Rauscher in San Francisco, landed a big Green River brownie without ever setting the hook.

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