It was my birthday, August 8th, and we rode through some spectacular mountain passes in the shadows of soaring peaks before breaking camp near a glassy high country lake in Southern Montana. Ripples from rising trout were scattered across the lake and fish were literally jumping out of the water to feast on the all-a-trout can eat buffet of various small insects skimming the surface of the lake. We grabbed our fly rods after breaking camp and raced to the lake’s edge to take advantage of the feeding frenzy.
Trout tend to rise five feet further than one can cast. This phenomenon occurs whether you cast 30 feet or 100 feet. The fishing is always better beyond your reach and it can become very frustrating. Frustration is the fly fishing enemy. Frustration leads to casting harder, which leads to sloppy rhythm, which eventually culminates in a messy knot usually involving a tree, rock, or bystander. Naturally, the fish were just out of my casting range, I was getting frustrated, and I got tied up in a tree.
As I finished retying my knot I noticed Luke, the cameraman horse, watching my antics as trout were rising all over the lake. I can’t prove this but I swear that horse was getting amused watching my blunders. Five minutes later I had Luke saddled up and was pointing him into the lake, fly rod between my teeth.
After a minute of coaxing, Luke cautiously stepped into the lake towards the rising trout. Ten feet from shore he whinnied to the herd, got a reply, and tried to head back to join his buddies. I talked calmly to Luke but he didn’t care, he wanted to be with his friends. Fly fishing off a horse isn’t a good idea anyways so I turned Luke back to shore. Luke wanted to be back on dry land pretty bad so he lunged forward towards the herd, lost his footing, and fell face first into lake. His entire head was completely submerged and we went deep enough to get the top of my saddle horn wet! Luke regained his footing, raised his head out of the water, and had the same comforting look of a cat getting a bubble bath. I lost all composure and about fell off laughing so hard.
Luke must have seen a trout when he was underwater because when he surfaced he was a fishing machine. No longer did he care about joining his friends, he had full attention on me as I redirected him out to where the trout were still biting on the surface. Once Luke was belly deep into the lake, about 30 feet from shore, I stopped him and began stripping line off my reel to make the cast. A trout rose to the surface within casting distance and I landed a Parachute Adams fly right in the center ripple the trout made just seconds before.
I watched the trout come to the top, look intently at the fly, and with a quick flash dart to the surface inhaling my fly. I lifted the rod, set the hook, and began bringing the fish in. Luke’s demeanor of soaking wet shame turned to curiosity as he watched the fish coming towards him in the water. His look went from an uncomfortable wet cat to a cat watching a mouse’s tail twitching behind the corner. His ears zeroed in on the fish making z’s in front of his face and his eyes crossed as I lifted the fish out of the water, over his head, and into my hands. His expression was priceless and I was bent over my saddle cramping from laughing so hard.
I tried to unhook the trout and slip it into my saddle bag for dinner but I was laughing so hard the fish slipped through my fingers back into the lake. The whole time Luke didn’t move an inch. I think he likes fishing and we cruised the shoreline, belly deep and 30 feet from land, for the next half hour. Luke and I didn’t catch another fish but that didn’t matter, we caught one, achieving a long time goal of mine and pairing two of my biggest loves in life. Fly-fishing off a horse. What a birthday!
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