I can feel myself shaking but for some reason I still hold my hand out for visual verification.  The sort of tremble a fish hasn’t left with since putting a rooster fish in the net or landing my first steelhead. My adrenaline is spiked and the only way my grin could be any bigger is if I’d brought the fish to hand, but that’s of surprisingly little importance.  

I’ve fished this pool dozens of times but in this outing I approached it with a new tactic in mind. This particularly dreamy pool sits on a sharp bend, beginning with a shallow riffle shelving into a deep hole, lined with decades worth of river-smoothed deadfall. It is Alaska mousing country at its finest. 

It took just one cast for a trout to rise to the occasion.  A respectable wild rainbow trout made a bold assault on my freshly tied Morrish Mouse, missing the hook but lifting my topwater hopes.  A 1-ounce mouse has to be the equivalent of a 22-ounce bone-in ribeye to a trout, just with more hair and a tail. Letting a mouse that mistakenly found its way into the water float on by is a major missed meal for a fish.     

A cast or two later the beast from the deep, the rainbow trout that routinely visits our dreams, made its move with a serious splash, echoing through my ear canals and triggering my jaw to drop. It was a scaled-down scene from Jaws, fish rocketing from the dark depths to snatch a rodent and then disappearing straight to the back of the log jam.   

The current of the creek, the abyss of the deep hole, the woody debris—now looking more like a whole mess of consequence rather than an angler’s dream—coupled with the weight of the fish, had me overwhelmed and feeling under-gunned. My attempts failed as the trout remained unmoved by my 6 weight graphite fly rod that was now reduced to a 9-foot green noodle. 

Knowing I need a witness, whether successful or not, I holler for my buddy Sam. Sam never saw the fish… 

There is something to be learned from every outing on the water.  The takeaway from this trip? I’ve heard the tip, “Don’t cast unless you are prepared to fish the cast.” My addition would be: “Don’t throw a mouse unless you are ready to tangle with whatever fish might bite.” 

What’s the sense in searching for the big one if you aren’t prepared for the big one to bite? 

The moment the fish showed its shoulders I was concerned that I wasn’t going to land it and I can’t help but reflect on that being a mistake. I made the slightest admittance of defeat when I should have immediately widened my stance and geared up for the long haul. 

This vivid encounter amounting to less than 60 seconds in time, though unsuccessful, will remain unforgettable. One should feel fortunate to simply cast eyes on wild rainbow trout that caliber. White belly. Olive back. Tie it together with a deep red band and top it off with serious girth, and this mega rodent muncher very well may be this season’s “one that got away.”

It was fish so spectacular, that I wouldn’t blame you for not believing me. 

Eric Booton is the sportsmen’s outreach coordinator for TU’s Alaska Program.