Photo by Chris Hunt
by Dave Ammons
There exist a number of memorable fish in my experience. The little brook trout caught in a
narrow, tumbling stream whose encounter caused us both to blush. A cutthroat from the depths of a mountain tarn so clear it reflected a Colorado sky all the way through to the earth’s core. A hefty mountain whitefish, one of only two I’ve ever caught, whose silver-scaled sides shimmered with electricity. An eight-pound rainbow trout fooled by a black woolly bugger in an impossibly small pond high in the Bolivian Andes.
But none of them held the mysticism of one particular rainbow I encountered as a teen on my home river.
While it was an ordinary day, I hold fast to the belief that no day in the mountains in truly ordinary. I’m relentlessly drawn to the river, fascinated by its forever flow, bouncing through the canyon, reshaping itself with the turn of each day and each season. I had been working my way further upstream from Papa-dad’s to a stretch that I figured ought to have held fish as it had little pressure sitting a mile from the old homestead, too far for the less intrepid to venture. It presented a nice variety of pocket water and wide runs accessible from bank to bank, and the time of year allowed me to wade without risk.
From the moment he hit the Adams perfectly drifted around a rock across the river from where I stood, a rock behind which he had lived undisturbed for a thousand years, I knew he was the biggest fish in the canyon. I felt his weight wrenching away from me, fighting the line tension, angry at the intrusion. My God the fight! My rod groaned as it bent, the loose line I was holding stripped hotly through my left hand, my shoulders tightened. In just a few seconds it was an epic struggle that spoke of possibilities about what this water could conceal. The line went slack. He had spit me out. And for one disbelieving pause I went limp with disappointment just as my legs started trembling.
Of course, I gathered myself to cast again, shaken as I was, to lay yet another perfect presentation around the drift of the rock. I cast again, and again. I needed him to take the Adams. I needed to see him, to lay my hands on him. Alas, who was I fooling? Not that behemoth, that monster, that gargantuan beast of the deeper reaches of the river.
I have no idea why, but perhaps it was instantly clear I had lost him to the ages, so it seemed appropriate as a reference to the moment to give him a name. Moog. It seemed fitting for a brawny, amphibious creature secreted away in his lair. A name that smacked of something slightly sinister. Moog … a fish ten times the size of any of his brethren.
I knew at the time that Moog was a rainbow trout without even catching so much as a glimpse of him. In those days, the days of my youth, the river rainbows had not been decimated by whirling disease and we caught them nearly 100 percent of the time. The occasional brown was a novelty and rarer still were brookies. Whirling disease virtually rid the river of rainbows over the course of a few years, but Moog had something special in his DNA and apparently was immune to things like disease and fish hooks. I have returned to that spot just once since that first encounter.
The pooling, swirling water behind that rock contains enough life blood for a school of fish but I imagine he’s viciously territorial, and what fish would ever want to tangle with him anyway? I’ve landed a couple of smaller trout off to either side of the rock but Moog remains as wily as they come. I give myself credit for contributing to his guile, as a fish as legendary as he can only possibly be fooled once. He still resides behind that rock to this day, of this I am certain.
The average life span of a rainbow trout is roughly six years and I read that the oldest recorded age is eleven years. Moog is pushing 48 this year. I can’t imagine he’s grown too much bigger — after all, the size of the river dictates the size of the fish no matter how many bugs he gorges on day after day, year after year.
With the passage of time many of our fish stories build bit by bit inside the storyteller’s imagination, but there is no need to embellish the mythology of Moog. He is a biological miracle placed in the clear, cold water by the very hand of God. He remains the supernatural giant of my youth, indeed the sort of ghost that makes you believe in all ghosts. Fleeting moments spent with legends like this leviathan forever weave us into the designs of nature.
Dave Ammons is a TU volunteer and a member of the Zane Grey Chapter in Arizona.