The Trout Ring

An encounter with a bull trout leads to a disappointing midcurrent loss.

  • By: Jeremie Hollman
Hooked up to an Elk River bull trout
The brain is magical, able to create and take away, undo and reinvent. Emotions and time affect the mind's ability to recreate, as well. It is for this reason I keep a photo album and a fishing journal. Each photo and log entry has a date, river name and a detailed account of events and flies used. Rivers where the trout were as long as the arms can stretch. Rivers that I overheard two people quietly talking about in a barber shop. Rivers found after following directions scratched out on a napkin. As a fly fisherman in my early 30s, this spells adventure. Adventure such as where am I going to sleep, how long is the hike in and did I listen to all of the directions.

The journal entry for this story is from July, 17, 2004: "The midsummer misadventure of BC." It begins at 6 in the morning light of northwest Montana. Heavily armed with ambition and caffeine, my father-in-law and I are headed north for a three-hour drive to southwest British Columbia to fish a river in the Elk River drainage. This trip's sole purpose was to play out a long-awaited, well-researched, gossip-driven desire. Bull trout of 30-plus inches inhabit these rivers, which have some of the cleanest, clearest water in the world.

Once we arrived at the local fly shop, we purchased licenses and the must-have flies. And we got some local advice. Still not quite sure of the directions we had drawn out on our napkin, we decided to buy a local topo map for insurance in being able to find our target area.

The misadventure began with the purchase of that map. Driving out of town, we had made the first few turns on the map and all seemed to be going well. We had driven down a dirt road for the expected duration and kept going thinking it would be obvious when we saw the sign. The problem was the sign never came. More time passed before we realized we were on the wrong road. The topo map was an outdated version, or the roads were not marked correctly or my father-in-law might not have been the best navigator. The napkin turned out to be the better set of directions.

Bushwacking downhill through prime grizzly-bear habitat was another uncertain aspect of the trip. And this downhill decent was the first real test of how my heavily braced knee, newly reconstructed, would hold up.

As we reached a nice pool, we strung up the rods with 1X tippet and tied on the must-have flies. My father-in-law hooked into a nice westslope cutthroat while I was still checking my knot. I stepped into the crystal-clear water and found a fish to cast to. The cold water felt therapeutic on my knee, which was throbbing from the hike. On my first cast, I hooked a large bull trout-I had a freight train on a 5-weight rod. Seasoned anglers tell you to match the rod with the size of the fish and the conditions. The rod weight recommended for the size of fish here was a 7-weight.

I fought the fish for 20 minutes, crossing the river and back, trying to hold my own in the slack water and keep him out of the strong current. I grabbed my net and instantly something changed, as if the fish were psychic. The bull decided to take control of the situation and made a mad dash downstream with my only option being to follow.

During my pursuit, I managed to slip and fall backward into the river. As I fell, I put out my left hand to brace myself. Thanks to the angle of my fall and the current of the river, my cherished wedding ring slipped off.

Looking for the ring…/.Photo by Cy Glastetter

I stood up and looked for my ring for a few seconds and then realized I was still attached to the freight train. My instincts took me back to the task at hand and I did what any real trout addict would do-I fought the fish. I wasn't able to stop the trout and noticed that I was deep into my backing and had a decision to make. Do I chance it and risk losing all of my backing and fly line, or pop him off? The thought of driving so far and leaving within a half hour didn't sit well, so I broke the line.

I spent a good portion of the day looking for my ring in two feet of rushing water. What was I going to do? How was I going to tell my wife, and how would I pay for another ring?

The day ended with seven fish in the net.

It's amazing how my perception changed due to the circumstances of the day. On the way to the river, the three hours of driving seemed like a long time, but on the way home, it was not long enough. I had tell my wife what had happened and how. I have been blessed with children in our family now and I get out on such misadventures less, but this one is still strong in my memory thanks to my photos, journal and a naked ring finger.

Photo by Shannon Hollman

I often wonder: were I to go back with a metal detector, could I find my wedding ring?

Jeremie Hollman lives in Kalispell, Montana.