(a few miles North of Silverthorne, CO)
August 11-14, 2016
On Friday, August 12th, 2016 I caught and released the fish of a lifetime. It was a 32” rainbow out of the Blue River. I basically hit the fly fishing equivalent to a hole in one. I have lost a handful of “fish of a lifetime” over the years. That 8 foot tarpon I caught near Sarasota was a bucket-lister. But, I caught him on conventional gear. That monster brown I caught in New Zealand was a “fish of a lifetime”. But, he was only 28”-30”. In terms of a fly rod, even my first steelhead caught on the Hoh River on the Olympic Peninsula was smaller than this monster rainbow. I lost that monster rooster fish in Costa Rica. I lost the giant blue trevally at Mahaulepu on Kauai. I lost that big rainbow on the wind river in WY. I have lost many big corvina in our local surf; in fact, I still haven’t landed a big one. I could go on. This time the lord (and my fly fishing buddy Ken Bendix who passed from cancer a few years back) looked down on me, smiled, and decided it was time. I’ll tell the story of how I caught that monster after some background.
What is it about this river?! I made my annual trek out to the Blue River thanks to a value added friendship I have made over the years with master rod-maker, Tom Young. Tom is a great guy, talented rod maker, good friend significantly younger than me. But, really the best thing about Tom is how dramatically he “married up”. Not only is his wife Serena awesome, but her parents own a large house right on a private section of the Blue River. And it’s on two of those stretches that just have huge trout. I thought there was no way I could top last year’s success on the Blue. Well, I did. Honestly I stopped counting the trout I caught and released over 20” inches. They say it’s homeowners that feed the fish. They say it’s the abundance of big mysis shrimp that the tout gorge on. They say it’s the warmer water that spills over the top of the dam causing abundant bug hatches. They say the wild natives feast on the smaller stocked trout in town. Clearly it is because it’s private and does not see a lot of pressure. All I know is I always seem to catch big fish here.
This trip was also special because my other buddy Jeff Winkler broke free to fish with us Saturday. Jeff, Tom and I have been fishing Colorado together, once a year for years. When I was a greenhorn fly fisherman Jeff went out of his way to teach me a lot about how to fly fish. I wish I got to see these guys more often. I know it was a huge sacrifice for “Wink-daddy” to drive the 2+ hour out to fish with us. It was his anniversary weekend. He had just moved and was still in the process of unpacking. He’s driving his eldest off to college in just a few short days. But, he just did it. That is the type of guy he is. He drove all the way out; fished all day with us; and drove all the way back. Wink-daddy also brought his brother in law, “Oly”; great guy and fireman just about ready to retire. I only learned after he was gone that he was a first responder at Columbine. Which I’m guessing he doesn’t talk about a lot. What he saw must have been horrific.
Lastly it was special because my eldest, Camille, came up from Denver for a sleepover. It was so fun to see her. Friday night she tried to hang with me and Tommy in beers and cocktails. Big mistake.
Another reason this trip was special is Serena came up with the kids on Saturday afternoon. Those who know me well, can assume I had a blast with Kennedy, 6 and Dillon, 2. “Uncle Tim” is a mom’s worst nightmare when it gets close to bedtime.
The “thing” about fly fisherman
There’s a thing about fly fisherman. Well, in general terms, because there are exceptions. We give each other flies. We help each other with intel and how to fish a river. We are courteous and friendly to each other and often give up our spots to beginners. We help when there is a need to. So, I was especially proud of this incident. Tommy and I were fishing downstream, which we typically don’t do because it’s so good upstream. But, I pretty much begged him to cover some water we had not yet. And what always seems to be the case I did my 5 casts and impatiently moved on while Tommy meticulously picked apart a run by drifting each inch. So, I got ahead of him 100 yards or so and was approached by one of the homeowners. Even though we were legal in the private water Tommy and I weren’t wearing the badge that the homeowners provide to indicate we were legal. I don’t know why Tommy didn’t have them, but he didn’t. Anyways a homeowner came out to the river’s edge and I knew exactly what he wanted to talk about because I was in private water. So, I stopped fishing to go talk to him to tell him I was with the “Reitan Group at 777”. I came out of the river smiling and before I could get a word out he said, “You are with the Reitan group at 777, right?” I laughed and said yes. And we shook hands and started talking fishing. I love to talk fly fishing. And just from talking it was clear Jerry Middel is a very good fly fisherman and pretty much “owned” his river. And his house… my god…. Awesome with a deck right on the edge of the river. Jerry said he doesn’t even need to put his toes in the river anymore he knows the river so well. He can just fish from the bank. But, up front on our conversation was one of my proud moments in fly fishing…. Well, guiding first timer fly fishing kids is pretty fun and rewarding, but this is for sure up there. Jerry said something like, “Wait, aren’t you Tim Huckaby? The guy that netted that big fish up in the hole for me and took a picture of me with it?” I laughed because I didn’t recognize him, but vividly remembered the incident and said, smiling, “Well, you had your hands full with that monster. Yea, I’m Tim Huckaby”. Then Jerry scoured his phone for the picture that I took of him years earlier.
A few years back It went down like this: As is typical I got ahead of Tommy again fishing up stream and when I turned the corner I saw a guy battling…and I could tell it was huge. Of course I was doing my patented “Woo!” as I watched Jerry battle. When Jerry tired the fish I asked him if I could help him by netting it. I did…and it was no small feat because the fish was still hot and it was huge. The guides in Montana taught me how to net the fish with a stab into the water so I got him on the first try…. thank God. Talk about pressure… I told him, “I have to take a picture of you with that fish. I’ll email it to you”. and I did. And Jerry remembered years later. Awesome. karma does come back. Especially fly fishing karma.
The Story of the Fish of a Lifetime
About a mile up stream in a totally private section of the river is a hole. It’s at the end of the private section Tom is allowed to fish on. It’s a bend in the stream that has been carved deep by springtime runoff. It’s one of the few places in the river where a big fish could thrive year round. We have done well there in the past. That is where Jerry Caught his monster. That is where we have lost a lot of big fish over the years. This is where Wink-daddy snapped off a monster on 3x on Saturday.
And it was one of those “last cast” things. I believe Tommy and I had each caught a big trout in there and the hole went down as is usual. We’d been there 15 minutes or so and it got slow.
I was marveling at an absolutely huge fish I could see right in the head of the pool. But, I seemingly bonked a bunch of flies off his head without success. I even tried to take some underwater pictures of him. There was a reason he was big and he wasn’t about to get fooled by a dumb-ass like me who could see him. Well I walked to the tail out fully preparing to leave and walk back downriver to where we started. But, Tommy was still fishing the pool. So, I unstrung my rod, pulled out some line and threw it straight up stream into the tail-out in fairly shallow water. My Huck-hopper went down, I set, and said to myself, “Damnit. I’m hung on a rock. I’m going to lose my rig and it was stupid of me to even cast right before we leave.” Then the rock started moving…slowly. At first, I thought to myself, “Cool, big fish” because it was moving slowly into the pool. and I had a lot of pressure on him (actually only after I landed it, did I found out it was a “her”). I believe I said to Tommy, “I’m on.” Who probably thought to himself, “damnit, I’m fishing the good part of the pool and Huckaby hooks a fish there in the crappy part.” It continued moving slowly towards deeper water. And then the fish realized it was hooked and got pissed. It jumped. And we got to see it for the first time. I screamed, “Oh my God!!!” Tommy screamed back, “Get your act together! Calm down!”. Because seeing it jump we could see how big the fish was. When this trout landed in the water…I will never forget the sound. It was like a 12-year-old doing a cannonball into a swimming pool. I bowed the rod like you are supposed to and then tightened. She was still on. And then it dawned on me: It’s on my 4 weight that Tommy built me and it’s on 5x, and I have 5 knots from my Huck Hopper down to the size 20 zebra midge I tied that was in the fish’s face. All fly fisherman know that is a 3-way bad combo for landing a big fish. Then it jumped again and I panicked again. and Tommy yelled at me again to get my sh@#t together. That is when it ran downriver. And I chased after it. Even though I was running, line was peeling out of my reel way into the backing. My reel was screaming. Tommy came running after me. I was going as quickly as possible but, I was huffing and puffing thinking to myself, “I can’t go on.” I’m in decent cardio shape, but I was dying. It’s a rocky river too so it’s not like it’s easy to run in waders and wading boots over slippery rocks. I looked over my shoulder and tommy went down, in the rapids. There he was rolling down the river but he popped up quickly, totally soaked and continue the chase.
It seemed like forever…maybe 20 minutes; maybe longer, but ½ mile down the river Tommy attempted to net the fish for the first time – it was so huge it didn’t fit and its head hung a good foot out the net. It was huge and it was tired. Tom did manage to bend the fish into the net. We had to work quickly if we were to release it unharmed. That is why I didn’t even bother to hold the fish “trophy style” and take a bunch of pictures. I had the fish by the tail. I didn’t want to drop it. It was sucking pretty badly. We got a couple pictures and got it quickly back in the water. It took me a good 5 minutes of holding in the current before it swam off all pissed off. If you look closely in the picture, there is a good foot of tail hidden by my hand. Its tail was like a fan 8” tall.
Not only was this the largest trout I have ever caught. It is the largest trout I have ever seen. That statement in itself should be impressive since I have fly fished so many times, for so long, in so many places, with so many professionals. I have seen pictures of fish like that; many caught by my fly fishing guide buddies in Montana. But, I have never seen a fish like that in person. Tommy even checked the Colorado state record it was so huge. I was not close; 41”.
There’s 3 important factors to landing that monster:
- I was fighting that fish on a really nice custom rod built by Tom Young. I was out-gunned with that 4 wt, but because it was a was such a nice rod I still could battle it. Email Tommy and beg him to build you a rod. You’ll thank me; worth every penny.
- You don’t need a nice reel unless you need to fight a big fish. Because of that nice rod I splurged and bought a Galvin Torque T4 from the Platte River Fly shop. You just can’t palm a fish that runs 100 yards at 20 knots. Especially while chasing it. you need the reel to help fight the fish.
- You need a wingman who knows how to net a big fish. Thank God I was with Tommy. I owe him. A fish that big on 5x cannot be netted alone without losing it or dragging it on shore.
Just 360 more days before I get to go back and fish the Blue…