The water temp was 40 degrees. I was after stockie rainbows I’d helped float-stock two weeks earlier. I knew they’d put some browns in the previous week, but I wasn’t expecting to tangle with Mr. Fugly Brown. He kept his nose down, was pretty sluggish due to the temps and probably because he was new to the whole thing. Not new perhaps to the idea of being fished out of a comfortable hole, but perhaps new to the idea of living free. I hoped that perhaps he was a holdover, and had been in this hole for at least a year or more, but I knew otherwise. Though the little tailwater I fished on had just received some serious love (a repair to create a bottom draw on the reservoir a mile upstream), up until very recently, this brown had spent probably four, maybe five years in a holding tank, probably as brood stock, endlessly swimming in circles. His pectoral and caudal fins were a misshapen mess, nubs or worn down. Though he had a nice kype, he certainly didn’t fight the way a wild trout could.
I looked him in the eye, and took a picture. It was bittersweet. No, at first glance he wasn’t a very desirable kind of trophy. This was no bright and shining wild trout with clear-eyes, white-tipped fins, born free. He looked a bit world-weary. But as I held him I wondered…maybe he would live out his last days at least knowing the taste of caddis nymphs or a big juicing hopper instead of trout pellets. Maybe he’d enjoy the ability to wander, and swim down to the reservoir below and back upstream to cool water when the summer doldrums crept in. And maybe he’ll learn to chase sculpin and fall fish, to experience the hunt so long denied him. Maybe he’ll holdover now that the dam was working again. As I snapped one more picture and released him (and I may be reading into this a bit) he seemed to linger at this once-more encounter with man, and then dart away with some pep in his step.